Rep. Tom McClintock tells David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post what economists mean by "concentrated benefits and diffuse costs":
This Congress has also indulged in the habit of letting “temporary” giveaways become effectively permanent. A prime example is the Essential Air Service, a $240 million program that subsidizes flights to 161 small airports.
It was supposed to die in 1988. It didn’t.
Congress has renewed the program, again and again. Now it subsidizes flights to places such as tiny Glendive, Mont., where the government pays for a 19-seat aircraft to visit twice a day.
On average, two people get on each day. The subsidy works out to $836 for each of their tickets.
“If we can’t cut this, we can’t cut anything,” said Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), who sponsored an attempt to kill the program last summer.
They can't cut this.
McClintock’s amendment lost by 74 votes. Then he tried again this summer. And lost. Many members explained their “no” votes by saying they were unwilling to sacrifice the subsidies to airports in their districts. “It’s that old problem of concentrated benefits with diffuse costs. The benefits are lavished on a few select communities, and the costs are diffused across the entire tax base,” McClintock said afterward. The beneficiaries, he said, are the only ones who care enough to fight.
David Fahrentold reports in the Washington Post:
[P]ork, the habit of using taxpayer money for a legislator’s pet cause.... appears to be stronger even than death.
That’s clear from the story of the Robert C. Byrd Highway, a decades-old road project in West Virginia that had received earmarked funds for years from Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), the longest-serving senator in history, who died in 2010.
The highway has been maligned as a wasteful road to nowhere. But, now, it has outlived earmarks. It has even outlived Byrd.
This year, with continued support from Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) the highway got $40 million in federal money. It will need about that much every year, state officials say, until it’s finished in 2035.