Friday, September 26, 2008

Save the Economy, Save the World?

"It is extraordinary to me that you can find $700 billion to save Wall Street and the entire G8 can't find $25 billion to save 25,000 children who die every day of preventable treatable disease and hunger."

Another strange and scary week in the world. It's hard not to be at least a little nervous about our nation's finances and the value of our investments and homes. It's hard not to think that $700 billion is an INSANE amount of money.

But you know what? When something is important to you, you can always find the money.

It's interesting to observe what we choose to use our money (or our credit/debt, actually) for, especially when compared to what people think we are or say they would like us to use it for. If you ask Americans how much of the federal budget goes to foreign aid and development, most people think it is one of the largest spending areas. In reality, although the U.S. pledged in 1992 to give .7 percent of gross national income to development, in 2005 the actual amount was .16 percent. Those decimals are correct—less than one percent.

In 2000 the UN set out the Millennium Development Goals for reducing global extreme poverty by making achievable gains in education, clean water, child mortality, fighting disease, and health care for women and children in particular. The goals are specific, and more importantly, they are achievable. If the world's rich nations raised their development funding by just 1 percent, we could cut extreme poverty and hunger in half by 2015.

We haven't done it.

I went to a Bread for the World workshop on this about seven years ago, when 2015 seemed long off. Now we are halfway there and many of the gains that have been made are being erased by the global food crisis (sudden unavailability of and exponential rises in prices of staple foods) and other factors. Now with our economy requiring a massive infusion of (imaginary?) cash, what will happen to the will to invest beyond our borders?

I know the world is complicated. I know changing spending habits is hard (just ask my own checkbook). I know priorities can sound good in the abstract but get trampled by the tyranny of the urgent.

But I also know that millions of people are suffering, thousands are dying every single day, and we can do something about it—if we want to. Because when something is important to you, you can always find the money.

So in the midst of all the economic nervousness and financial pinching and political drama and excessive pondering thereof of which I am as guilty as anyone, I am trying to keep perspective. I am trying to remember that I am blessed to be able to send a small-to-me, huge-to-her birthday gift to a girl in Ethiopia, even if I feel like I should cling to every ten dollars I can. I am trying to remember that a few dollars more for junk foods I don't really need is nothing comparing to a doubling or tripling in price of the already meager staple foods some live on. Yes, it could still get really bad here. But we still have it really, really good.

And as America turns to the standard bearers of our major political parties for some confidence, some direction, some vision for the future of our country, I will be listening to what they say about our world and hoping for Just ONE Question on global poverty in our increasingly interconnected world. I hope they both say yes, we'll find the money, because that's important to us.

Although it's easy to forget, that's important to me.

Save the economy? Yes. Then, please, let's do what we can to save the world.

1 comment:

paige said...

I am SO with you. It's amazing how easily money can be found for matters that matter. And while I get the ripple theory pertaining to this economic crisis, isn't there a ripple theory that can be applied when we let entire nations dry up and wither away one malnourished toddler at a time? It's mind-boggling and complex, even as I walk down the Magnificent Mile and covet all of the shiny pretty baubles that decorate the store windows. I'm working hard to prioritize my wants and needs. I wish our leaders might do the same.