Are Earmarks A Bad Thing?

Posted by | February 9, 2012 19:35 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

Earmarks are back in the news again (somewhere Senator McCain is smiling).  The Washington Post has done a new expose on them and Governor Romney has decided that earmarks is going to be his mode for attacking Senator Santorum.  But are earmarks bad?  Peg McGlinch says no.

For every cringe-worthy earmark anecdote detailed in the Post series (and there were more than a few, for sure), any current or former member of Congress or staffer who has worked on appropriations can talk your ear off about terrific earmarked projects that have revitalized communities, saved lives, or improved local economies. Earmarks have funded hundreds of job training programs, paved roads that reduced traffic, supported the police officers protecting our streets, underwritten research on diseases, revitalized blighted neighborhoods, developed technologies to improve national defense, built libraries and schools, and given children new opportunities to learn. Every one of us has benefited from earmarks in some way. Unfortunately, a small number of worthless, even outrageous, projects have turned member-directed spending into a convenient, lazy punching bag—rather than a legitimate, important exercise of the power of the purse that Article I of the the Constitution confers on Congress.

Earmarks are also a way that deals get made in Congress and laws get passed.  But as long as there are earmarks, there will be bridges to nowhere.  Public policy is about tradeoffs.  Getting rid of earmarks means getting rid of hundreds of good projects and some worthless ones.  I’m not sure that is a tradeoff I would make.

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Copyright 2012 Liberaland
By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.

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