As the Congress goes into the theatrical frenzy of appropriating gazillions of dollars for a stimulus package that is supposed to build highways, fix bridges and improve our infrastructure as it provides more jobs, we are reminded by Professor Ilya Somin that Congress passed another big package, $286.4 billion to be exact, in 2005, and apart from handing out a lot of pork it does not seem to have accomplished much good. As Professor Somin puts it:
“One reason why the 2005 bill may have failed is that much of the money was spent on various porkbarrel projects, such as the notorious “Bridge to Nowhere,” which is the only thing most people now remember from that bill. It’s certainly possible that the 2005 money was largely wasted because most of it went to politically connected interest groups and districts rather than genuinely valid infrastructure priorities. But if the 2005 bill indeed failed for that reason, why would we expect a different result this time around?” Ilya Somin, Whatever Happened to the Last Big Infrastructure Bill? Volokh Conspiracy, Jan. 17, 2008.
We sure hope that this time it will be different and that the stimulus works, even though our faith in government ability to screw things up is boundless. We are also troubled by the thought that the tens of thousands of people being laid off on a daily basis are unlikely to possess the kind of skills that may be usefully employed in highway and bridge construction. So this stimulus package may be good for construction workers, but unlikely to do much good to the hordes of computer geeks, clerical workers and low and middle management types who have lost their jobs. Also, the bad news includes the fact that much of our job-providing industry has been shipped overseas.