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Friday, December 12, 2008

Pork as Economic Salvation

Who would have thunk it last Spring, when McCain was touting himself as the crusader against earmarks? It turns out that pork-barrel spending is not the bane of the republic, but its salvation. If you find that claim outlandish, consider the staid, conservative Economist Magazine's call last month for immediate federal spending on local infrastructure. Anyone who spends any time talking to New York City budget officials knows that the City is counting on federal money for "shovel-ready" infrastructure. The basic wisdom is that quick economic stimulus requires spending to relieve unemployment, and infrastructure projects put money where it is needed -- in the hands of contractors and their employees, who will actually spend the stuff rather than squirrel it away in their bank vaults. In short, the Bridge to Nowhere is now a bridge to economic recovery or, at least, stability.

Should we embrace pork? Here is the Conservative's argument in favor. Unlike many other plans for federal stimulation of the economy (through, for instance, subsidies for "green" technology), pork does not require the feds to pick technological winners or otherwise make difficult policy judgments that the feds are arguably ill-suited to make. Instead, the feds need only send grants to non-federal officials with small state matching shares and watch them use it for old-fashioned projects that have been in the queue for years (even decades) -- bridges, highways, docks and container port facilities, etc. It is not glamorous stuff, but pork-barrel spending might be the sort of Keynesian policy that a conservative skeptic of centralized decision-making might be able to (pardon the pun) swallow.

Posted by Rick Hills on December 12, 2008 at 11:45 AM | Permalink


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Hi Rick:

Interesting idea. Along those same lines, you might be interested in an article I'm writing (slowly, so no draft is available) right now, which proposes a compromise that might make increased spending in green tech more palatable to conservatives (or anyone who believes in markets) who don't like the idea of the government picking specific "winners" in the green tech sector. It's (tentatively) called COMMON GROUND FOR GINGRICH & GORE: ALLOWING ACCREDITED INVESTORS TO USE PRIVATE SOCIAL SECURITY ACCOUNTS TO SPUR INVESTMENT IN “GREEN TECH”. I'm a long way from being ready to post a draft, but I will send you a copy of the relevant portion of my research agenda, FYI.

Joe Leahy
VAP, Seattle U

Posted by: Joe Leahy | Dec 15, 2008 11:06:21 AM

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