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Every so often, in discussions as varied as an ostentatious house or corporate bailouts or political stances, someone uses the phrase "Think of how many hungry people that would feed" in response to a large amount of money. The usage that sparked this particular post is the $20 million dollars that the Mormon Church spent attempting (hopefully unsuccessfully, but we shall find out later tonight) to ban same-sex marriage in California.

Now, I'm a huge fan of equal rights. I believe all people have the right to express their love to another, and have that love recognized. That we have a section of our population who are denied not only the official recognition of their love but ALSO the legal rights that come along with that recognition is unfair and morally wrong. (I'm refraining from using the phrase "I support same-sex marriage" because I'm okay with civil unions instead of marriage. In fact, I'd prefer to see civil unions as the de facto standard for the legal joining of two people regardless of gender, and "marriage" reserved for religious joining only. As it is, you have to sign a legal document as part of a marriage ceremony, and if you don't sign it you are not legally married, so what I'm proposing is really not that far from what we already have.)

But the whole idea that "that money could have been spent better" is silly and dangerous. Economics is about the movement of money. That $20 million dollars didn't just vanish into the ether and suddenly some people had a different view. It went to advertising agencies and media agencies (print, television or radio). Those agencies then used the money to pay their employees. Those employees then did something with that money-- maybe they spent it on necessities like groceries, or maybe they spent it on luxuries, or maybe they put it into savings accounts or paid off debt with it. Unless they stuffed it under their mattresses or buried it in a chest in the backyard, it went back into the system-- either the store they purchased their goods from got it, or banks got it. Stores used it to pay their employees (repeat the cycle) or their suppliers (who used it to pay either their employees (repeat the cycle) or their suppliers (repeat the cycle)). Banks used it to pay their employees (repeat the cycle) or lent it out to other people or businesses, who either spent it or used it to pay off higher-interest debt. Regardless of exactly how it flowed through the system, it still flowed through the system, and as it flowed it created wealth.

Could it have been used to feed hungry people? Sure. Certainly, they need to be fed. But is it better to feed the hungry, or keep the money moving and the economy going and thereby prevent others from becoming hungry in the first place? There needs to be a balance between both-- lean too far towards creating a strong economy, and the hungry starve to death. Lean too far towards feeding the hungry, and the economy suffers to the point that more hungry are created.

Could the money have been used better? Well of course it could have, it could have been used to produce advertising in support of same-sex marriage instead. [insert huge grin here] Or it could have been used to pay homeless and/or underemployed people to stand at intersections holding signs proclaiming support for Prop 8, which would accomplish both goals-- for all I know, it might well have been used for just that. But to say that spending it is not a worthy action-- it's just not true.


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January 2015

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