A couple weeks ago Orson Swindle, an assistant secretary of commerce for economic development in the Reagan Administration, was kind enough to send me news articles from his days battling policymakers over porky Economic Development Administration projects. In a 1989 Insight article, Orson gave a nice summation of one of the problems with special interest spending:
The U.S. Department of Commerce’s $400 million Economic Development Administration provides grants and loans to state and local governments, nonprofit groups, and businesses in regions that are supposed to be economically distressed. The EDA is a relic of the 1960s belief that the federal government can solve the problems of distressed urban centers. Its legacy is one of wasteful and politicized spending. Former EDA director, Orson Swindle, called it a “congressional cookie jar,” and the legendary anti-pork Democrat Senator William Proxmire argued that it “deserves to die.”
Our bloated government does a lot of things it shouldn’t, but the decennial census is one of the handful of federal activities the Constitution approves of. The census was intended simply to determine the number of seats each state would have in the House of Representatives. Today, census data is plugged into government formulas to determine how more than $400 billion in subsidies from the federal welfare state are allocated to state and local governments.
The federal government is running $1 trillion deficits, but that hasn’t slowed down the government’s corporate welfare gravy train. As a microcosm of the business subsidy problem, I happened to notice in an Ohio newspaper that the U.S. Department of Commerce is footing the bill for the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber to fund a 16-day junket to China and Taiwan.
U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke stopped by the economically beleaguered state of Michigan to announce the opening of a new “Commerce Connect” office in the city of Plymouth. According to the Detroit Free Press, the office “will act as a one-stop shop for businesses to access all the federal government has to offer, from research and development tools, to grants, to licensing assistance.”
The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) — housed at the U.S. Dept. of Commerce because Dick Nixon wasn’t getting along with his own Secretary of the Interior — has determined that the decline in the harvest of Chesapeake Bay blue crabs is a “commercial fishery failure.” With that declaration by the “stewards” of the nation’s fisheries, Chesapeake crab fishermen are looking at a bailout (popular word these days) of up to 15 million taxpayer dollars over the next three years.
The Examiner reports that Maryland Watermen’s Association President Larry Simns and his members were “elated.” Go figure. Simns says that this is not a handout because the money would be used to put the crabbers to work restoring fisheries, planting trees, etc. Perhaps they can staff the exhibits at the NOAA-partnered Smithsonian Institution’s “Ocean Hall” opening this weekend too.
What kind of message does this latest government intervention send to other commercial fishermen? Overfish, deplete your source of income, and the taxpayer will numb your pain. Of course, NOAA bureaucrats will then cite resulting fishery depletions as justification for a budget increase. Big Government 101.