by Mel Griffith
Since the $800 billion stimulus has not worked, Washington cannot figure out what to do next. Economic theory says that when the economy takes a downturn, the government should borrow money and spend it to start things back up. Once the economy is booming again, the government should pay off its debts and build a surplus for the next downturn. The only thing wrong with this theory is that it doesn't work. Actually, it might work if the government applied all of it, but they always use only half of it, the half that says to spend money. When the crisis is over, the programs started to help various interest are supposed to go away so the government can spend less. But once a government program starts it never goes away. Instead, programs tend to expand once more money is available. Besides, once things are going well there is a tendency to start even more programs instead of paying off debts. As soon as any program starts, it creates its own army of supporters. There is a swarm of bureaucrats and paper shufflers whose jobs depend on keeping the program going. Somebody benefits from the program, whether they deserve to or not and they naturally support it. When a program is no longer needed, new uses are invented for it. When a program is shown to be useless in doing whatever it was supposed to do, the bureaucrats running it explain that it would work fine if only they got more money. They usually get it. This is like trying to get a better crop by planting still more seed in a place you already know won't grow anything. Congress never seems to have the courage to trim the federal government back to size, so it grows like kudzu in a pine thicket. And, like kudzu, it tends to choke out everything else.
The federal government starts out to help education a bit and we get a Department of Education cranking out impossible No Child Left Behind requirements which force teachers to teach for the tests instead of giving students a balanced education. The federal government wanted to improve housing a little which turned into the Department of Housing and Urban Development, whose many projects have the distinction of being the most unsafe, shabby, crime ridden housing in the country. Both these departments should be abolished and their responsibilities, to the extent that they are government responsibilities in the first place, turned over to state and local government.
Most of the stimulus money which it was claimed was for "shovel ready" projects which would give long term benefits was actually soaked up without a trace in state budgets so they could keep living beyond their means another year or two, before they have to come to grips with the fact that they, too, need to trim their bloated budgets and bureaucracies down to a size they can afford. The only thing about the stimulus that will be long-lasting is the debt, not the results.
Unless the public demands reform, things will just keep expanding mindlessly as usual. No bureaucrat is going to recommend that his job be abolished.