These Projects Are Shovel-Ready, All Right

I’ve been a little too busy to read the 647-page “stimulus” bill the House just approved and the Senate is set to consider. So, for the moment, I must rely on what others, such as the Wall Street Journal, are reporting about this $825 billion statute.

Given the gargantuan amount of money being appropriated in this bill, you might think that it certainly must portend a great deal of economic stimulus, especially if you, like most Americans, labor under vulgar Keynesian misconceptions about the effects of government spending—you know, more government spending is always good (it has a “multiplier” effect) and more government debt is no problem (we’ll be dead before our kids and grandkids get saddled with the lion’s share of the burden of paying off this additional debt, directly or indirectly, and nobody really gives a damn about future generations, right? What did they ever do for us?).

Well, those might have been your feelings if you hadn’t bothered to look inside this stimulus-sausage factory, to see what ingredients go into the product. I can’t recite all of them here, complete with all of the preservatives and the spices, but some are as follows:

Amtrak, $1 billion; child-care subsidies, $2 billion; National Endowment for the Arts, $50 million; global-warming research, $400 million; carbon-capture demonstration projects, $2.4 billion; digital TV conversion coupons, $650 million; renewable energy funding, $8 billion; mass transit, $6 billion; new cars for the federal government, $600 million; modernizing federal buildings and other facilities, $7 billion. These items are only some of the small potatoes, however. Note that, in most cases, the amounts given are actually additions to amounts made available elsewhere in the budget.

Bigger-ticket items include: bridge repairs and other highway projects, $30 billion; broadband and electric-grid development, airports, and clean-water projects, $40 billion. Notice that these are the sorts of public-works projects usually implied when the legislation is discussed in general terms, yet they add up to less than 10 percent of the total spending.

Almost a third of the total spending is targeted for income-transfer programs, including: refundable tax credits, $82.7 billion; Medicaid, $81 billion; food stamps, $20 billion; public housing, $7.5 billion; COBRA insurance extension, $30.3 billion; unemployment insurance, $36 billion; and various others. Education will get $66 billion more than it gets elsewhere in the budget. The motto there: no education bureaucrat or teacher-union member left behind.

Call me old-fashioned, but when I gaze upon all of this booty, I don’t see stimulus; I see rip-off. The Democrats are using the alleged crisis as the pretext for a monumental looting of the taxpayers (present and future) in the service of rewarding—whuda thunk?—the interest groups that put them in power.

All of this comes, of course, close on the heels of the gigantic Republican rip-off of last October’s bailout bill, by which we peasants were plundered to transfer hundreds of billions of dollars to the owners, managers, and creditors of banks and other financial institutions—all under the pretext, of course, that the impending financial catastrophe meant that “something had to be done” at once. 

Well, something was damn sure done then, and something even worse is being done now. The list of beneficiaries from these piratical actions differs, to be sure, but the common denominator remains: ROBBERY—robbery most foul, and on an almost unthinkably grand scale.

Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute, author or editor of over fourteen Independent books, and Editor at Large of Independent’s quarterly journal The Independent Review.
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