Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pigs and Gluttony

With all the bailouts, err, I mean economic stimulus recovery money being spent, pork--a.k.a. earmarks--have been in the news a lot. It's infuriating to read about, isn't it? Why are MY taxes paying for some stupid teapot museum in North Carolina? Or to study the mating habits of mosquitoes in Bora Bora? (Okay, I made that second one up. If my memory serves me right, that first one is actually true.)

BILLIONS of dollars are WASTED every year through earmarks. It's something that gets the blood boiling. It's something Republicans can take the moral high road. (Being in the minority, let's face it--their real complaint is the fact that they can't get THEIR earmarks in. Not like they did much about earmark problems when they actually had power in Congress to make lots for themselves.)

But one newspaper account I read said that in a $700 billion stimulus package, about $6 billion was earmarks. That's less than 1% of the stimulus package. Frankly, I don't really find myself getting worked up about less than 1%. Eliminating earmarks isn't going to balance our budget.

I'm also going to go out on a limb and say that not all earmarks are bad. Take the millions of dollars that will be paid out to Filipino WWII vets. That's an earmark. Ideally, it wouldn't be part of the economic stimulus package--it doesn't create jobs. It's not really relevant to the question at hand. But screw it, it's a good earmark anyhow. I'm ashamed that the US waited so long to get this sort of thing through. And while it won't directly create any jobs, to say it would create NO jobs isn't exactly the whole truth either.

We give out money to these well-deserving vets and what happens to it? They SPEND it! They spend it on health care. They spend it on homes. They spend it on food. Or maybe to fix their car. Guess what? Those types of activities create jobs. The money goes to companies that research and make drugs, home construction, your checker at the local supermarket, and the mechanic to fix the car, and the guy in the factor who made the parts that needed to be replaced. And then guess what happens? Those people who have jobs will spend the money THEY make. And so on. Directly, no, those payments don't create a single job. Indirectly? I don't know how many jobs they create, but it does indeed create jobs.

Even a teapot museum in North Carolina creates jobs. Teapot aficionados from around the world might buy airline tickets to see this world-class teapot museum. They might book motels, rent cars, and do some sight-seeing along the way. (Though to be perfectly honest, I'd rather see the money go for a rather more noble cause.)

So the economy is in the crapper. By some accounts, the worst recession since the Great Depression. It doesn't seem wise to say no because the economic recovery package is "packed" with less than 1% pork. And considering that a large amount of that less than 1% actually are good earmarks, and likely create jobs indirectly--I say suck it up. It's not as bad as Republicans or the media leads you to believe.

I kind of have a suspicious eye on Republicans. I don't really like to pick sides--or at least find an excuse to criticize both Democrats and Republicans rather than single out either side for praise or a smackdown. The fuss over earmarks by Republicans, I think, is mostly because they have little power and can't push through their own earmarks. So they're taking the moral high ground bashing the Democrats for using them. All the while wishing their roles were actually reversed.

But there's a cynical side to me that thinks it's even worse than that. Consider this: The best thing that could possible happen to help the Republican cause is the complete and utter failure of the government. Who'll get the blame? Democrats, of course. They control both houses of Congress AND the presidency. The Republicans actually have a vested interest in making sure the government goes down in proverbial flames. They could be thinking, "Hey, this economic stimulus package thing might actually work. And those darned Democrats will get all the credit for 'saving' our nation! But if we can stop it from passing.... and the recession keeps getting worse.... the Democrats will get the blame since they're the ones in power."

Don't get me wrong--I have absolutely no reason to think that sort of thing is going on. I think the more likely scenario is they're just pounding drums about pork because they can't push through the pork advantageous for themselves, so they're claiming the moral high ground instead. It's the logical thing to do.

But I still find it somewhat disconcerting that Republicans as a whole really have no incentive to pull us out of this recession. At least if Republicans had a majority in at least one of the houses of Congress, THOSE Republicans would have a vested interest in getting the country straightened out. The blame for anything bad that happens would be spread among both parties (and likewise, any good news would be shared among both parties).

Politics as usual....

Don't believe the hype, though. Pork is not as bad as the media generally makes it out to be. Not that I'm a huge fan of it either, but in the grand scheme of things, there are more important things to worry about.


1SG said...

Agree. I tend to be conservative and think that most Federal government spending is money wasted. Local control please. The one thing we can trust is that who ever controls the purse strings will spend more than their predecessor.

Tell me again about how things will change with a new administration. Did I hear "No more earmarks?

I grew up in Burien many years ago and love it when you talk about that area.

Uwe Kaiser said...

Quit making money. Money is one of the least significant facets of human life!