Pigs Can't Fly

by Russ Roberts on September 29, 2005

in Politics, Reality Is Not Optional

When the trough is full and the pigs are hungry, they push and shove their way toward the food.  This is the way pigs are.  They do not fly.  We cannot expect them to fly.  We expect them to try and get at the food.  This is the way of pigs.  It cannot be otherwise.

So it is something of a dog bites man story that politicians and those who would benefit from their spending of other people’s money are lining up to eat at the trough.  The politicians spend and proclaim their virtuousness.  Those who would eat, take the money and run.  This is the way it is.  There are always those who suggest that we need nicer pigs or nicer farmers or nicer troughs.  But none of those suggestions will keep pigs from eating.  None of them will make pigs airborne.

Anne Applebaum has an eloquent essay (rr) on the unpleasant sight of the various pigs in action:

Two hurricanes have now hit Louisiana, wreaking terrible
destruction. New Orleans continues to flood. Hundreds of thousands of
people are scattered across the country, many in shelters. Given the
scale of the calamity, surely it’s time for Louisiana politicians to
stop, assess the damage and work out the most rational way to help
their state recover. Surely this is not the time for the government to
write blank checks, for legislators to get greedy about unnecessary
canals in their districts, or for federal agencies to launch projects
that make future flooding more likely. Surely this is the time to spend
money wisely. Right?

Wrong — and if you thought
otherwise, then you, like me, are still learning how deeply corrupt
America’s legislative branch has become. Most of the time, members of
Congress don’t accept cash bribes in unmarked envelopes. Most of the
time, senators don’t pay for their daughters’ wedding receptions out of
government slush funds. Most of the time, American politicians don’t
put their ill-gotten gains into numbered Swiss bank accounts or get the
Mafia to launder their money. But corruption comes in many forms, and
in this country it comes in the dull-sounding, unglamorous,
switch-off-the-television form of infrastructure appropriations.

Read the whole thing.  It’s wonderful.  I suspect Anne Applebaum realizes that pigs can’t fly.  But it is harder for her fellow columnist at the Post, Steven Pearlstein (rr) to come to that conclusion.  First, he describes a scene around the trough:

Hold on to your wallets, Mr. and Mrs. America. Congress is in
session, Katrina relief is on the agenda and special interests are
drumming up schemes to help themselves under the guise of helping
others.

Let’s start with an ingenious proposal to
extend, retroactively, federal flood insurance to all those owners of
damaged homes along the Gulf Coast who didn’t have it.

At first blush, it sounds reasonable. After all, if we want
people who have lost everything to return home and rebuild, they’ll
need a little capital to get started.

But the hidden
winner in this arrangement would be the mortgage industry, which
otherwise would have to write off billions of dollars in loans when
owners stop making monthly payments for homes that are beyond repair.
That explains why the idea is being championed by the Consumer Mortgage
Coalition, representing large companies that originate, service and
guarantee home mortgages.

He goes on to talk about this and other bad post-Katrina ideas.  But he can’t end the column on such a negative note.  So he adds this caveat:

Don’t get me wrong: There is good reason for the federal government to
step in as a subsidized lender of last resort for individuals,
businesses and local governments walloped by natural disaster. But none
of that money should cover the losses of sophisticated lenders who took
their chances, placed their bets and made tons of money before the dice
finally came up snake eyes.

Maybe there is good reason for the feds to step in here or there or everywhere.  But how does that reason look in reality?  How does it work in practice?  If implementation requires flying pigs, maybe there isn’t a good reason after all.

Here is what I tell my children.  In downtown Wahsington, DC, we keep a document under glass called the Constitution.  You should know that we had a Constitution to keep government from being too powerful and from doing things that are better left to us to do for ourselves.  Maybe someday we will take it out from under the glass and it will be alive again.  Not alive the way that most people mean it.  By alive, they mean dead.  They mean to have a Constitution so flexible that it can stand for nothing.  But someday, maybe, it can be alive in the way that it once was, written for a world where pigs are not presumed to fly.

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments

comments

Add a Comment    Share Share    Print    Email

Previous post:

Next post: