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Posts Tagged ‘Government waste’

It’s not too surprising to learn that spending money on “high-speed” rail is foolish. And it’s hardly a revelation to learn that politicians over-promise and under-deliver when they push through these boondoggles.

My Cato colleague, Randall O’Toole, has written extensively about these money-losing white-elephant projects. But it’s not exactly shocking news that libertarians would resist wasteful government spending.

But it is stunning when establishment leftists admit that such programs are a mistake.

Here are excerpts from a column by Charles Lane, an editorial writer for the Washington Post. Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you. Even folks at the Washington Post are recognizing (or at least beginning to recognize) that government is a giant sink-hole that squanders tax dollars and undermines prosperity.

Today, Liu Zhijun is ruined, and his high-speed rail project is in trouble. On Feb. 25, he was fired for “severe violations of discipline” — code for embezzling tens of millions of dollars. Seems his ministry has run up $271 billion in debt — roughly five times the level that bankrupted General Motors. But ticket sales can’t cover debt service that will total $27.7 billion in 2011 alone. Safety concerns also are cropping up.

…On April 13, the government cut bullet-train speeds 30 mph to improve safety, energy efficiency and affordability. The Railway Ministry’s tangled finances are being audited. Construction plans, too, are being reviewed.

Liu’s legacy, in short, is a system that could drain China’s economic resources for years. So much for the grand project that Thomas Friedman of the New York Times likened to a “moon shot” and that President Obama held up as a model for the United States.

…China’s train wreck was eminently foreseeable. High-speed rail is a capital-intensive undertaking that requires huge borrowing upfront to finance tracks, locomotives and cars, followed by years in which ticket revenue covers debt service — if all goes well. “Any . . . shortfall in ridership or yield, can quickly create financial stress,” warns a 2010 World Bank staff report.

Such “shortfalls” are all too common. Japan’s bullet trains needed a bailout in 1987. Taiwan’s line opened in 2007 and needed a government rescue in 2009. …[T]he Beijing-Tianjin line, built at a cost of $46 million per mile, is losing more than $100 million per year. …On the whole, I’d say China should envy us.

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There are very serious ways to save huge amounts of money from the defense budget, largely by making smarter choices about defining America’s national security.

This obviously involves high-profile decisions about whether it is smart to engage in nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it also involves what seem to be “gimme” choices about whether we should be spending tens of billions of dollars to maintain troops in places such as Germany, the United Kingdom, South Korea, and Japan.

And, sometimes, it’s just the simple fact that bureaucracies like to squander money. Here’s a $600,000 boondoggle that barely rises to the level of a rounding error in the Defense Department’s budget, but it is a nauseating example of how government wastes our money in genuinely spectacular ways. Every time some politician says we need to raise taxes, you should think of this piece of you-know-what and  say #*&@;^ No!

Here are the key passages from a U.S. News and World Report story.

A $600,000 frog sculpture that lights up, gurgles “sounds of nature” and carries a 10-foot fairy girl on its back could soon be greeting Defense Department employees who plan to start working at the $700 million Mark Center in Alexandria, Va. this fall. That is unless a new controversy over the price tag of the public art doesn’t torpedo the idea.

Decried as wasteful spending that will be seen by just a couple thousand of daily workers who arrive on bus shuttles, foes have tried to delay the decision, expected tomorrow, April 1. But in an E-mail, an Army Corps of Engineers official said that the decision can’t be held up because it would impact completion of the huge project.

…The Mark Center is one of the facilities that thousands of defense workers will be reporting to as part of the Base Realignment and Closure plan, or BRAC, that is shifting workers around Virginia and Maryland. The BRAC plan itself has been criticized as wasteful.

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I’ve been writing too much about the Ryan budget, the government shutdown, and other fiscal policy issues. Time for some wholesome politician bashing.

But I’m not going to pick on the U.S. Congress, which is one of my favorite targets. Instead, we’re going to cross the ocean and mock the political elite of the European Parliament (a.k.a., the Potemkin-Village legislature). These lawmakers don’t really have any real responsibility. They largely exist to give faux democratic legitimacy to the decisions of the European Commission.

But they have figured out how to butter their own bread. They are provided lavish pay and benefits in exchange for very little work. And they get all sorts of perks that might cause even American politicians to blush with embarrassment.

For example, they automatically get to travel in business class, courtesy of the long-suffering taxpayers of Europe. And when somebody has the gall to suggest that this is a waste of money, the politicians link arms and defend their privileged status.

Here are some excerpts from a report in the EU Observer.

MEPs have said parliament’s budget should be increased by 2.3 percent next year, at the same time rejecting a proposal for euro-deputies to take more economy class flights in future. …In adopting the report on Wednesday, MEPs also rejected an amendment to save money by ensuring flights under four hours were carried out on economy class, citing procedural reasons. At present, MEP travel is reimbursed to the level of a business class flight or a first class rail ticket. The rejected amendment would have saved between €15 to €20 million a year… A parliamentary source defended the decision. “Most MEPs agree that economy-flex tickets are okay, but they think the budget procedure is not the way to do this,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

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This is the type of story that makes me sick to my stomach. I’ve already commented on how I don’t like redistribution from rich to poor, but I really, really hate redistribution from poor to rich. And that’s exactly what happens when taxpayers subsidize the presidential nominating conventions of the two big political parties.

Republicans claim to be on the side of taxpayers, but read this story from the Tampa newspaper to get a flavor for how the Republican National Committee was wasting our money.

They rented an exclusive waterfront mansion, wined and dined at five-star restaurants and hired family members and friends, all on the taxpayers’ dime. …Recently filed Federal Election Commission records show that Steele’s convention team, which was headed by Belinda Cook, his long-time personal assistant, spent most of a $1 million line of credit to the RNC’s Committee on Arrangements. That loan was backed by $16 million in federal funds the committee will receive for convention security next year. …Since the 1970s, the federal government has subsidized both the Republican and Democratic party conventions as part of the public financing program for presidential campaigns. Parties can use the money for any legitimate political expenses.

Political conventions are largely four-day parties for political hacks and lobbyists. And even if they were serious affairs, taxpayers should not be subsidizing private political organizations. Republicans and Democrats should be able to nominate candidates without reaching into my wallet…or your wallet.

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Dana Milbank is a snarky leftist who writes for the Washington Post, but I have to give him credit for an amusing column today about the new big-brother diet guidelines from our incompetent federal government. Here are a few excerpts.

In the late 1970s, before the government began telling us what to eat, 15 percent of adults and 4 percent of children were obese. Now, after 30 years of Department of Agriculture (USDA) dietary guidelines, 34 percent of adults and 20 percent of children are obese. …Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was a nutrition evangelist Monday morning as he rolled out the latest version of the dietary guidelines at George Washington University. …Vilsack said he can help fellow Americans to do the same – as long as they are willing to share with the government a few intimate details about themselves, such as how much they weigh, every morsel of food that passes their lips, and how they occupy themselves every minute of the day and night. …Undoubtedly, Americans would be healthier if they would follow the recommendations, but this sounds like TMI at the USDA. Using the drop-down “activity” menu on the website, you are asked to enter how many minutes a day you do such things as “dressing/undressing,” “sitting on toilet,” “sleeping,” “sitting quietly and watching television,” “slow dancing,” “singing in church,” “casino gambling,” “coal mining,” “washing dishes,” “wrestling” and “butchering animals.”

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The contest between the United States and Europe for dumb public policy is always hard to judge. The Europeans tend to make more policy mistakes, though Obama certainly is giving them some stiff competition. America, by contrast, is prone to really inane bouts of political correctness. But perhaps the Europeans are catching up in that area.

Here’s something, for example, that sounds like it could have happened in San Francisco. The European Commission (the über bureaucracy of the European Union) sent out 3 million calendars to kids that mentioned significant holidays for the Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu religions, but omitted Christmas. Here’s an excerpt from the U.K.-based Guardian.

Italy has demanded that the European Commission recall millions of diaries that are being distributed to schoolchildren throughout the EU because they do not mention Christmas but they do give the dates of other religions’ festivals, such as Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, and Sikh, Hindu and Chinese feast days. …A Commission spokeswoman said it had “realised the absence of some important European religious holidays, in particular Christmas”. …But she gave no indication that Brussels would accede to Frattini’s demand to recall the diaries, which, according to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, was contained in a letter to the commission’s president, Jose Manuel Barroso. …Some 3 million copies of the latest edition of the Europe Diary have been sent to schools. The commission’s spokeswoman said its main purpose was “inform young Europeans as consumers and citizens on issues like rights, choices as consumers [and] climate change”. …The commission…spokeswoman said it had cost €5.5m (£4.6m).

Being a fiscal policy wonk, I don’t worry too much about the War on Christmas. Yes, political correctness is nauseating, but it’s not as if the government is actually using coercion to stamp out Christmas. When I read stories like this, what catches my attention instead are disturbing details such as the hefty price tag of $7.2 million. Why is the European Commission squandering so much money on calendars? And once a decision has been made to waste money, why leave out Christmas? And why did they include extraneous material such as global warming propaganda?

Perhaps the moral of this story is that governments – and international bureaucracies such as the EC – have an amazing ability to squander money. Sometimes they waste money for PC reasons, sometimes for vote-buying reasons, and sometimes for corruption. All we know for sure is that taxpayers get lumps of coal in their stockings.

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I’ve already posted two other cartoons on this issue (here and here), but can’t resist posting another. As with much humor, this cartoon cleverly captures the underlying reality. In this case, the politicians want a value-added tax so we pay more to finance their excesses.

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