The Corner

‘Earmark Nation’

There is a piece worth reading in the Wall Street Journal about earmarks. There, Daniel Henninger explains that every politician (with a few noticeable exceptions like Representative Flake or Senator Coburn) has its fingers in the pork-barrel spending cookie jar. It’s not just limited to a few corrupt politicians like Rep. John Murtha, Democrat from Johnstown, Pa., “the current holder of what we might call the Ted Stevens Trophy, a rotating award for whichever Member of Congress the press is vilifying most for earmark abuse.”

Here are a few sentences to think about:

Mocking this presumed hypocrisy is good sport, but the Murtha example deserves a closer look. You just might find that you are staring at a Pogo problem: We have met the enemy, and he is us.

And:

About all this, John Murtha has said something to ponder: “If I’m corrupt, it’s because I take care of my district.”

When we speak of public corruption, we normally mean an official has been convicted of breaking a law. The bad pols did it. We are at the point, though, where it is hard to say that the corruptions of government are only about the politicians.

Murtha may be right. We are all earmarkers now.

To conclude:

Barack Obama isn’t a reformer. He’s the president of Earmark Nation.

Read the whole thing here.

I have always thought that talking about earmarks is a good way to illustrate how ridiculous and special-interest oriented government spending is. However, the reality is that if these dollars were not earmarked, spending wouldn’t be cut. Most of it would just go into a general pot that non-elected bureaucrats would get to allocate. Earmarks are a matter of process, not a matter of merit.

Don’t get me wrong, I want earmarks to go away, and I will continue to whine about them because I think it is a very good way to tell people about government abuses. However, if the goal is to reduce the size of government and stop the waste, forbidding earmarks won’t get us very far. To make the waste go away we need to cut spending, because the idea that money allocated through the government can ever be effectively allocated is a myth.

For an interesting read on the debate over earmarks vs. grants as it relates to the stimulus fund allocation, check out this four-pager by the Mercatus Center’s Eileen Norcross and Frederic Sautet, here.

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