The issue with earmarking isn’t that the money generally goes to total waste. The problem is that allocating funds for basic infrastructure or scientific research according to the relative clout of different politicians is inefficient. West Virginia and Alaska wind up with a disproportionately large amount of pork, while New York, which has a low number of Senators per capita both of whom are relatively junior, winds up with disproportionately little. It really would be better if you could take all the money spent on earmarked transportation projects and instead spend that money according to some kind of neutral formula. Similarly with scientific research projects. Reforming the process would, in this sense, be a good idea. But you shouldn’t assume that the projects funded by earmarks are per se wasteful and you certainly shouldn’t assume that procedural reform would or should naturally lead to a reduction in overall spending. In general, we spend too little on basic infrastructure and research and the case for spending more would only be made more compelling by the development of a better process for allocating resources. The National Institutes of Health, for example, is generally regarded as a well-functioning organization. But that’s not a reason to slash the NIH budget, it’s the reason NIH spending is relatively easy to gain support for.
Monday, October 27, 2008
The Truth Behind Earmarks
McCain has spent much of his campaign railing against earmarks and pork-barrel spending. By the way he goes on and on and on about it, you'd think that it was the country's biggest problem. It's not, and Matt Yglesias makes the case that McCain is missing the actual problem when it comes to earmarks: