"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, September 30, 2022

Biden’s Bridges To Nowhere– The Moral Hazards of Government Giveaways

Politicians are known for their largesse – or rather their drunken sailor spending – especially in an election year; but the open sluice gates of the Biden Administration are things of wonder.  Billions after trillions of taxpayer dollars are spent willy nilly, for this and that, with little or no thought to outcome, impact, or relevance. 

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A number of years ago a newcomer to Washington was travelling down Independence Avenue, the Champs Elysees of government bureaucracy in Washington.  As he passed one particularly long, imposing building, he asked his colleague what it was.  “The Department of Agriculture”, she replied.  “You could cut one of every three jobs there and no one would notice”. 

Not a quiver, not one iota of difference to productivity or realization of goals; not a scintilla of difference between before and after.  Shorter lines at the cafeteria, less crowding on the Red Line, more space in the cloak room; nothing measurable, only parameters set, subjective indicators marked.  Directives given and followed, papers shifted and shared, deadlines set and adjusted, hours spent on refining goals, realigning priorities, and meeting to discuss them.

Bureaucracies are organic things, living and breathing to reproduce, increase, and remain viable and immune.  They are impervious to systemic change, institutional amoeba which morph when pricked and spread to other corners until a critical mass is reached and then they come together in the same protoplasmic whole.  They are the heart of government, ingesting whatever new administration policies are fed to them, digesting and regurgitating them until they become theirs, institutionalized, organically fixed, and permanent. 

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And so it will be with the uncounted and unknown trillions poured down the Treasury sluices into the public trough.  Before the public can even have a snout in the slop, great bureaucracies will be be enlarged and new ones created.  Roads, bridges, overpasses, tunnels, and thoroughfares cannot be repaired, rebuilt, or constructed without armies of overseers – planners, accountants, supervising engineers, lawyers, and software engineers who are put in place to supervise the construction of engineers, the litigation of lawyers, and the programs of computer scientists – and these overseers cannot exist in a vacuum but must themselves be supervised by managers, directors, and department heads.   Before a dollar is spent on driving rivets, hauling iron, pouring concrete, or heating asphalt, millions must be spent on creating the ‘institutional, enabling’ environment in which work will be done.

Once the bureaucracy sinks deep roots and flourishes up and down the corridors of Independence Avenue, even the idea of ‘oversight’ is lost.  Amidst the endless negotiations among municipalities, utilities, community groups, local politicians, and labor unions, roles become as mixed and indistinct as choices on the gender spectrum.  Who is responsible for what, when, and how, is lost in the shuffle; and in the process millions of dollars are diverted, ‘reinvested’, transformed into walkin’ around money, campaign donations, brand new Caterpillar tractors and backhoes, and children’s summer camps.  Cost overruns occur before one shovelful of dirt is dug, pylons left with nothing to support, iron frames left to rust.

Image result for images unfinished bridges

Those projects that do in fact get built are often supernumerary, roads to nowhere, greenways which add mileage and fuel costs, unused except for Sunday drivers.  Useless.

The government bureaucracies set up to administer the billions of dollars allocated for existing social welfare programs are even more useless.  At least when a bridge is built, you can count the rivets, cables, feet of pavement, struts, and  pillars; but there is no accounting for the money when it comes to welfare or early child development.  What exactly is the goal of welfare?  To temporarily help those fall on hard times, give them an incentive to get back on their feet, and relieve them of the ignominy of unemployment?  Or permanent entitlements – giveaways to the poor because they are poor, an administrative tautology?  The latter of course, and billions of dollars have been spent on programs which do little more than keep the poor viable.

Early childhood education has never shown cost-effective results.  While Head Start children do marginally better than their peers after leaving the program, differences disappear quickly, and after a grade or two both groups are performing below grade level.  “Not important”, contend progressive educators who insist that the nurturing, embracing ethos of early childhood education is important in and of itself, never to dissipate or disappear.  No data corroborate this optimistic suggestion, and yet money keeps pouring in as the Biden Administration calls for ‘free, universal early childhood education’.

Decades of job training, special needs programs, ‘compassionate, collaborative’ learning have only shown that nothing can compare with parental influence.  It is no surprise that Asian students far outperform black and even white students at all grade levels.  Like their Jewish counterparts generations earlier, Asians value education, discipline, hard work, ambition, and desire.  Government programs to remediate, to support, and to encourage children from dysfunctional families, communities, and neighborhoods are bound to fail; and yet billions of dollars get poured into them every year.

Image result for images asian students taking test

The newest Biden giveaway is a program to eliminate hunger by 2030, a catch-all potpourri of sub-programs to address obesity, hypertension, adult disease, and the racism which underlies the inability of the poor and disadvantaged to take better care of themselves.  Biden’s view of history is myopic, and he has trouble remembering the successful struggles of Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants in the early 20th century.  None of these newcomers expected a handout, knew that life on the Lower East Side would be unremittingly harsh; but worked three jobs, economized, saved, shared family responsibilities and eventually prospered. 

The handouts envisaged by Biden in his hunger program are depressors of economic incentive.  Compassionate in name only they are designed to create the same dependency as other social programs.  The bureaucracy created to administer such a grab bag of wooly programs will cost far more than the actual field programs.   The District of Columbia now spends over $20,000 per year per student in the public schools, one of the highest rates in the nation while the performance indicators are among the nation’s worst.  Most of these resources are for supporting the bevy of educational ‘administrators’ needed to supervise and oversee the city’s schools.   These ratios are consistent with most government programs – bureaucracy always trumps performance.

The case against government giveaways should be strong enough without the specter of macro-economics.  Such indiscriminate spending adds to inflation, rising interest rates, trade imbalances, higher taxes, and lower investment.  While Biden can tout the thousands of jobs created by these groundless public programs, he conveniently ignores the overall cost to the economy and the nation’s economic health.

Government programs – free lunches, welcome wagons, and come-one-come-all picnics – are intellectually corrupt.  The essential questions posed by any objective observer are these: What are the specific objectives of the program in terms of verifiable economic or social impact? Are these objectives realistic, and can they be achieved in a cost-effective way?  Is government the best agency for the realization of these programs or are the private or non-profit sectors better placed? Why are these programs chosen over all others? How has such relative priority been determined?  

These questions are never addressed let alone answered.  Government spending exists without logic, reason, objective purpose, or responsiveness.  Because governments refuse to consider consequences, impact, and cost-effectiveness of public programs, they should be drastically curtailed, restricted, or eliminated.

The turnover of the House, the Senate, and the White House to conservative Republican hands will help, but the dismantling of the great bureaucracies which enable profligate spending will take time.

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