The Common Good

The True Meaning of Investing in our Future

Before the 2011 State of the Union address, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that President Obama would speak about "investments" and that it was Latin for spending. I looked it up.

The Latin root for "investment" is in + vesti meaning to clothe or surround. The definition of "invest" according to Dictionary.com is: "to put money to use, by purchase or expenditure, in something offering potential profitable returns, as interest, income or appreciation in value." The difference between an investment and spending is the difference between buying a new pair of shoes and buying stock in the company that makes the shoes.

I may enjoy the shoes, but stock in the company will pay dividends long after the shoes are old and gone. The shoes are of little value or benefit to my children, but stock in the company, especially if the company grows and prospers, will benefit them.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama spoke about winning the future. In order to do this, the United States ought to attend to innovation and education. We, as a nation, ought to rebuild the country's infrastructure, bring down national debt, reorganize government for more efficiency, and continue our support for the democratic aspirations of people across the globe. All of these will require investments.

He spoke of investments in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology. In the area of education, he spoke about the Race to the Top program as a replacement for No Child Left Behind. "To all 50 states, we said, 'If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we'll show you the money.'" He spoke of investing to build high-speech rail and high-speed Internet.

However, when the nation invests money in various projects, we are also investing reason, faith, hope, and love. Biblical wisdom teaches us that we put our treasure where our heart is (Matthew 6:21). And, when we think of heart, we are not only speaking of an emotional attachment, but we are also thinking of rationality, faith and hope in a particular result. There are reasons for various investments.

In this regard, investment is a kind of investiture. It clothes the immaterial with the material. It gives substance to ideas, and it makes theory real. When we make an investment, we make a statement about faith in the future and hope for the nation that is far more profound than simple spending. The kinds of investments that President Obama speaks about are the kinds of investments that we make as a nation and not as private citizens or corporations.

Thus, to reduce investment in the name of bringing down the nation's debt is to admit a lack of faith in the nation's people and in its future. It is to fall into the trap of being penny wise and pound foolish.

Moreover, to refuse necessary investments for the sake of bringing down debt evades the truth that the debt is so large that it not only requires innovation, education and a growing economy, but it requires more taxes. No politician will say this, but we all will have to pay more taxes. If we say we love our country, if we want to continue the talk about America as the greatest nation on earth, then we will have to pay for it. We will have to make the necessary investments that will clothe our hopes and dreams for the nation. We will have to invest reason, faith, hope, love, and money.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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