Dum spiro porko?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Glenn Reynolds is touting a new campaign against federal pork. The US is undoubtedly spending an extraordinary amount of money in the War on Al Qaeda while simultaneously suffering from what is already one of the 10 worst natural disasters in American history. Opponents of George Bush lost no time, once Katrina hit, in linking the two events. There was certainty in their minds that the levees in New Orleans would have been rebuilt had the war not taken us into Iraq. Having scrutinized the plans by the Army Corps of Engineers, there was considerable doubt in mine. Now supporters of the war seem to be firing back by pointing out that there remains beaucoup money to be saved elsewhere.

Which there no doubt is. The list of identified pork projects garnered here provides some sobering reading.

My heart is with Professor Reynolds: a highway bill should fund highways rather than museums, drug programs, bus terminals, etc. My head doubts I will live to see such a day. Porkopolis has long hence outgrown all boundaries of self-restraint. So I wonder, is there any conceivable way short of the collapse of the Republic that this voracious beast can be tamed? Does anyone seriously believe that hope can once again triumph over pork?


Knucklehead said...


I don't know if there is any way to get the pork monster under control. I seriously doubt that it will ever eliminated entirely. As with most things, however, sunshine is the best disinfectant. Transparency will help solve some of the under-the-table pork trading that goes on.

I like efforts like the blogosphere attempt to create a big list of pork projects so that, perhaps, there is some hope that the most nonsensical pork projects will be trimmed.

Should such efforts bear fruit I believe they will have a larger value, slowly over time. Among the many advantages incumbents have is "bringing home the bacon" and the time to make doing so an art form. If we can ever reach the point where the citizenry is prone to shouting, "take your hands out of your pockets and step away from that bacon!" we'll reduce one of the advantages of incumbency. Perhaps we'll even gnaw away at the margins and reduce incumbency.

I am not a fan of wide-scale term limits but I would like to see a healthier level of turnover in our legistlatures.

David Thomson said...

I am very confident that in another five years we will effectively deal with government waste. The Internet makes all the difference. Economically efficiencies will increase in both the public and private sectors. We are making a little dent even now. Soon the results will be dramatic. The blogs will eventually dominate American politics.

flenser said...

Short of a major overhaul of the tax code, I cannot see any improvement on the horizon. The bulk of the voting public pays little in taxes, perhaps just enough to cover their share of basic services. As long as pork is effectively free to most people, why should they oppose it?

Some of the sillier items may get stripped out of the budget, but by definition they are too small to have much impact.

Having said that, I applaud the effort being made and I hope it makes Congress think twice before signing off on every idiot scheme supposedly relating to Katrina relief.

To some extent, Congress is in the position of doctors ordering tests on a patient. It's always a safer course to go overboard than to take a measured approach.

Knucklehead said...

David Thomson,

I share your optimism to a degree.

Keep in mind, however, that there are always costs incurred to minimize inefficiencies, waste, corruption, fraud, etc. The costs lie in the implementation of the necessary oversight - the checks and balances.

It might cost $0.50 to save $1.00. Heck, it might even cost the entire $1.00 to save the $1.00 from fraud.

Fortunately the intangibles are on the proper side of the equation. In a purely accounting exercise it might seem silly to spend $1 to "save" the same $1. A system sufficiently "hardened" to prevent fraud, however, will prevent fraud and mitigate some of the intangible costs inherent in fraud. Not to say that all pork is fraud, but the effects are similar.

MeaninglessHotAir said...

Well, I'm pessimistic. The way it seems to me is that the public has given up the fight. No one cares anymore. For the Democrats, if it's not a way to bash Bush, it's of no consequence. Everything, but everything, including reality itself, must be spun to that goal. For the Republicans, once bitten twice shy. They do not ever ever again want to be tarred with the "shutting down the government" brush. That's an extremely difficult position for the alleged small-government party to find itself in.

But the main problem comes from the American people. As long as we expect pork, as long as we expect that's how the game is played, then that's how it will be played.

And, David, please keep in mind the possibility that the Democrats will shut the Internet down on the grounds that it is regulated political speech.

Rick Ballard said...

Porkopolis is ahead of the curve on this. If you want to get down to the little curly tail of the Congressional oinkers, he's got the details.

A shame that a valuable resource wasn't discovered by the top rated bloggers but Google is such a difficult tool to use.

Knucklehead said...


The bulk of the voting public pays little in taxes, perhaps just enough to cover their share of basic services. As long as pork is effectively free to most people, why should they oppose it?

This is an excellent point. But stop for a moment and recognize what "federal" pork is. It is "pork" that is paid for by "federal" dollars.

Somewhere around half of US citizens with some income pay zero federal taxes. So any money ladled from the federal pot is "free" to them.

But virutally nobody pays zero taxes. Somewhere, somehow, to somebody, we all cough up some tax payments.

If we can chip away at the "federal" pork and keep tossing bits and pieces of it back to states and localities, where virtually everyone pays taxes of some sort, with the message that "if this is important to you then you need to find the money to pay for it", we'll slowly but surely hammer home the notion that pork costs money and isn't free. If we can pound on the federal pork projects like bike paths paid for from highway project funds and make localities raise their gas taxes or whatever taxes they choose if they want those bike paths, we'll get a little bit more of "well, maybe we don't need that as much as we thought" or "well, maybe that isn't worth the cost".