The Hyperactive Federal Government

April 22, 2016

The problem with the federal government is not just its vast size, but its increasing scope. It has expanded into many areas that should be left to state and local governments, businesses, charities, and individuals. The federal expansion is sucking the life out of the private sector and creating a top-down bureaucratic society.

Many people in Washington seem to think that nothing would ever get done without the help of Uncle Sam. They seem to have no idea that businesses invest, towns and cities grow, people help people, and problems are solved every day in billions of ways across our nation without guidance from central government experts.

Take a look at the new “Rural Development Progress Report” from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Rural programs are just $6 billion out of the $150 billion USDA budget, which in turn is just a small sliver of the $4 trillion federal budget. Yet this relatively small USDA division has its subsidy tentacles into everything, as the following giveaways from the 2015 Progress Report show:

  • $10 million to Exela Pharma Sciences in North Carolina.
  • $3.4 million for a sewer system in Geraldine, Alabama.
  • $8.5 million for a college expansion in Pocahontas, Arkansas.
  • $7,500 to a guy in Red Bluff, California, to fix his water well.
  • $200,000 to “one of the largest clam producers in Florida.”
  • $7.5 million to fix a dam in Idaho.
  • $1 million to an automotive shop and other businesses in Du Quoin, Illinois.
  • $63,000 to a biofuels company in Maine.
  • $200,000 for a farmers market in Michigan.
  • $651,000 for an arts center in Bozeman, Montana.
  • $373,000 to a paper company in Nevada.
  • $1.5 million to an apartment developer in Monticello, New York.
  • $2 million for a vet clinic in North Dakota.
  • $1.1 million for street improvements in Pittston, Pennsylvania.
  • $113,000 to fix up an old theatre in Rutland, Vermont.
  • $5.2 million for a fire station in Sweetwater County, Wyoming.

The tone of the Progress Report is triumphant and self-congratulatory: “This has been a year of historic accomplishment for the USDA.” The agency’s broadband investments “have been extremely successful, and offer the potential for exponential rural growth in the future.” Exponential—wow!

With that sort of success, is there any local and private project in the nation that the federal government should not get involved in? And, indeed, the far-flung subsidy activities of the USDA are mirrored in numerous other federal departments, such as HUD.

The thinking seems to be that the federal government has a magical source of money, so federal aid is an automatic boost to society. Of course, all federal aid money ultimately comes from taxpayers who live in the 50 states. So activities such as USDA-Rural are a zero-sum game. Actually, they are worse than a zero-sum game because taxpayers have to pay for all the bureaucrat middlemen who run these money recycling schemes.

For more on the problems and pathologies of federal aid, see here.

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