Monday, September 27, 2010

Senatos McCain and Coburn Release List of Ridiculous Uses of Stimulus Money

Ever since President Obama and the Democratic Congress attempted to jump start the economy with their stimulus package early in 2009, Republicans have launched attack after attack on the measure. In doing so, they tend to overlook the fact that the majority of the stimulus consisted of tax cuts (long a Republican priority) and focus instead on the vast injection of federal money into the economy in the form of various infrastructure projects.

21st Century Jeffersonians are not Kenysians and generally distrust any government effort to guide the economy aside from enacting common sense regulations for certain economic activities. Whether the stimulus plan was successful or not depends on which economist you talk to, but there can be no denying the Republican point that a great deal of stimulus money went to projects whose utility is dubious at best and completely nonexistent at worst.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator John Coburn (R-OK), perhaps the two biggest enemies of pork barrel spending in the entire Senate, have recently released a fasctinating report entitled Summertime Blues: 100 Stimulus Projects That Give Taxpayers the Blues. As the title suggests, it details 100 individual projects funded by stimulus dollars and raises quite obvious questions as to their usefulness for the country or their positive impact in revitalizing the economy.

Among the projects highlighted by the report:
  • $340,000 to plant plam trees in Fresno, California. If Fresno wants palm trees, shouldn't it pay for them itself?

  • $174,000 for researchers at UCLA to study whether retirement helps or hurts marriages, as if this is any business of the federal government.

  • $435,000 for MIT to develop a smartphone application designed to teach high school kids basic biology. Isn't that what biology teachers are for?

  • $1 million for artwork to be displayed at Los Angeles bus stops. We love art as much as anyone, but think there are perhaps better uses for a million dollars worth of taxpayer money.

  • $293,000 for Cornell University to study "dog domestication".

  • $713,000 for scientists at Northwestern University to invent a machine that tells jokes. If only it were a joke.

  • $1.2 million to market video games for the elderly, which isn't exactly a serious government priority.

And the list goes on...

Some of the projects are, in and of themselves, quite worthwhile and interesting. One item involved funding historical research on the legal structure of the Spanish Empire, which is certainly deserving of support but not the sort of thing that in which the federal government needs to be involved. After all, where federal money goes, federal control inevitably follows, and we should be very wary of placing our nation's humanities scholars in positions where the federal government gets to choose which research projects will get funded and which shall not.

Other projects, including various upkeep efforts at national historical sites (such as President Roosevelt's home at Hyde Park in New York) are also quite worthy of support. But shouldn't the funding for such projects be done through the regular channel of the National Park Service? Why make things more complicated than they have to be by dumping money on them through the stimulus? Similarly, there are some interesting scientific projects on the list, including one involving the study of weather patterns on Neptune. 21st Century Jeffersonians support, with certain qualifications, some government funding for scientific research projects. But again, why were these projects not funded through NASA or the National Science Foundation?

Truth be told, all this money may not amount to much more than a few drops of water in the vast ocean that is the federal budget. But that's not really the point. When we're facing a fiscal crisis that poses a far greater threat to America than any foreign enemy, every penny counts. Plus, the fact that every penny spent on these projects was either taken from a hard-working American taxpayer or, in effect, stolen from our great-grandchildren, there certainly is a moral imperative to justify its need.

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