In my recent study on infrastructure, I noted that federal spending is often designed to aid private interests, not the general public interest. As one example, I pointed to the Army Corps’ “MRGO” canal in Louisiana that was aimed at helping the shipping industry, but ended up being a wasteful boondoggle and harming the public interest.
The Washington Post today focuses on another dubious Army Corps project: the New Madrid Floodway project in Missouri. The aim of the project is to confer taxpayer benefits on a small group of private landowners, but it will harm the environment and undermine effective flood management on the Mississippi River.
Why would Congress consider going ahead with such a counterproductive project? Because the Army Corps has an institutional pro-construction bias and the agency is under the sway of certain powerful members of Congress, who do the bidding of private interests in their states. From the Post:
[Senator Roy] Blunt — who told reporters on Feb. 4 that he and Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) ‘spent all of last year trying to browbeat the EPA and the Corps of Engineers into doing this job’ — tweeted Friday that he would ratchet up the pressure.
Blunt’s comments make clear that political power, not sound economics, dominates policy in Washington. Yet many pundits and wonks continue to believe the fairy tale that if we boost federal infrastructure spending it will allocated in an efficient manner by impartial experts toward high-return projects that benefit the general welfare.
Chris Edwards is the director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute, and editor of www.DownsizingGovernment.org. Before joining Cato, Edwards was a senior economist on the congressional Joint Economic Committee, a manager with PricewaterhouseCoopers, and an economist with the Tax Foundation.
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