Tag: stimulus plan

Un-Stimulating Bureaucracy

An essay from economist Arnold Kling in the latest Cato Policy Report discusses what Kling calls the “knowledge-discrepancy problem.” This occurs when knowledge is dispersed but power is concentrated, and it is particularly acute in government.

In short, it’s impossible for government “experts” to aggregate the vast amount of knowledge that is dispersed throughout the economy in order to optimally direct economic activity. And as Kling notes, concentrating power over the economy in the hands of experts leads to ever more undesirable government interventions:

As we have seen, the expectations placed on government experts tend to be unrealistically high. This selects for experts with unusual hubris. The authority of the state gives government experts a dangerous level of power. And the absence of market discipline gives any errors that these experts make an opportunity to accumulate and compound almost without limit. In recent decades, this knowledge-power discrepancy has gotten worse. Knowledge has grown more dispersed, while government power has become more concentrated.

The failure of the administration’s stimulus plan illustrates the problem with empowering government experts to “fix” our incredibly diverse $14 trillion economy.

A Wall Street Journal article on the inability of government bureaucracies to utilize stimulus funds demonstrates the inherent inefficiency of government planning. For example, the stimulus provided $5 billion to the states for weatherization projects. But when a local official in Detroit began soliciting applications to weatherize houses, she ran into a buzz saw of federal and state red tape:

But on the same day in March 2009 that Shenetta Coleman picked up applications from 46 companies, she received an email from the Michigan Department of Human Services telling her she couldn’t award work to anyone.

The problem: Ms. Coleman hadn’t met requirements for her advertisement. Those included specifying the precise wages that contractors would have to pay, and posting the advertisement on a specific website. There were other rules—federal, state and local—for grant and contract-award processes, historic preservation and labor standards.

The bureaucratic obstacles Ms. Coleman hit took more than a year to clear. Some were mandated by the stimulus bill, the same legislation that was supposed to rapidly create jobs. For example, there is a union-backed provision that requires that weatherization workers receive the prevailing wages in the area.

The stimulus is also distorting employment by incentivizing workers to obtain job-skills on the basis of government planning. The WSJ article cites the example of an unemployed worker who enrolled in a weatherization training class when she learned that Detroit would be receiving $30 million in weatherization funds:

She studied energy-saving principles, practiced drilling holes into walls and blowing in insulation, and learned how to install windows. She graduated in March, at the top of her class. For the next four months, she couldn’t find work.  “I was hanging on by a thread,” said Ms. Wallisch. In July, she was hired for energy-conservation work funded not by the stimulus plan, but by Michigan’s utility companies.

The recession, and consequent rise in unemployment, led to demands for the government to “create jobs.” However, merely throwing taxpayer money at government job-creating schemes, which was the solution the government’s “experts” came up with, was never a viable solution. The experts simply do not have the requisite knowledge to match millions of workers possessing diverse job-skills with the diverse needs of millions of employers.

From Kling:

What the issue of job creation illustrates is the problem of treating government experts as responsible for a problem that cannot be solved by a single person or a single organization.

Economic activity consists of patterns of trade and specialization. The creation of these patterns is a process too complex and subtle for government experts to be able to manage.

The issue also illustrates the way hubris drives out true expertise. The vast majority of economists would say that we have very little idea how much employment is created by additional government spending. However, the economists who receive the most media attention and who obtain the most powerful positions in Washington are those who claim to have the most precise knowledge of “multipliers.”

As I have previously discussed, the average citizen has become conditioned to reflexively turn to the government to in times of crisis. Government officials are only too happy to oblige as they are naturally inclined to operate on a short-term horizon (i.e., the next election). Fortunately, more and more Americans appear to be realizing that the government and its experts are the problem rather than the solution.

Thursday Links

So Much for the Obama Administration’s Fiscal Free Lunch

So far the Obama administration has been enjoying the ultimate fiscal free lunch.  Massive borrowing, massive spending, lower taxes, and low interest rates.

Alas, all good things must come to an end.

Reports the New York Times:

The nation’s debt clock is ticking faster than ever — and Wall Street is getting worried.

As the Obama administration racks up an unprecedented spending bill for bank bailouts, Detroit rescues, health care overhauls and stimulus plans, the bond market is starting to push up the cost of trillions of dollars in borrowing for the government.

Last week, the yield on 10-year Treasury notes rose to its highest level since November, briefly touching 3.17 percent, a sign that investors are demanding larger returns on the masses of United States debt being issued to finance an economic recovery.

While that is still low by historical standards — it averaged about 5.7 percent in the late 1990s, as deficits turned to surpluses under President Bill Clinton — investors are starting to wonder whether the United States is headed for a new era of rising market interest rates as the government borrows, borrows and borrows some more.

Already, in the first six months of this fiscal year, the federal deficit is running at $956.8 billion, or nearly one seventh of gross domestic product — levels not seen since World War II, according to Wrightson ICAP, a research firm.

Debt held by the public is projected by the Congressional Budget Office to rise from 41 percent of gross domestic product in 2008 to 51 percent in 2009 and to a peak of around 54 percent in 2011 before declining again in the following years. For all of 2009, the administration probably needs to borrow about $2 trillion.

The rising tab has prompted warnings from the Treasury that the Congressionally mandated debt ceiling of $12.1 trillion will most likely be breached in the second half of this year.

Last week, the Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee, a group of industry officials that advises the Treasury on its financing needs, warned about the consequences of higher deficits at a time when tax revenues were “collapsing” by 14 percent in the first half of the fiscal year.

“Given the outlook for the economy, the cost of restoring a smoothly functioning financial system and the pending entitlement obligations to retiring baby boomers,” a report from the committee said, “the fiscal outlook is one of rapidly increasing debt in the years ahead.”

While the real long-term interest rate will not rise immediately, the committee concluded, “such a fiscal path could force real rates notably higher at some point in the future.”

Alas, this is just the beginning.  Three quarters of the spending in the misnamed stimulus bill (it would more accurately be called the “Pork and Social Spending We’ve Been Waiting Years to Foist on the Unsuspecting Public Bill”) occurs next year and beyond, when most economists expect the economy to be growing again.  Moreover, much of the so-called stimulus outlays do nothing to actually stimulate the economy, being used for income transfers and the usual social programs.

However, we will be paying for these outlays for years.  Even as, the Congressional Budget Office warns, the GDP ultimately shrinks as federal expenditures and borrowing “crowd out” private investment.  Indeed, the CBO figures that incomes will suffer a permanent decline–even as taxes are climbing dramatically to pay off all of the debt accumulated by Uncle Sam.

And you don’t want to think about the total bill as Washington bails out (almost $13 trillion worth so far) everyone within reach, “stimulates” (the bill passed earlier this year ran $787 billion) everything within reach, and spends money (Congress approved a budget of $3.5 trillion for next year) within reach.  Indeed, according to CBO, the president’s budget envisions increasing the additional collective federal deficit between 2010 and 2019 from $4.4 trillion to $9.3 trillion.)  Then there will be more federal spending for wastral government entities, such as the Federal Housing Administration; failing banks, which are being closed at a record rate by the FDIC; pension pay-offs for bankrupt companies, administered by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation; and covering the big tab being up run up by Social Security and Medicare, which currently sport unfunded liabilities of around $100 trillion.

Oh, to be an American taxpayer – and especially a young American taxpayer – who will be paying Uncle Sam’s endless bills for the rest of his or her life!

The Stimulus Feeding Frenzy

Billions and billions of dollars! Get yours today!

I’ve written before about the massive lobbying game in Washington to get your own special interests written into the stimulus and budget bills. And about the efforts to pressure governments into spending that money NOW.

Today a friend sent me a new piece of the incredible expanding stimulus economy. A publishing company has created a new newsletter on how to keep up with “ever-changing opportunities and the complex requirements to apply for them” – The Money for Main Street Monitor. Yes, for only $229 a year, with this special offer, you can keep up with the lucrative and ever-changing “new stimulus funding opportunities.”

I’m omitting the specifics so as not to give this parasitical industry any more publicity, but here’s the text of the email advertisement:

Dear Nonprofit Professional,

Billions of dollars from the Obama stimulus plan are becoming available daily for funding thousands of new state, local and nonprofit programs!

And while it’s extremely time consuming and difficult to keep up with the ever-changing opportunities and the complex requirements to apply for them, we can help make that task easier than you’d imagine.

That’s why [the company] is proud to introduce our newest and much-needed online service: The Money for Main Street Monitor.

Just click on or cut and paste the following link into your Web browser to take advantage of a special one-week offer on this continuously updated service:

Continuous Stimulus Funding Updates

While we have diligently kept our readers up to date on the billions of dollars in funding coming from the Obama stimulus package, many tell us they need much more coverage!

Consequently, we have assigned a team of experienced Washington, DC-based editors to focus exclusively on new stimulus funding opportunities for health care, family services, education, mental health, disabilities and substance abuse programs, housing and community development!<

Through continuously updated articles, subscribers to this new online service will be kept up to date on the latest funding opportunities as soon as they emerge. And with our online format, subscribers will have access to our user-friendly search tools to instantly find the funding opportunities most suited for their organizations!

Plus, our updates – unlike those on government Web sites – are in plain English and easy to find.  And, we’ve included a wealth of grant-writing tips designed to help your organization get its share of stimulus funding!

We know how important it is for every organization to watch their dollars closely these days, and we’re doing are best to help. That’s why we are offering you a specially reduced rate for this much-needed publication, The Money for Main Street Monitor.

Just click on or cut and paste the following link into your Web browser to find out more about this special one-week offer:

Or you can call in your order toll free at 1-800-[GET OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY].

This isn’t the only company making such offers. Lobbyists, consultants, newsletter publishers, and others will be making money this year guiding their clients to the pot of gold at the end of the stimulus. But in economic terms, all this effort is deadweight loss. Instead of devoting time and talent and resources to the production of real economic value, these people are being lured into the parasite economy, jockeying for money extracted from productive workers and businesses and redistributed by a Washington bureaucracy and the lobbyists that revolve around it.