The Stimulus Failed, (Part 2), Do you want your grandchildren to pay for your walking bridge?

Milton Friedman – The Proper Role of Government

TWO RIVERS BRIDGE: Opening nears.

People just don’t understand how wasteful government can be and how giving government more control of our lives destroys much of the freedom that we should have. This series on the stimulus demostrates these points. This whole series started because of a post I did on July 6, 2011 about an post in the Arkansas Times Blog.

On July 6, 2011 on the Arkansas Times Blog I posted concerning the walking bridge in Little Rock that stimulus funds help build:

Tim Griffin spoke in Central Arkansas recently at a townhall meeting and mentioned that a couple of million of stimulus money went to build the walking bridge in Little Rock that will be opening this summer. Then he went on to show how it was silly for our government to try to stimulate the economy with our national credit card.
Steve Chapman rightly noted in his article “Stimulus to Nowhere” noted:

The federal government took out loans that it will have to cover with future tax increases … so states don’t have to. It’s like paying your Visa bill with your MasterCard.

The person using the username “Arkansas Panic Fan” responded:

Bridge = good stuff for Central Arkansas. Not sure why it is a bad thing. It is your money at work here being used for your benefit. I applaud this type of government activity. This is the type of project and progress you can see, touch, smell, hear.

That being said, Saline Republican, is this a waste of your money? You can use it as you wish.


Today I am responding to “Arkansas Panic Fan” with a few comments from Milton Friedman. Is this bridge a “waste of your money?” I have to say yes it is. Many people will look at it and say that their taxes have not gone up recently and they will assume that it is free in that sense. However, Friedman makes it clear that “to spend is to tax.”

Brad DeLong noted:

His (Milton Friedman’s) worldview began with a bedrock belief in people and their ability to make judgments for themselves, and thus an imperative to maximize individual freedom. On top of that was layered a trust in free markets as almost always the best and most magical way of coordinating every conceivable task. On top of that was layered a powerful conviction that a look at the empirical facts — a comparison, or a “marking to market,” of one’s beliefs with reality — would generate the right conclusions. And crowning that was a fear and suspicion of government as an easily captured tool for the enrichment of cynical and selfish interests. Suffusing all was a faith in the power of argument and the primacy of reason. Friedman was an optimist. He was convinced people could be taught the truths of economics, and if people were properly taught, then institutions could be built to protect society as a whole against the corruption and overreach of the government.

And he did fear the government. He was a conservative of the old, libertarian school, from the days before the scolds had captured the levers of power in the conservative movement. He hated any government intrusion into people’s private business. And he interpreted “people’s private business” extremely widely… He scorned government licensing of professionals — especially doctors, who heard over and over again about how their incomes were boosted by restrictions on the number of doctors that made Americans sicker. He abhorred deficit spending — again, he was a conservative from another era. He feared that cynical politicians could pretend that the costs of government were less than they were by pushing the raising of taxes to pay for spending off into the future. He sought to inoculate citizens against such political games of three-card monte. “Remember,” he would say, “to spend is to tax.

This did not mean that government had no role to play. He endorsed the enforcement of property rights, adjudication of contract disputes — the standard and powerful rule-of-law underpinnings of the market — plus a host of other government interventions when empirical circumstances made them appropriate.

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