The Obama team has made much of the fact that the stimulus bill will not contain any earmarks. But the prohibitions are getting weirder by the minute, as Tim Carney points out at Culture 11:
But the bill currently doesn't have earmarks in it. That means individual projects like this bridge or that museum are not specified to receive stimulus money -- those decisions will be left up the agencies and cabinet departments. So, when you hear about specific projects, like the Mob Museum in Las Vegas, those are merely requests submitted by mayors to the Obama transition team. House Democrats have said they will not stick earmarks into the bill, but until we see a final version, we won't know if they live up to this pledge.
The restrictions within the bill are interesting. The only broad restriction covering the entire bill is that "None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available in this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, or swimming pool." You got it, a city or federal agency can use this money for a jungle gym but not a swimming pool, a croquet court but not a golf course, a football stadium but not a casino, a museum full of dead lions and fish but not a zoo full of live ones. Everyone knows aquaria are utterly unstimulating, or something.
An interesting restriction on how states can use the money seems to cut against the whole building-stuff-is-good-for-
the-economytone of the Democrats' stimulus talk. If a state dedicates stimulus money to state universities, the bill prohibits the state from using the money to increase its endowment or for "construction, renovation, or facility repair."
By the standards of stimulus, these are, frankly, bizarre. The logic of Keynesian stimulus is that the government borrowing and spending are itself the medicine that will jolt the economy out of a contraction of aggregate demand, aka "animal spirits". He famously suggested that, in the absence of better projects, the government might profitably pay people to dig holes, and then fill them up again. The point is to get money moving quickly. This is one of the major issues with the Obama plan's emphasis on infrastructure: big construction projects simply take time.
Less than half the money dedicated to highways, school construction and
other infrastructure projects in a massive economic stimulus package
unveiled by House Democrats is likely to be spent within the next two
years, according to congressional budget analysts, meaning most of the
spending would come too late to lift the nation out of recession.
Golf courses seem like a quite good way to get money out the door quickly; clearing land is relatively low-skilled work compared to high-speed rail projects. That means it can soak up any available labor you happen to have lying around, while specialized projects require specialized workers who aren't necessarily the same people thrown out of work by a collapse in the market for mortgage-backed securities. As for casinos . . . well, just look at Las Vegas. If the government doesn't help them, who will?
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