The Cost of Misunderstanding How Money Works: So Long Invertebrate House

Like most people–and I’ve been a supporter of the National Zoo in Washington DC for nearly a quarter century–I was shocked to learn that the Invertebrate House will be shuttered for good this Sunday, June 22. Why? Budget cuts:

The National Zoo is a free zoo — they do not charge admission. In the words of the Director, “We are doing our best to reduce our dependence on taxpayers… We’re generating new sources of revenues to execute our mission [of saving species]; grants, contracts, philanthropy, and selling hotdogs and carousel rides.”

I would argue that the function of the National Zoo is not to provide “bread and circuses,” but to help educate visitors about the living world. Invertebrates are critical; without them ecosystems would collapse.

But non-profits and federal agencies all are affected by shrinking budgets, and competing for donations. An otter will bring in more money and visitors than a grasshopper; that is a reality in a society that is entomophobic. I am unhappy about this, but have no solutions, other than to hope the inverts come back sooner than a decade from now.

Once again, it is essential to recognize that the federal government, which funds the National Zoo, can not run out of money since it issues dollars. If the absence of dollars is the only reason to close the Invertebrate House, then that is no reason at all. Mind you, there could be good reasons to do close it. You might think an Invertebrate House is stupid. Maybe you believe God sheds a tear every time an invertebrate zoologist gets her wings. And the notion that funding the Invertebrate House will lead to runaway inflation due to a wage spiral or a resource shortage is ridiculous, especially in light of the STEM glut.

Admittedly, compared to something like hunger or unemployment, the Invertebrate House isn’t tragic. But we use a supposed shortage of dollars to justify stinginess for those problems too.

Decades from now, people will wonder how we could be so utterly foolish and ignorant.

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3 Responses to The Cost of Misunderstanding How Money Works: So Long Invertebrate House

  1. paintedjaguar says:

    Drip, drip drip…bit by bit and one by one, the bastards are destroying the commons. I’ts a long term project though, so lots of people don’t even notice. Or weren’t even born yet. How many people remember that when Reagan got in the Smithsonian was forced to eliminate evening hours. Pre-Reagan all the museums were open until 9:00 at night. Small thing? Besides D.C. residents, the Smithsonian is a destination for millions of tourists every year.

  2. The above article confuses different issues.

    The fact that a government cannot run out of currency (i.e. the fact that it can print money) is not an argument for any old type of public spending. However, IT IS AN ARGUMENT AGAINST using the “we’re out of money” argument to justify failing to deal with a recession.

    To illustrate, if a right wing government decided to deal with a recession by hugely increasing the size of the private sector, while shrinking the public sector (including closing down zoos), that policy could not be attacked on purely economic grounds. Though if you’re on the political left, you would probably not approve of closing down semi-educational institutions like zoos.

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