Wednesday, February 04, 2009

What's In the Stimulus Bill?

Far be it for me to be ungracious...I'd like to thank for providing this summary of some of the more interesting items included in President Obama's "stimulus" bill.
  • $2 billion earmark to re-start FutureGen, a near-zero emissions coal power plant in Illinois that the Department of Energy defunded last year because it said the project was inefficient.
  • A $246 million tax break for Hollywood movie producers to buy motion picture film.
  • $650 million for the digital television converter box coupon program.
  • $88 million for the Coast Guard to design a new polar icebreaker (arctic ship).
  • $448 million for constructing the Department of Homeland Security headquarters.
  • $248 million for furniture at the new Homeland Security headquarters.
  • $600 million to buy hybrid vehicles for federal employees.
  • $400 million for the Centers for Disease Control to screen and prevent STD's.
  • $1.4 billion for rural waste disposal programs.
  • $125 million for the Washington sewer system.
  • $150 million for Smithsonian museum facilities.
  • $1 billion for the 2010 Census, which has a projected cost overrun of $3 billion.
  • $75 million for "smoking cessation activities."
  • $200 million for public computer centers at community colleges.
  • $75 million for salaries of employees at the FBI.
  • $25 million for tribal alcohol and substance abuse reduction.
  • $500 million for flood reduction projects on the Mississippi River.
  • $10 million to inspect canals in urban areas.
  • $6 billion to turn federal buildings into "green" buildings.
  • $500 million for state and local fire stations.
  • $650 million for wildland fire management on forest service lands.
  • $1.2 billion for "youth activities," including youth summer job programs.
  • $88 million for renovating the headquarters of the Public Health Service.
  • $412 million for CDC buildings and property.
  • $500 million for building and repairing National Institutes of Health facilities in Bethesda, Maryland.
  • $160 million for "paid volunteers" at the Corporation for National and Community Service.
  • $5.5 million for "energy efficiency initiatives" at the Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration.
  • $850 million for Amtrak.
  • $100 million for reducing the hazard of lead-based paint.
  • $75 million to construct a "security training" facility for State Department Security officers when they can be trained at existing facilities of other agencies.
  • $110 million to the Farm Service Agency to upgrade computer systems.
  • $200 million in funding for the lease of alternative energy vehicles for use on military installations

One thing becomes clear to the careful reader: there is very little spending on private-sector activities, theoretically where the most help is needed, since the economy is usually the result of private citizens buying and selling goods and services, not the government. However, that is clearly not the point of this bill. I think like a private citizen and member of the private sector, so I look at results, not intentions. "He means well" doesn't cut it with me if his policies further damage the economy. I loved this line (he says, dripping sarcasm):

“Let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the essential,” Obama said while acknowledging criticisms of the plan. “A failure to act and to act now will turn crisis into catastrophe and guarantee a longer recession.”

Regarding making "perfect" the enemy of the "essential," Obama is so far off the mark as to require a course in basic economics. Massive government spending on more government is not a stimulus for the private sector, but only the government.

Then there's his assertion that a failure to act will guarantee a longer recession. Hardly. His willingness to tinker with the economy on a scale that would have beggared even Franklin D. Roosevelt's imagination, is a recipe for sure extension of the recession. The economy managed to recover from the previous two recessions--1991-93 and 2000-02--with little to no government intervention. And the unemployment rate was as bad or worse in '92 as it is now.

Because of the housing market (caused in part by government action), perhaps government activists feel they need to make amends? I'm baffled, but economic historians have shown that government activism tends to lengthen economic recession and strengthen government, while leaving "the forgotten man" basically untouched.


I'm utterly frustrated by the "bailouts" and the "stimulus," neither of which will do much to stabilize the markets. I've already laid down the law on myself--if I get another "stimulus check," I'm sending it back to Uncle Sam, unopened, unspent, but not unanswered. My opinions will be received (if not read), along with the uncashed check. Let the IRS make of that what they may. Why would I do such a thing when the government is sending me "free money?" Consider this: several companies have received bailout money already, and when they have used the money as they see fit, they have been pummeled in the media for spending it in various ways (executive junkets, upgrading the corporate offices, etc.). There's a simple lesson in those events. As Robert A. Heinlein would put it, "TANSTAAFL: There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch." Suppose I, Bart Leahy, Private Citizen, spent my taxpayer-funded gimme check any way I wanted, and I spent it in a way the government did not approve of? Aren't they attaching strings to my economic activity? Aren't they, in fact, infringing upon my freedom?

Okay, I freely admit that I spent the previous checks--what were they for, $300 and $600?--so I'm not as much of an ideological purist as I'd like to think. I'm also still paying off a federally funded student loan, too (note that I am paying it back, though, not defaulting). Anyhow, so why take a stance against handouts now? Probably because I don't need the money, as I did in 2001 and 2007. If I'm comfortable by my lights, why should I take a handout, especially a handout that's coming out of my own taxes, anyway? Why not just cut my taxes $1,000 or whatever and leave me be? For one thing, the stimulus of '01 cost about $100 billion, as opposed to $800B, and it was accompanied by actual tax cuts, which have a longer-lasting effect on my ability and willingness to spend. And besides, this time, who knows? There might really BE restrictions and detailed strings attached. Am I going to be the next private citizen pilloried for spending my "stimulus" in an "inappropriate" or "shameful" manner? Hardly.

Now one suggestion that has been floated around out there is to just send every individual taxpayer around $10,000, which is what the bailout would amount to per person. This isn't as stupid an idea as some people might think. Libertarian sociologist Charles Murray actually recommended a scheme like this in his 2007 book In Our Hands, in which he proposed to eliminate much of the vast welfare bureaucracy and just automatically send every citizen a $10,000 check every year to do with as they pleased...with the understanding that no other relief would be coming. Heck, with ten grand, I could pay off my debt and my European vacation, leaving me flush and debt-free for 2010, and the next $10,000 available for investment purposes. Of course the current government wouldn't do that, any more than economic liberal George Bush would have done it. But jeez, there's got to be a way to send a message to Washington that resonates: "Leave us alone!" doesn't seem to sink in anymore.


Unknown said...

Bart: Right on!! I'd like to take all the waste and fraud in the "stimulus" and paper the walls of the Capitol latrines. It would be a more affective "stimulus" because they would have to hire workers to clean it up! Maybe they should paper their offices too!


Anonymous said...

its a trap and we all r messed up