Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Prof. Melissa Harris-Lacewell on "Our Budget, Our Selves"

Our Budget, Our Selves

posted by Melissa Harris-Lacewell on
03/24/2009 @ 08:13am

Few processes are more revealing of our commitments, our priorities, and our core beliefs than budgeting. This is true for individuals, families, institutions, and nations. How we spend our resources is a much more meaningful measure of what we value than our public declarations on the matter.

This is particularly true in tough times when there are fewer resources to allocate.

I have a good friend who has decided to get rid of their family's second car. Though she and her husband work 30 minutes in opposite directions they are finding a way to make this crazy commute work. Why? Because they live a town with seriously underperforming public schools and they are absolutely committed to providing their daughter with a first class education. For them, this means private school tuition. So everyone is bracing for obscenely early mornings and far more inconvenient work schedules. They never thought twice about this priority.

I work at an elite, private university, but even we are feeling the crush of the economic downturn. This week I watched with pride as my president, Shirley Tilghman, explained that Princeton remains absolutely committed to providing some of the most generous financial aid packages in the country. There may be heftier workloads and fewer faculty resources, but President Tilghman will not allow financial pressures to alter her commitment to expanding opportunities in the ivy leagues beyond the wealthy elite. She has not wavered about this priority.

On Fridays my retired mother volunteers at our local crisis ministry. Every week she meets men and women who have lost jobs and homes. They are battling to find enough food to feed their families. Yet most of them talk to her about their deep commitments to family and community. They are pulling together and helping one another. Times are tough but they help their elderly neighbors get groceries home on the bus. They do not allow their poverty to duhmanize them.

Tonight President Obama presents his budget to the American people. The budget is more than a balance sheet. President Obama will ask us to evaluate our priorities in the face of economic crisis. He will question our resolve to improve education, offer equal opportunities, and provide for our neighbors despite the the terrifying deficits. He will ask us what we really believe.

Each of the stories I have told here could be eased with a collective national effort. All families should have quality public schools for their children. College should be more affordable for high achieving students. High quality, widely accessible public housing and elder care services can relieve burdens on the poorest Americans.

Budgets are choices. We can respond with fear and refuse to make long term investments in our country or we can choose to follow our highest ideals as Americans. President Obama will ask us what we believe.

How we respond will reveal who we truly are as a nation.

Comments (9)

How about single-payer medical insurance coverage? Like the rest of the industrialized world.

And what about the US military budget which currently consumes more than the rest of the govt combined? If nothing is done about that decision on what to spend where, what does that reveal about who we truly are as a nation?

We are militarists. We value weapons with a global reach more than we value the health & eduction of our children.

Posted by sloper at 03/24/2009 @ 08:32am
Well, obviously spending a trillion dollars on Americans and improving our lives is a big waste of money and a horrible burden on our children...

while spending a trillion on installing a Sharia-leaning Iran-friendly Shiia government in Iraq and KILLING 4100+ American soldiers to do it is a fantastic use of such money.

Posted by Mask at 03/24/2009 @ 08:36am
'Because I never thought this day would ever happen. I won't have to worry about putting gas in my car. I won't have to worry about paying my mortgage. You know. If I help Obama, he's gonna help me.' -- Peggy Joseph -- Sarasota, Florida -- November, 2008

Posted by HonestLiberal at 03/24/2009 @ 08:57am
"I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family." --George W. Bush, Greater Nashua, N.H., Jan. 27, 2000

Posted by Mask at 03/24/2009 @ 09:27am
MH-L: "How we spend our resources is a much more meaningful measure of what we value than our public declarations on the matter."

Well, Earmark-defending Queen, I've got a different thought in reaction to above.

How we fund our spending is a much more meaningful measure of what we value than our public declarations on the matter.

Posted by Happy at 03/24/2009 @ 09:44am
How we fund our spending is a much more meaningful measure of what we value than our public declarations on the matter.------Posted by Happy at 03/24/2009 @ 09:44am

"I used to get concerned when deficits were running in the tens of billions....I was young.....didn't realize how confidence in America was so powerful in the world and we can export US dollars that cost next-to-nothing and roll them over and over and over....

IF the US ever decides to be unethical, it can wipe away all foreign-held debt....that's a nuclear option surely tucked deep inside some `Emergency Plan' somewhere!"----Posted by HAPPY 09/11/2007 @ 10:22pm

"I told you before, I don't know and I don't care! The money spent fighting overseas have brought tangible security and prosperity, even if it has been weighed towards the top."----Posted by HAPPY 10/24/2007 @ 10:31pm

Posted by Mask at 03/24/2009 @ 10:17am
It's obvious. We prefer kickin' butt and bombing the crap out of people 30,000 feet below us on the other side of the world much more than we prefer education, public goods, or economic security.


Posted by pwg_ at 03/24/2009 @ 10:37am
Wow, The Nation is offering liberal cover for an austerity program, to fund the transfer of a trillion or two to the financial elite. I'm amazed. If I were a right populist, I could do a lot with this.

Posted by c-DougHenwood at 03/24/2009 @ 12:18pm
It's a food message, albeit somewhat simplistic. It is going to take all of Barrack's intelligence, and then some, for him to reverse the descent of this nation under eight years of George/Dick looting.

Then there's the "minor" consideration of a consumption culture which has become our own worst ennemy. I don't know that even Barrack, with his confidence and charisma, can create this sea change and dig up the rotten roots of a decaying economy based on greed and on deceiving other nations. Other world economies have simply gotten way too smart, and as much as people may like him personally, they do not trust America any more not to deceive them. A nation that makes ammunitions, guns and bombs CANNOT stand for human rights and peace. It is not our leaders only. It is we the people willing to defer the voice of our conscience for the next buffet meal. Our consumptive ability made us number 1. That same ability, unless fundamentally reengineered to rediscover its imagination and its creativity to once again produce materials of essence, will now drag Wall Street down to the dumps. In the process, the lessons from previous generations would be forgotten, and our blaming the next generation for being self-centered and greedy rings hollow.

Just as our parents give us the illusion anything is possible, we have given them the delusion that anything is possible at the expense of someone else doing the work for them.

Posted by Quan1 at 03/24/2009 @ 12:33pm

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