Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Debt, Political Accountability and Foreign Aid

Our government’s budget has been a huge mess for a number of years now.  We don’t take in enough to cover all of our expenditures. 

As I understand from what I’ve read and heard, there is not enough discretionary spending in the federal budget to fix the situation without increasing revenues (i.e., raising taxes).  But politicians exploit the situation for political gain and don’t make the tough decisions to fix the problem. 

Yet if we don’t do something to stop the deficit spending, we could end up like Greece.  The news out of that country is truly frightening.   Riots, widespread unemployment, huge cuts to people’s wages, employees unpaid for months, crimes of desperation.  These are all things the Greek people are dealing with right now.  Financial turmoil can cause havoc on a society and lead to huge amounts of human suffering.  The following news reports shed some light on what Greeks are going through during the current debt crisis.

I hope for my kids’ sake we in the United States never experience anything like Greece’s debt crisis, but things are not looking good.  We blame politicians for budget deficits, but the reality is that in a democratic nation like ours, politicians represent us.  We elect the people who are failing to make the hard decisions.  They do so because they don’t want to tick us off and be voted out of office. 

I heard a report recently on polling data about Americans’ attitudes on spending cuts.  Basically, when we are asked about specifics, we as a people want lots of government spending in a bunch of different areas.  The only area of federal spending there was consensus on that we should cut spending was foreign aid.  We want to buy a lot with our tax dollars, but we don’t want to pay for it with taxes.  Obviously, that is not a winning approach.  It is certainly not a sustainable approach.  The day of reckoning will come.  The link below includes the polling data about our attitudes on government spending.

I’ve read and heard data like this before.  Foreign aid tends to not be a popular line item in our country.  I guess the thought is that either poor people in other countries have to fend for themselves or private aid groups should take care of that kind of thing. 

I hope that most people in the United States don’t think we should turn a blind eye and let the poor in other countries fend for themselves.  I think that would be morally wrong, but I recognize that my values as a Christ follower do not necessarily apply in setting secular budget priorities. 

But even for non-religious reasons, I think such an attitude of benign neglect would be imprudent.  It would be incredibly short-sighted.  That simply would increase the need and incentive to immigrate.  Even if we were to make our laws more welcoming of legal immigration, it is not a feasible solution logistically to have all the poor in the world move to our country.  Moreover, allowing such suffering to continue also provides a context where desperate and dangerous measures become appealing, e.g., terrorism or the revolutionary embrace of toxic ideologies like communism and fascism.  Such measures can eventually become a huge threat to our own well-being and safety.

But leaving such responsibilities solely to private entities is not a panacea.  There is no guarantee that they are using their funds wisely and/or operating in a laudatory manner.  Indeed, when multiple NGOs are operating in a particular area, it can be difficult to coordinate and make efficient their various programs. 

Proverbs 22:7

The rich rules over the poor,
and the borrower is the slave of the lender.

Luke 18:22

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

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