A Streetcar Named Stimulus


Bloomberg skewers Republicans who opposed the stimulus package but are happy to grab as much of the money as they can for their districts and states:

Alabama Republicans Jo Bonner and Robert Aderholt took to the U.S. House floor in July, denouncing the Obama administration's stimulus plan for failing to boost employment. "Where are the jobs?" each of them asked.

Over the next three months, Bonner and Aderholt tried at least five times to steer stimulus-funded transportation grants to Alabama on grounds that the projects would help create thousands of jobs.

The story cites several other examples, including my congressman, Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who is sure that a Dallas streetcar line funded by stimulus money is just the thing to improve my "quality of life." As head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Sessions was responsible for "a video montage of clips edited to show a series of news anchors and commentators asking 'Where are the jobs?'" Yet he brags that the $23 million in Recovery Act money that he snagged for the streetcar project "will create jobs in the region."

Since the logic of the Recovery Act was the logic of pork-pulling press releases writ large, none of this is surprising. I have no doubt that if you spend taxpayers' money on a streetcar line that no one will use, some of it will go to people who build said boondoggle in exchange for their labor, an arrangement that can conveniently be summarized by a certain three-letter word. To the extent that critics of the Recovery Act said it would not "create jobs" in this sense, they are indeed refuted by the sight of people working on a gratuitous tribute to Pete Sessions' vanity. But the real question, the one that President Obama has tried to dodge by treating job creation as an end in itself, is whether this money is well spent—and in particular, whether it would have been better used if it had been allocated by the market instead of the government.

[Thanks to Tricky Vic for the tip.]