Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Thomas Sowell on The Politics of Bridges

The real problem is that the political incentives are to spend the taxpayers' money on things that will enhance politicians' chances of getting re-elected.

There may be enough money available to maintain bridges and other infrastructure but that same money can have a bigger political pay-off if spent building something new instead of maintaining and repairing existing structures.

When money is spent building a new community center, a golf course, or anything that will be newsworthy, there will be ribbon-cutting ceremonies and the politicians who cut the ribbons can expect to see their pictures in the newspapers and on TV.

All that keeps their name before the public in a positive role and therefore enhances their prospects of being re-elected.

But there are no ribbon-cutting ceremonies when bridges are being repaired or pot-holes are being filled in. These latter activities may be more valuable than a community center or a golf course, but they are not nearly as photogenic.

The preference for showy projects that will enhance a politician's career prospects is not peculiar to current politicians. Adam Smith pointed out the same thing about politicians in 18th-century Europe.

We can vote the rascals out but the new rascals who replace them will face the same incentives and in all likelihood will respond in the same way.

A pattern that has persisted for more than two centuries is likely to continue unless something fundamental is changed.

What really needs to be done is to change the incentives.

From economist Thomas Sowell's most recent column "A Bridge Too Far Gone," read more here.

5 Comments:

At 8/07/2007 12:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alaska's "bridge to nowhere" also known as Gravina Island is a parallel story. This one is in the other pattern of building infrastructure to enhance the value of land owned by supporters.

Much was made of the trivial argument that the bridge saves a seven minute ferry run. Irrelevant. That's little people stuff.

Gravina is a large island that can be developed once there is an easy way to move large numbers of people and goods to the island. The owners of land on the island will benefit and so too, one expects, will Senator Stevens.

 
At 8/07/2007 5:24 PM, Blogger Marciaq said...

Mr. Sowell neglects to mention that the law providing money specifically to fix the bridge, among other necessary maintenance for other infrastructure was vetoed by the governor, saying it would be a burden on citizens.

Instead citizens now have the burden of knowing that people died or were injured because of resistance to taxes, and the city will now have more of a problem with traffic for a long time, and will pay much more money than if they had fixed it.

It's time to stop the propaganda that all taxes are evil, and recognize that Americans have at least as much right to feel safe when they are at home than feeling afraid that that some fundamentalist Muslim is going to attack their BBQ party.

 
At 8/07/2007 5:27 PM, Blogger Marciaq said...

To anonymous - sounds like Senator Stevens will more likely be in prison than benefit from his fraud.

You might consider, however, that such a development as you describe would provide jobs for people in addition to creating wealth for those who move to the island.

 
At 8/08/2007 8:37 PM, Blogger Joe Liberty said...

"Mr. Sowell neglects to mention that the law providing money specifically to fix the bridge, among other necessary maintenance for other infrastructure was vetoed by the governor, saying it would be a burden on citizens."

...which is sad when you see all of the waste Minnesota's governor decided wouldn't be a burden. See for yourself: http://www.taxpayersleague.org/pdf/2006PigletBook.pdf

 
At 8/10/2007 5:13 PM, Anonymous TaxMeHARD said...

@marciaq "...Americans have at least as much right to feel safe when they are at home..."

You mean like feeling safe from government officials seizing your wealth to pay for things you don't want and don't use? That kind of safe?

 

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