By Abigail Hall
“He’s sees you when you’re sleeping. He’s knows when you’re awake.”
Chances are you recognize these lines from the famous Christmas tune, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” We can debate about how it is that Santa knows all these things. Perhaps it’s the fact he’s magical? Is Santa omnipotent? Does he have a part-time job with the NSA? Perhaps we’ll never know.
This time of year, one always hears stories about how the holiday season has been corrupted by commercialism. People “waste” money every year buying gifts and other useless trinkets that many recipients will never use. They argue that such activities diminish or overshadow the true meaning of the season.
Readers of this blog will know that I’m a fan of all things voluntary. If people want to spend their hard-earned money buying their brother a tacky gift, who am I to judge? But I am sensitive to concerns about waste—government waste.
Leave it to the U.S. government to bring the words “Santa” and “wasteful” into the same sentence.
How? Well, every year for the past several decades, the North American Aerospace Defensive Command (NORAD) has spent real taxpayer dollars to track Santa Claus as he makes his journey around the globe. On Christmas Eve, children everywhere can look on the web to observe Santa’s progress. Parents, on the other hand, can feel infinitely safer knowing that the U.S. military is spending actual time and money to track a fictional character.
The organization claims that they spend “very few tax dollars” on the project. (I cannot find an actual number.) But don’t let that get you down. As this post in the Washington Post points out, a thriving military-industrial complex means that NORAD teams up with a bunch of companies every year to get the job done. Translated into English, this probably means there is some government contract given to companies to put this together. So taxpayer dollars aren’t allocated to “Santa tracking” per se, but rather a contract for the “development of equipment for the analysis of obese Arctic travelers flying abroad quadrupeds during the 4th quarter.”
Now people may accuse me of being a Grinch. It’s just a little bit of fun, right? How can I be so callous as to disparage the government offering a bit of fun to children every year? Well, the origins of “Santa tracker” aren’t so lighthearted. The tradition began in 1955 as anti-Soviet propaganda. It was a part of PR campaign in which Santa was “being protected” by the U.S. military from godless communists.
But there is another reason to be concerned about this seemingly trivial tradition. If we think about the money the government wastes every year to track Santa, the next logical question becomes, what else is the government using our money to fund?
Well, there’s quite a bit. How about the $267,000 spent on a study to uncover why some people date “out of their league?” Apparently, we needed a $1.3 million study to see if beer koozies really do keep beverages cold. Some $780,000 was allocated to find out if pizza is as addictive as crack cocaine.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) shelled out over $800,000 to see if mountain lions could be trained to run on treadmills. The USDA spent $50,000 to develop Alpaca “Poop Packs” to be used as fertilizer. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) spent over $800,000 to develop a smartphone app to help parents get their children to eat their vegetables. Government researchers also spent around $200,000 to determine if Wikipedia is sexist.
After that, you might need to relax a bit. A drink or a massage perhaps? Well, luckily, the government has you covered there too. Taxpayers doled out another $200,000 so Uncle Same could text heavy drinkers and tell them not to drink. As for that massage, you’ll have to open your wallet, but the National Institutes of Health paid nearly $400,000 for rabbits to receive Swedish massages to determine if it helped recovering from illness.
So while tracking Santa may seem like all fun and games, it’s important to remember the larger picture. While you may be enjoying a Christmas ham, government spending is consistently packed with pork, and we bear the consequences. From NORAD’s Santa Tracker to apalca poop, paying for these programs is a massive lump of coal in our collective stocking.
What’s worse is that all of these examples, though wasteful, are likely benign. The worst thing that can come from a bunny massage is one contented rabbit and one highly confused masseuse. But there are other government programs that have definite negative consequences. Many of these programs are never questioned. It’s worse than the time my great grandmother bought my older brother a “My Little Pony.”
This article was published at The Beacon.