Thoughts On Cost

Money is a means to an end. To believe that it is an end unto itself is to ignore the greater values that his country is capable of standing upon. Some policies cost money; others cost lives. That ethos, I believe, is at the heart of the progressive movement.

The Most Rev. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and titular leader of the world’s third largest Christian denomination (my own, the Anglican Communion), has an essay about finance and economics in the upcoming issue of Newsweek. I am particularly struck by this paragraph:

We must hang on to the idea that not everything reduces to one standard of value. Treat economic exchanges as the only "real" thing that people do, and you face the same problems confronted by the evolutionary biologist (for whom the only question is how organisms compete and survive) or the Freudian fundamentalist (for whom the only issue is how we resolve the tensions of infantile sexuality). Traditional religious ethics—traditional ethics of any kind, in fact—do not require you to ignore the hidden forces that may be at work in any particular setting. Being human is learning how to ask critical questions of your own habits and compulsions, and it's learning how to adjust them against a model of human behavior—an idealized truth about the purpose of our humanity.

Those in positions of power are rightly concerned with “cost”, but all too often it is the wrong kind of cost. They speak as if money is the only thing that matters when weighing the pros and cons of a given decision.  Medical evacuations from Haiti to the U.S. were suspended for four days because Florida Governor Charlie Crist didn’t want his state paying for them. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is against giving Khalid Shaikh Mohammed the judicial rights our founders believed all persons should have because it would be “expensive for the taxpayers and… disruptive for New York City.” The Republican National Committee opposes cap-and-trade because, they say, "The Democrats are planning to jack up energy prices and pass the cost on to you and your family… Can you and your family afford an additional $3,100 in higher energy taxes a year?" (Ignore for a moment that that number is grossly exaggerated and focus on the underlying implication that fiscal cost is the only thing that matters.)

Money matters – you can’t do what you can’t pay for – but it should not make up the entire definition of the word “cost.” One of the most important textbook words I learned in college was “externality,” and Crist, Bloomberg, and the RNC have failed to internalize the externalities. They are not asking the right questions about cost. Yes, security for KSM’s trial would cost a bundle, but where does the Constitution say that “we the people” means only the people with cash? Aren’t our values supposed to be universal, not fiscal? Having the trial costs money; not having it costs our principles. Governor Crist, it’s only January; isn’t eleven months enough time to rework the budget for a new expenditure or to ask the federal government for retroactive aide? The evacuations cost money; the supsension costs lives. And yes, cap-and-trade might cost families a few hundred dollars a year, but do we really think that saving a few hundred dollars is worth the cost of 24,000 American lives lost each year to coal pollution, or that $300 per year is worth the cost of entire low-lying cultures?

Money is important. I’m ticked that, even without the stimulus and Iraq, the 2010 budget will have a bigger deficit than the 2009 budget. If we want to ensure that our most important programs are sustainable in the long term, then we can’t keep running deficits anywhere near this large. At the same time, however, there are things are worth paying for. When facing a choice between dollars and lives, money should be used on behalf of greater values. It should not be hoarded for its own sake nor distributed inefficiently through corporate welfare and tax cuts for the rich.

That is why I am a part of the progressive movement: My values remind me that people matter, and that money is nothing more than a means to an end. It may well be the most important means, but it is still just that, a means. Anyone who comes to believe that money, whether their own or the nation’s as a whole, is an end unto itself risks losing sight of the true power and depth of human relationships and of life. American citizens should seriously question the gap between our historical rhetoric and our modern reality.

Tags: faith and politics, Charlie Crist, Michael Bloomberg, Money, Values (all tags)

Comments

17 Comments

Huh?

You actually believe that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is entitled to due process as protected by the United State Constitution? A murderous terrorist who is not a US citizen is entitled to the same rights as one born in this country? You are terribly naive and misguided if you believe that....As for cap and trade....dont even go there. Its a misguided attempt to appease global warming alarmists.....you must be terribly naive if you think all these sudden "errors" in global warming science are just oversights...

by BuckeyeBlogger 2010-02-01 08:55PM | 0 recs
RE: Huh?

Our founders didn't declare Independence and craft the Constitution because they believed people lucky enough to live on this continent deserved certain rights.They did so because they believe the ways of Europe were wrong and there was a better way for all men (a vision now expanded to all people). Legally speaking, yes, the Constitution applies only to US citizens, but "you are terribly naive and misguided if you believe" that Americans deserve better or different than any other persons.

I would reply to your misguided take on energy policy, but since you said "dont even go there," I guess I probably shouldn't. Oh, well. Please let me know when it's okay again to bring up positions you yourself don't hold - either that or drop the tired pop slang. What's next, talk to the hand? Yeah, that's the ticket? Eat your shorts? Riiiight...

by Nathan Empsall 2010-02-01 09:21PM | 1 recs
RE: Huh?

Wel go ahead and go there. This notion that global warming science is fact, has been decided and there is no room for discussion is nonsense. There is plenty of science refutinmg man made global warming. Arent you the least bit disturbed that we have seen multiple cases now where data was manipulated, hidden, changed etc to prove the global warming argument? This debate is not over. That doesnt mean that we shouldnt explore and promote green technology. From the standpoint of national security and energy independence we certainly should. We should be investing in Nuclear, Solar and Wind technology and energy. Related we should be investing in true HS Rail as a means to reduce the use of aircraft and automotive fuel and emissions. Of course the HS Rail that is being proposed isnt truly HS Rail unless we build entirely seperate tracks and lines, it will always be speed prohibited. The point is, I see the need for green technology and infrastructure but not because of some insane belief that man is destroying the world and will do so within the next 10 or so years as these crazy alarmists would have us believe.

 

by BuckeyeBlogger 2010-02-02 12:29PM | 0 recs
RE: Huh?

If mankind is not using resources at an unsustainable rate, then what point is there for developing green technology? It's more complicated, more expensive and rarer. Without the environmental imperitive green tech simply makes no sense.

by vecky 2010-02-03 04:15AM | 0 recs
RE: Huh?

Clean technology is not rare. There were only so many dinosaur bones, but there is an infinite supply of wind and a limitless daytime supply of solar.

But that aside, sustainability isn't the only thing to think about. Wars are fought over oil, and coal mining destroys water while coal plants cause asthma. There are plenty of reasons to support clean energy beyond climate change. If there's only one thing BB and I agree upon, that's it.

by Nathan Empsall 2010-02-03 10:03AM | 0 recs
RE: Huh?

It's rare in the sense that energy sources from clean tech are diffuse. A barrel of oil or a lump of coal is a concentrated store of energy. Wind and Solar might be everywhere but they are a lot less concentrated than fossil fuels.

by vecky 2010-02-03 04:18PM | 0 recs
RE: Huh?

Yes, plenty of science, most of it from oil-lobbyist-employed hacks. (Most, not all.)

The CRU hack did not reveal anything incriminating. That was a made-up scandal. The Himalayan Glaciers was a legit and disappointing story, but it didn't raise questions about the underlying modeling data or ice cores, just the extrapolation methods of the IPCC's b-team. Troubling, but isolated. Here's a good post about that: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2010/01/the-ipcc-is-not-infallible-shock/

"These crazy alarmists" you speak of are the bulk of the scientific community. Not a single major scientific institution says global warming isn't real, and only six are even neutral. You don't have a leg to stand on. And even if you did, so what? Why are you arguing with me about this? We agree on the solutions, even if not the problem! I'll push for HS rail and wind energy, and you'll push for it, and if we win, we're both happy for different reasons. But no, you'd rather get bogged down in the weeds!

by Nathan Empsall 2010-02-03 09:58AM | 0 recs
RE: Huh?

HA HA HA!  BB you really are a card.  But really, this is such easy trolling...you are better than this.

BTW...you don't believe in leading by example?  Guess the terrorists beat you down so you will not show how to give due process to a hated enemy, to show some compassion from a position of power.  Glad you are not my leader...you must miss Cheney.

by Hammer1001 2010-02-01 10:34PM | 0 recs
RE: Huh?

And you believe that somehow leading by example and allowing a terrorist due process in US Court room somehow makes us safer? Thats along the same mentality that says we need to understand why they dont like us, we need to be nicer to them. These people understand only one thing....brute force and terror. The only way to deal with them is to show them the same. And how about instead of blaming us fore their hatred of us we blame their governments and so called leaders who preach and teach hatred. How about the Palestinian and Saudi schools where they use text books that preach lies and hatred of Jews? Or the cartoons on TV there that do the same. At what point is it their responsibility to stop preaching hate to their people?

by BuckeyeBlogger 2010-02-02 12:33PM | 0 recs
RE: Huh?

This caveman us vs. them mentality is seriously offensive.  Who is this "them," anyway?  Who are "these people"?  In your view, is non-Westerner a terrorist?  Yours is a perfect policy prescription for pushing thousands more to extremism.  Treat someone like a criminal, eventually they're going to act the part.  So, let's accept that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is a terrorist.  Fine.  But what about the thousands of other people detained indefinitely across the globe?  Some of them might be "terrorists," but undoubtedly there are innocents among their number.  Power is about more than the overt show of force.  It's also about moral leadership and setting up a system that ensures that order can be maintained without using that force-- in short, it's about hegemony (getting others to buy into a structured system).  What's going to make the greater case for American power?  That we imprison on suspicion and detain without trial?  Or that we're so strong, so right in our mission that we provide even the most hardened criminal a fair trial?  I'd say the latter, and there's some evidence of it-- I heard reports (on NPR, for instance) that the father of the would-be Detroit bomber reported his son because with the Obama administration, he didn't have to worry about his son being tortured.

Seriously, who wins when basic human dignity goes out the window in the name of security?  It's sure not us or American values.  Terrorism is only as effective as we let it be.  In your case, it appears that the terrorists have won.

by dvk 2010-02-02 02:35PM | 1 recs
RE: Huh?

*is every non-Westerner (left out a word)

by dvk 2010-02-02 02:37PM | 0 recs
RE: Huh?

"Greenwald bemoans "how extremist our political consensus has become" against the rule of law:

The express policies of the right-wing Ronald Reagan — “applying the rule of law to terrorists”; delegitimizing Terrorists by treating them as “criminals”; and compelling the criminal prosecution of those who authorize torture — are now considered on the Leftist fringe.

Merely advocating what Reagan explicitly adopted as his policy — “to use democracy’s most potent tool, the rule of law against” Terrorists — is now the exclusive province of civil liberties extremists.

In those rare cases when Obama does what Reagan’s policy demanded in all instances and what even Bush did at times — namely, trials and due process for accused Terrorists — he is attacked as being “Soft on Terror” by Democrats and Republicans alike.

And the mere notion that we should prosecute torturers (as Reagan bound the U.S. to do) — or even hold them accountable in ways short of criminal proceedings — is now the hallmark of a Far Leftist Purist."

by jeopardy 2010-02-02 12:55PM | 2 recs
RE: Huh?

Moreover, I didn't hear some big right-wing outcry when Moussavi was tried and convicted in civil court.

 

Lets face it, BB has gotten caught up in the right-wing noise machine that has been using this issue as the latest way to try to make their sheep-followers angry at the "liberal boogymen"

 

 

by jeopardy 2010-02-02 01:29PM | 1 recs
RE: Huh?

BB has often come here and spouted RW talking points. He never seems to learn. Which I think has now become a feature of being a conservative rather than merely the handicp it was before.

by vecky 2010-02-03 04:17AM | 0 recs
RE: Huh?

Well, I for one don't see why phedophilles or rapists are granted constituional protections either (the constitution btw dosn't grant protections, rather it prevents government from taking them away, big difference). I mean if torture is such a great and useful thing I don't see why we can't use it to catch those crimminals.

by vecky 2010-02-03 04:21AM | 0 recs
RE: Huh?

The Constitution enshrines a fundamental check on the power of the government to jump to summary judgement. It's usually called the 'presumption of innocense', I believe. I hung a jury once, when the strongest argument in the room had eleven people convinced that accused was guilty despite any evidence. The argument went like this: "The police would not have arrested him if he wasn't guilty."

I used to have fun with a friend who would rant about how angry he got when accused pedophiles, in particular, were treated to the benefits of a 'presumption of innocense'. I offered to do an experiment, wherein I would make him the protagonist in a made-up bedtime story about 'The Bad Man who touched me innapropriately', which I would then tell to my 5 year old every night for a month.

He was not amused.

by QTG 2010-02-03 09:13AM | 1 recs
RE: Huh?

Well if we can ignore the constitution to "interogate" islamic terrorists, I don't see why we can't do the same with pedophiles, rapists or what ever class of crimminals is the digust of the month. Maybe Madoff should have been waterboarded to find out what he did with those billions?

by vecky 2010-02-03 04:22PM | 0 recs

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