Economic policy is subject to fads and fashions. The most recent economic-policy fad is public infrastructure. Its advocates include progressives on the “left” — like President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders — and populists on the “right” — like President-elect Trump. They tell us to take the chains off fiscal austerity and spend — spend a lot — on public works. They allege that this elixir will cure many, if not all, of our economic ills. Let’s take a look at their arguments and evidence.
Steve H. Hanke
The recent “occupation” of government-owned lands in Eastern Oregon by disgruntled ranchers’ motivated Quoctrung Bui and Margot Sanger-Katz of the New York Times (NYT) to produce an edifying essay on January 6th. It was aptly titled “Why the Government Owns So Much Land in the West.” Curiously, the NYT essay fails to mention one of the most significant, recent, and contentious attempts to “dispose” of federal public lands.
The financial press has become inundated with the word “austerity.” Since Greece’s left-wing Syriza proclaimed an “anti-austerity revolution,” strong adjectives, like “incredibly savage,” precede that overused word.
The U.S. Congress hoards real estate like proud pack rats. For example, the Department of Defense has 562,000 facilities that cover 24.7 million acres—an area about the size of Virginia.
President Obama set the chattering classes abuzz after his unilateral announcement to raise the minimum wage for newly hired Federal contract workers. During his State of the Union address, he sang the praises for his action, saying that “It’s good for the economy; it’s good for America.” Yet this conclusion doesn’t pass the economic smell test; just look at the data from Europe.