Choices and trade-offs

Published December 16, 2020, 6:00 AM

by Milwida Guevara

I would be happy as a teacher if all that my students would remember is the concept of opportunity costs.  Resources such as time, talents and money have alternative uses.  By choosing to use a resource in a particular way, we give up all its other uses.  Just as I was hurrying to finish this article, a colleague called to share a problem.  I was of course torn between the choice of listening to him or beating my deadline.  I chose what I thought was more important —spending my time listening to a friend.  With my choice came the consequence of not finishing my column on time.

We are faced with making choices every day.  These can  range from  the most  mundane, i.e. what TV program to watch,  to major decisions on to how to spend our time, what career to pursue, who to vote for, getting  married or remaining  single, among the many others.  Each choice entails a trade-off.  Each choice requires us to decide which is more important among the many competing alternatives.  Each choice reflects our values and who we are.  Is our work more important than spending time with family?  Is our work given our highest priority than listening to music, playing with children, conversing with friends, enjoying a hobby, reading, or simply resting?

Our government officials are placed in a more difficult situation.  They have to make choices not only for themselves but for the entire nation.  The budget that was recently passed reflects their choices and what the country has to give up.  The budget reflects the kind of services that our government will provide.

The 2021 budget will prioritize the construction of multi-purpose buildings in various local government units compared to projects on flood management and bridges.  This is why the 2021 budget has been described as an election budget.   “Local programs” are perceived as “pork barrel” in disguise.

We can expect more and hopefully “safer” police operations. Government proposed some P150 billion for police services.  In addition, we will see the implementation of new programs to “end local communist armed conflicts.”

What  services will be given lower priorities because of lower financing?

There are tourism development, development programs for micro, small and medium enterprises, supplemental feeding program, irrigation, research and development in agriculture, and social pension for indigent senior citizens, among others.

It is a big letdown that the Department of Health did not get a hefty increase in the budget to bolster its capability to handle our health crisis well.  The spending for regional hospitals, assistance to local health systems, enhancement of health facilities and epidemiology and surveillance appears anemic.  The allocation to these services pales in comparison with the confidential and intelligence expenses of the Office of the President.

Did our lawmakers and government officials consider the opportunity costs in making their decisions?  Are their choices reflective of citizens’ preferences and needs? Were they results of logrolling and horse trading?  These questions are difficult to answer.  The only thing that is certain   is that they reflect their values.  And since we elected them, they reflect our values as well.

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