Why Government Waste Can Never Be Fully Eliminated

by Patrick Appel

Last week Will Wilkinson contemplated the inevitability of regulatory capture. Douthat expands on Will's argument:

[T]he welfare state gets “captured” by the teachers who benefit from uncompetitive workplaces, the public-sector unions who benefit from inflated salaries and gold-plated benefits, the doctors and hospitals who benefit when the government subsidizes unnecessary treatment, the pharmaceutical companies who benefit when the government subsidizes their drugs, the lawyers and lobbyists who benefit from the complexities of the estate tax, the mortgage lenders and real estate brokers who benefit from the home-mortgage deduction, and so on and so forth.

Note that none of these groups have turned the programs in question completely away from their intended ends: The public schools still educates America’s children, Medicare still pays for seniors’ health care, California’s prisons still hod inmates and the trains in New York still carry people to work, the estate tax still collects money that can be redistributed to the poor, the home-mortgage deduction still (God help us!) encourages middle-class homebuying. This kind of commonplace “capture” isn’t a pure and obvious betrayal of liberal purposes  it’s just a corruption of the process, a skimming off the top, a layer of interest-group involvement that distorts programs and makes them vastly more expensive without wrecking them entirely.