Thursday, October 20, 2011

Visible Projects, Hidden Destruction

The real cost of government efforts at job creation.

Today's crop of central planners and big spending politicians could learn a thing or two about economics from Henry Hazlitt's classic bestseller, Economics in One Lesson, published in 1946. Common sense doesn't have an expiration date.

"There is no more persistent and influential faith in the world today than faith in government spending," Hazlitt wrote. "Everywhere government spending is presented as a panacea for all our economic ills. Is private industry partially stagnant? We can fix it all by government spending. Is there unemployment? That is obviously due to 'insufficient private purchasing power.' The remedy is just as obvious. All that is necessary is for the government to spend enough to make up the 'deficiency.'"

With "public works" viewed primarily as a means of "providing employment," explained Hazlitt, an endless array of projects will be "invented" by the government. The "usefulness" of the final product or the likeliness of success of a project, whether it's a bridge to nowhere or a bankrupt solar panel company, "inevitably becomes a subordinate consideration."

In fact, once creating jobs is viewed as the chief purpose of government spending, said Hazlitt, a project with more waste and more inefficiency in its implementation, and less labor productivity, will be viewed as superior to a less wasteful project. The "more wasteful the work, the more costly in manpower," he explained, "the better it becomes for the purpose of providing more employment."

A key fallacy in this thinking, Hazlitt explained, is that it ignores the incomes, wealth and the jobs that are "destroyed by the taxes imposed to pay for that spending." What's visible is the new school or new road, but what is unseen are those things that were lost through higher taxation, the unbuilt homes and unbuilt cars that don't exist because of the money that was redistributed away from those who earned it in order to pay for inefficient make-work projects. What is unseen are the unbuilt stores and unbuilt factories, the uninvested funds and the new enterprises that would have been created.   

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