Wednesday, February 04, 2009

NOT ALL PORK IS EQUAL

Sam Smith

The Columbus Dispatch is harrumphing over the bailout:

"The $300 billion targeted for social programs, many of them Democratic favorites, would not generate much immediate economic activity. Improving teacher quality, providing additional cash for Head Start and promoting wellness, for example, are standard government social-spending items that have little to do with stimulating instantaneous economic activity."

To which Dean Baker in American Prospect correctly replied:

"In fact, this spending, unlike the highway spending of which the paper approves, will provide an immediate boost to the economy. Paying someone to teach kids or provide health care creates jobs as surely as paying them to pave a highway. The former is better stimulus because we can typically get a teacher on the job more quickly than we can get work for a new highway contracted out and underway."

Here is an example of one of the most confusing things about the bailout. It is so huge, so complex and the data so incomplete that it's hard to know what's really going on. And while Baker is correct in this instance, it is also true that if you're trying to speed a bailout through Congress it's probably not a wise political idea to include golf courses even if they will provide some of jobs. On the other hand, you have to be a grumpy old know-nothing conservative not to see that new bike trails are not only useful but a good way to get people in employed.

Here's a chart from Moody's Economy that helps us wade through it, showing the one year economic benefit for each buck to be spent by the House stimulus package:


In short, the tax cuts the Republicans like so much will either have a negative impact or a minimal one. The best thing we can do is a temporary increase in food stamps, expand unemployment insurance benefits and start on public works.

Even general aid to state governments is more efficient that an across the board tax cut, accelerated depreciation or cutting the corporate tax rate.

But won't that be wasted on pork? Sure, some of it will be. But the notion that the federal government spends more honestly and efficiently than states and localities can only be held by those who have never looked at the Pentagon's budget. Besides, included in the term pork may be payoffs to political buddies, public works or saving a local museum or other cultural institution. There's a big difference between each of these.

In fact, in many ways, pork is a good idea, either helping worthy projects that otherwise wouldn't get assistance or getting corruption and wasteful spending down to where people either like it or can see it and rebel against it.

If we had had the time (and a media worth its salt) we might have demanded of our leaders some key facts about each proposed element of the bailout including economic bang per buck and buck per job.

Meanwhile, we do know that the GOP-favored tax cuts are the biggest and most useless pork of all and any complaints that party may have about golf courses is multi-billion dollar hypocrisy.

Here are some of the controversial projects the Conference of Mayors wants included, broken down by cost per job created

- 36-hole golf course in Austin TX: $221,000

- Eco park with butterfly gardens in Boynton Beach, FL $90, 000

- Replacement tennis courts in Virginia Beach, VA $47,000

- 8 police equipped Harley Davidson motorcycles in Shreveport LA $150,000

- Dog park in Chula Vista CA $71,000

All told these amount to less than one/one thousands of the total bailout. They will get a much higher percentage of media and press release attention.

On the hand, Milwaukee would like spend almost as much money as all the above projects to relocate a solid waste transfer station and self-help recycling center. It claims it will create 500 jobs at $14,000 a job.

So not all pork is the same and while you'll hear about the golf course and the tennis courts, you probably won't hear about the Milwaukee solid waste center.

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PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM

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Your editor has been a musician for many decades. He started the first band his Quaker school ever had and played drums with bands up until 1980 when he switched to stride piano. He had his own band until the mid-1990s and has played with the New Sunshine Jazz Band, Hill City Jazz Band, Not So Modern Jazz Band and the Phoenix Jazz Band.

NOTES ON THE MUSIC

Here are a few tracks:

SAM SMITH'S DECOLAND BAND

'SHINE' 

JELLY ROLL

PHOENIX JAZZ BAND

APEX BLUES   Sam playing with the Phoenix Jazz Band at the Central Ohio Jazz festival in 1990. Joining the band is George James on sax. James, then 84, had been a member of the Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller orchestras and hadappeared on some 60 records. More notes on James

WISER MAN  Sam piano & vocal

OH MAMA  Sam piano & vocal