Oh Yeah, And People Might Starve Too.

Why is it that in our culture the only legitimate argument for anything seems to be its effect on making money?  I have brought this up before when it comes to arts funding.  We always try to argue that we should fund arts because of the economic impact artists have on an area.  We argue for arts education funding with the claim that music makes you good at math with which you can, presumably, make actual money.

Do we not place any value on doing things because they are good for the community and society, because doing them makes our nation a more pleasant place to live, because they are morally right?  It seems that we do not consider such arguments to be serious enough.

Take this example.  In The Shamanic Economist, the author says he is going on a one day, symbolic hunger strike to protest extreme austerity measures.  The arguments against cuts to food programs all come down to our ability to boost productivity and bring in money.

The point I personally hope to make is that it is the height of folly, even in an austerity budget, to axe the very things that are necessary for people to work and live. To a limited extent, the government must support such things as food, housing, safety, and transportation.

Let me start with transportation as an example. Broad cuts in transportation leave significant numbers of people at home, unable to get to work. When people don’t work, they don’t pay taxes. And when people don’t pay taxes, that makes the budget situation worse, not better.

It is the same with food. When people can’t eat, the quality of their work suffers almost immediately. If they are looking for work, the quality of their job search declines in the same way, and the tendency for employers to take them seriously or view them favorably all but vanishes. In the United States today, it is basically impossible for a person who looks like they are suffering from hunger to find a job. But again, as long as they aren’t working, they aren’t paying taxes. Thus, withholding food from people does not improve the budget either.

I am not suggesting that by focusing on the economic impact or making an argument based on taxes and revenue that this is the only thing on the writer’s mind.  I don’t believe this author is concerned about people going hungry only because it affects the quality of their work.  But it does point to a framework for discussion, in which the only thing were are able to consider– the only “valid” argument we can make– is a financial one rooted in the concept of economic prosperity measured in terms of GDP.  Is that truly the only thing worth considering when making policy?

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