Commentary

A Modest Spending Proposal

This article appeared in the Myrtle Beach Sun News, April 2, 2006.
I’d always thought earmarks were a major problem in Washington. They are used to entice politicians to vote for questionable bills, to redistribute money based on political power instead of need, and to construct dubious projects like the infamous “Bridges to Nowhere” in Alaska.

But I’ve turned over a new leaf.

My time in our nation’s capital has fostered appreciation for the vast benefits that earmarks provide. Every day I see the fancy cars driven by lobbyists who secure millions of dollars in earmarks for their clients. I see members of Congress amass huge campaign war chests because of their success in loading up appropriations bills with earmarks for lobbyists and constituents.

A lot of people in Washington are getting rich off earmarks, and it’s about time I got my piece of the pie. So members of Congress, if you’re reading this, how about sending an earmark my way - perhaps in the form of a shiny new boat?

Not a yacht or anything fancy, just a modest speedboat that would only set Uncle Sam back $30,000.

To some critics, this earmark might represent an inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars. Curmudgeonly tight-wads would grumble about excessive federal spending and mounting deficits. Elitist “good government” types would complain about the abuse of political clout and the propensity of such behavior to breed corruption. Esoteric political scientists might decry the unfortunate ease with which money is misspent when government bestows a generous benefit to a small group of people (in this case, me and my drinking buddies) at the expense of a larger group (taxpayers).

But I don’t buy that mumbo-jumbo anymore. I think my boat would be a jobs machine. I’ll purchase an American-built boat from a local dealer, thus creating a number of manufacturing and service-sector jobs.

Just think: Who’s going to scrape the barnacles off the bottom of my boat? Who will supply the gasoline? Who will provide winter storage?

Jobs, jobs, jobs.

As hardworking Americans service, clean and store my boat, they will pay sales, income and other taxes. Much of this money will be sent back to Washington, where it can be used to further expand the economy through earmarking.

If politicians are looking for earmark ideas, my neighbor is considering taking up sailing as a hobby. And one of my friends wouldn’t mind trading his small boat for a much larger one. He is very eager to create jobs, too.

In fact, I know dozens of people who could use new boats.

Pointy-headed economists might scoff at the notion that buying people boats (or securing earmarks) creates true economic stimulus.

They would probably point out that earmarked money must be first extracted from the job-creating private sector and then rammed through the inefficient federal bureaucracy before finally reaching its recipient.

They may even say that this entire practice hinders economic growth and that more jobs and wealth would be created by keeping these dollars in the private sector.

But what do economists know about creating jobs? I say, send that boat my way.

Brandon Arnold is a director of government affairs.