budgets

A Revolution of Rising Expectations

THE PHRASE “a revolution of rising expectations” is now part of the social science literature. When people who are not oppressed have a belief that life is getting better as economies improve, their expectations often outstrip the pace of actual change. Those rising expectations lead to unrest as demands for improvement continue to grow.

This summer we have seen that play out in several countries. As living standards increase, people are less likely to tolerate corrupt and inefficient governments. Washington Post reporters Anthony Faiola and Paula Moura recently wrote, “One small incident has ignited the fuse in societies that, linked by social media and years of improved living standards across the developing world, are now demanding more from their democracies and governments.”

In Turkey, it was the government’s plans to destroy the only public green space in the heart of Istanbul, a park that was to be replaced with a shopping mall. Protests against the plan soon grew into broader concerns about what is seen as increasingly authoritarian rule by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They turned violent when peaceful demonstrators were attacked by police, and ultimately an Istanbul court ruled against the plan, although it is not finally settled.

In Brazil, protests that began over a proposed rise in bus fares brought hundreds of thousands of people into the streets. The protests soon escalated into opposition to the large amounts of money the government is investing in facilities for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, while neglecting basic health care and education. President Dilma Rousseff has promised political reforms and increased spending on public transportation and other social needs.

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The Economics of Abundance

AS THE U.S. Congress and the president repeatedly battle over the debt ceiling and contemplate cuts to Social Security and Medicare, austerity has begun to sound like common sense: "Families tighten their belts during hard times, and so must government."

However, "common sense" in our media age is carefully manufactured, and its underlying analogy doesn't always hold up to scrutiny. "Living within our means," for most families, includes debt financing for housing, cars, and college. Families having a hard time paying their bills may indeed tighten their belts—but they seek more income first, and cut care for children and the sick last. In contrast, federal budget austerity arguments always focus on spending, ignoring the revenue crisis born of decades of tax cuts.

Christians have a more profound reason to question "austerity measures": They conflict with our faith in God's abundance. In parable after parable—the prodigal son, the unforgiving debtor, Lazarus and the rich man—Jesus challenges us to emulate God's generosity. It is the theme of that most eucharistic miracle, the loaves and fishes. How to live in the light of God's abundance is never an easy question, but we must be open to its logic in every area of human existence, including our personal lives, our economy, and our government.

There is, needless to say, a deep contrast between Christian notions of abundance, rooted in God's boundless creative gift, and the modern field of economics, which bases itself on the principle that commodities are scarce. Yet there are also resonances between abundance and modern macroeconomics (the study of whole economies) as it developed in the New Deal period and the first three decades after World War II—especially in the great postwar era of shared prosperity, which saw an explosive expansion of the middle class.

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Give Us This Day Our Daily Vote

Photo: Voting booth, Steve Cukrov / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Voting booth, Steve Cukrov / Shutterstock.com

In a few weeks citizens will choose who serves as president of the United States. As many from all sides of the political spectrum have already recognized, the nationwide decision of Nov. 6 will affect the direction of 50 states – as well as the international community – for generations to come.  

Since the opposing candidates offer contrasting views for the future, the choice is indeed critical, thus all are encouraged to listen openly and attentively, critique the various policy positions carefully, and when the first Tuesday of November arrives, make an informed choice for the collective benefit of our global common good. 

While one should affirm and appreciate the importance of Election Day, we should also recognize and appreciate our ability to shape society far more frequently than once every four years. While several years pass between presidential elections, we vote for the collective benefit of our global common good on numerous occasions with each passing day.   

Art Matters

Child in art class, Poznyakov, Shutterstock.com
Child in art class, Poznyakov, Shutterstock.com

Unfortunately, celebrating the arts isn’t a priority today. This is especially apparent when ongoing budget cuts threaten robust art programs.

When looking for places to cut, art and music school programs are the first to go in schools. Recently in Los Angeles, the Board of Education approved a preliminary $6 billion budget, a plan that would eliminate employment by the thousands, close school districts’ adult schools, cut after-school programs and cut art programs.

These cuts continue, even when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan insists dance, music, theater, and visual arts "are essential to preparing our nation's young people for a global economy fueled by innovation and creativity,” according to GOOD.

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