So, what's wrong with earmarks? It has become part of the conventional wisdom that earmarks are evil, that they consist of worthless projects such as studies of swine odor and 'bridges to nowhere.' And undoubtedly there are a few such poor examples of government spending. In any budget emerging from Congress, some legislators will insert their pet projects into the mix. But why has America accepted the fallacy that earmarks are necessarily wasteful and worthless? That is totally incorrect.
Part of the problem, of course, is a matter of semantics. One person's earmark is another's vitally needed infrastructure project. By denigrating the restoration of America's crumbling (literally, in some cases) infrastructure we make it harder to repair or replace what desperately needs to be fixed. Our highway system was developed decades ago, some bridges are ready to fall down, many public buildings are hazardous and non-functional, and that is just for starters. What's wrong with fixing such major problems?
John Maynard Keynes, the founder of modern macroeconomics, argued during the Great Depression that there should always be a shelf of needed government projects kept on tap, to be implemented when necessary. Surely if the nation does not attend to public works needs or studies our emerging national problems, those needs will never be met and those problems will never be faced. What is wasteful about taking care of the nation's business?
One of the ironies in the anti-earmark position is that often its strongest advocates are among the first to demand funds for projects in their own Congressional districts. Tabulations of earmarks in recent legislation show little difference between the amounts of funds asked by anti-earmark and pro-earmark legislators. As the Chinese say, empty rice barrels make the most noise. We seem to have a lot of those barrels in Congress.
Each and every government program and project, at all levels, should be evaluated on its own merits in a thorough and objective manner. All of the earmarks in the present federal budget do not begin to compare to all of the billions which go into unneeded, and often non-functional, new weapons systems. During the Cold War, it was estimated that the United States and the Soviet Union had enough nuclear missiles on hand to kill the entire human population of the Earth ten times over, not to mention destroying the planet. Most of those missiles are still around, and many are not even secured. Compared to that doomsday situation, I'll take earmarks and public works projects anytime.