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Politicians’ Arrogance Is Unbounded

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:

The substance of former GOP Congressman George Nethercutt’s defense of Congressional earmarks is as contorted as is the language he uses for this defense – for example: “Allowing earmarks provides an opportunity for constituents to advocate to their members for accountable federal spending in their districts or state” (Letters, Nov. 28).

In light of the difficulty of making sense of this indigestible word salad, one can only guess at Mr. Nethercutt’s meaning.  My guess is that he’s asserting that – compared to Congress as a whole and to the executive branch – individual members of Congress, using earmarks, spend money more wisely in their districts or states because these members gain more intimate, local knowledge of the needs and opportunities of the people there.

This claim about local knowledge is likely true, but it doesn’t support the case for earmarks.  Instead, it supports the case for lower taxes, less spending, and smaller government.  If money is spent most wisely by people with the most precise and reliable knowledge of the diverse needs and opportunities in each of this country’s many different locales, then each private citizen, in his or her own individual household or firm, is far better able to spend money ‘accountably’ than is any politician working in Washington.  As my friend Frayda Levin said a few years ago in response to her senator’s similar defense of earmarks, it’s absurd for taxpayers to “send money to D.C.” and “then have to spend resources finding a sympathetic ear who can … understand local needs.”

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030