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Earmarks and the Stimulus Bill


Count me as unimpressed by Obama’s pledge to keep the stimulus bill free of earmarks. I get why Obama is doing it–it’s important symbolically and some Republicans seem to believe opposition to earmarks is the sine qua non of conservative economic policy, so Obama’s move is shrewd politics. But just because there are no earmarks doesn’t mean there will be no wasteful spending. Governors and mayors can waste money just fine on their own without specific congressional direction, thank you very much. And the bill will be so big that it must include spending on marginal projects. Paul Krugman, the foremost intellectual defender of the approach embodied in the bill, has expressed the worry only that there aren’t enough things to spend all the stimulus money on. As he said on “This Week” a couple of weeks ago: “My problem is that the actual constraint is not going to be political will. No. The actual constraint is going to be finding enough stuff to spend on.” This same worry is why he’s favorable to some tax cuts as part of the bill in this post. Remember, the theory behind the bill is that in current circumstances pretty much any spending is good spending. Earmarks are beside the point–this bill is bound to be massively wasteful.


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