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Opinion

When some yell 'scarcity,' time to act abundantly

The recent Republican plan to offset hurricane relief through budget cuts reflects an outmoded 'scarcity doctrine' that invites limitation in society. Applying a loaves-and-fishes 'abundance model' does the opposite. A small liberal arts college in North Carolina shows why.

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Following the recent financial collapse, a common pattern for some of the most richly endowed American universities was to focus on their financial losses, while ignoring the fact that they still remained incredibly wealthy in the relative scheme of things. As a result, they reacted by cutting educational and research costs by freezing hiring and salaries, postponing needed capital projects, or even cutting positions. In effect, they put their true mission in a holding pattern.

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Meanwhile, almost unnoticed nationally, during this very same time period, High Point University, a small, private liberal arts university in High Point, N.C., under the leadership of a president with a large vision, decided not just to honor its plan for growth, but expand it. The college, with its relatively small endowment, found abundant resources to make a quantum leap. Facing down doubts and fears, it embarked on an aggressive fundraising campaign and began investing in new buildings. Its leadership saw opportunity, where others might have seen lack.

Since then, its size, programs, and facilities have all greatly expanded. Its national ranking has gone up. And the continued expansion plan is expected to create jobs and increase economic impact in North Carolina’s most populous metro-region. The university community and surrounding region will be experiencing the benefits of its transformation for many years to come.

If we perceive the world through the lens of balance sheets, then in times of economic downturn, we perceive only deficits and debts. This skews our perception toward scarcity and retrenchment. We believe, perhaps, that we cannot afford disaster relief. But the balance-sheet perception doesn’t give us the full picture.

The current economic downturn, viewed through the lens of actual resources, represents an abundance of workers and capital available. If some of those resources were used for hurricane relief, for example, they would be activated rather than being left idle and so wasted.

Now is not the time to raise balance-sheet scarcity as the reason to question the moral principle that we should provide humane aid to fellow citizens in their time of need. Such a denial would be weak on moral as well as economic grounds.

It’s time for politicians and community members alike to rethink the “scarcity doctrine” and open their eyes to the modern-day loaves and fishes waiting to be harvested and dispersed.

Donald Frey is a retired professor of economics at Wake Forest University and author of “America’s Economic Moralists.”

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