Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, had the bad taste to imply, in response to a question about the tornadoes that had just ravaged Texas, that they occurred because an insufficient number of Americans had followed his lead in driving a hybrid car. Perhaps he is unfamiliar with the fact that Texas sits on the southern end of what has been known for a century or more as “Tornado Alley,” and that twisters have been a regular feature of life on the Great Plains since time immemorial. (So ingrained are tornadoes in the Lone Star imagination that there is a famous Tejano band called the “Texas Tornados,” a scattering of Texas sports teams called the “Tornados,” a famous concert series called the “Tornado Jam,” etc.) But let us engage in a little make-believe and pretend that Texas tornadoes are in fact a direct result of insufficient “investment” in alternative energy. The storms did about $300 million worth of damage, with no loss of life. Which is to say, the economic damage resulting from them is a fraction of the economic damage done by the Obama administration in just one of its solar-power schemes.
President Obama has nominated Dartmouth president and global-health advocate Jim Yong Kim to the World Bank presidency, a de facto American prerogative. Kim is an envelope-pushing choice. For one, the medical doctor and social anthropologist lacks extensive economic training (nominees typically come from the world of finance), but more important, he does not seem to agree with the World Bank’s mission. Editor of a book called “Dying for Growth,” Kim has spent his career suggesting that the promotion of economic growth is not a good thing for the poor. The World Bank presumes that it is, and the Third World’s growing prosperity appears to vindicate that view. The countries that have finally prospered under the Bank’s policies have largely endorsed the African Union’s candidate, a Nigerian female economist — and so have the Financial Times and The Economist. It is still unlikely that Obama’s nominee will fail, but it would be a rich irony for multiculturalism to defeat our president’s postmodern pick.
The Export-Import Bank is a subsidized outfit that promotes U.S. exporters, and like all forms of industrial policy it is vulnerable to a simple argument: If the transactions it promotes would have happened without government support, it is wasteful; if they would not have happened without government support, it is also wasteful. The Washington Post editorializes that although there is no economic rationale for the bank, we should preserve it because “everyone else does it.” It would be better for the global economy if all countries were to give up their export subsidies at once. But taxpayers should not have to suffer until that nirvana.
The official “vision” of the General Services Administration, the agency responsible for managing federal real estate and procuring supplies for federal offices, is a “government that works ever better for the American people.” Administrators at the GSA evidently thought that fulfilling this vision required the American people to fund a conference for 300 government employees in Las Vegas (the location was chosen to match the theme of “A Showcase of World-Class Talent”) costing more than $800,000 and featuring a clown, a mind reader, a $75,000 bicycle-building teamwork exercise, and commemorative coins, according to a recently released inspector general’s report documenting the lavish spending in 2010. The revelations, as well as the subsequent leaking of musical videos produced by employees and showcased at the conference (one of which is a high-tempo number about “going green” because “POTUS wants a press event, a project he can show”), have proved embarrassing for President Obama, who has expressed his “outrage” and caused several top heads to roll at GSA. House Oversight chairman Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) has announced a probe of this and past conferences, which will no doubt uncover similar waste and abuse. Not to worry, though, a GSA spokesman has promised that henceforth “employees will be required to take mandatory training in conference planning.”