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What We Pay For

It’s been said ‘you can’t legislate morality’ but, it’s my contention we do it all the time.


On both the local and national level the House and Senate are constantly creating laws that address sex, drugs, working conditions, religion, race, gender etc., etc. Presently, legislative bodies throughout the land are passing laws concerning medical marijuana, same sex marriage, separation of church and state issues and more. Here in Rhode Island, the death penalty, religious symbols (crosses/Christmas trees) and tightening up on tobacco laws are also salient concerns. Many of these measures have been fueled by views related to spiritual beliefs. Others involve equity and social justice. Sounds like morals and the legislative process are deeply entwined.

Budgets adopted by the nation, states, cities and towns are other examples where morality and the legislative process intersect. How we spend our money tells us much about our priorities and values. We can intellectualize all we want about the who, what and wheres, however, in the short run the budget is indeed a moral document. Those numbers on the bills and ledgers add up to more than lots of money. They add up and tell us a great deal about how we want to be perceived. They tell us what we care enough about to pay for.

To a large extent the same dynamics occur within households on an ongoing basis. Families must prioritize how income is allocated on things like shelter, food, clothing, heat, transportation, taxes, recreation, schooling and so on. The economic hardships we’ve been facing over the last few years has placed additional stress on how decisions about money are made (by legislators and families). This makes how we spend our money even more important a concern. This makes how we spend our money an even bigger moral concern.

This will be a short piece (for me). In many ways what is written here is nothing new to most readers. How we spend our money matters. It speaks volumes about how we see ourselves and the world. It also speaks volumes about our beliefs and how we relate with others. Is it true that those who wind up with the most toys win? Or is it true that those toys would be best used helping others and oneself?

In the end much of what we pay for is up to us. Sure, the political process can drive you mad from time to time. Sure, the legislative process can be slow and at times bogged down with deal making. Despite all of this, regular folk can have a say. Politicians can be influenced. We can rally. We can call and write to our elected officials. We can also vote (even though the choices are not always great). With all of this being said, we can be part of the check-and-balance process. All too often we fail to realize that those we elect are public servants. If indeed the budget is a moral statement it’s something we should seriously reflect upon.

Till next time.

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