Paul Krugman wrote a column about government spending in which he suggests that the decision comes down to either bombs or bridges. Rep. Barney Frank calls some of his colleagues "Weaponized Keynesians". He defines them as people who believe "that the government does not create jobs when it funds the building of bridges or important research or retrains workers, but when it builds airplanes that are never going to be used in combat, that is of course economic salvation."
Mr. Krugman says that the difference is that bridges get used and bombs don't. He defers to Mr. Keynes who noticed that wholly "wasteful" government spending (on weapons that will never be used) was preferred to partly "wasteful" forms, which, because they are not wholly wasteful, tend to be judged on strict "business" principles. Mr. Krugman accepts the idea that government spending on weapons systems is preferred because it cannot be compared to any private spending on weapons systems, but government spending on construction or schools suffers by comparison to private construction or education costs.
I don't want to completely disagree with Mr. Krugman or Mr. Keynes, but I think there is something else at work here. I see it through another lens - a lens that I got from the Occupy movement. Republicans, conservatives, and others on the right favor government expenditures that go to corporations, but oppose government spending that goes to people.
You'll notice that while the right supports a lot of spending on defense, they don't necessarily support pay and benefits for military personnel. They support spending on weapons bought from private companies. I don't think they would support the development of these weapons if they were designed and built by the government instead of private companies.
When the government spends a million dollars on schools, 80% of that money goes to salaries - middle class salaries at that. None of it goes to private industry. Politicians on the right hate that. They would feel better about it, I notice, if more of that money did go to private industry - for testing, for software, for materials, or even for school administration.
There are all kinds of studies that show that investments in education pay huge long-term dividends to the society and the economy. You'd think everyone would be all for it. But they aren't. I think it's because the money goes to people instead of businesses. The benefactors are workers instead of shareholders.
As I use this lens to see what government spending is supported by the right, I find it an excellent predictor.