Why should government cost us more than shelter? Political scientist James L. Payne examined the record of 14 congressional appropriations hearings and found that of 1,060 witnesses who testified, only seven spoke against spending money, while more than a thousand testified that the spending -- whatever it was -- was necessary. Even a politician who believes in limited government has a tough time resisting a constant onslaught of "needy" people saying, "This program is crucial!"
The testimony is lopsided because of the "concentrated benefits-diffuse costs" problem: The benefits of any given government program go to a few, but the costs are spread among many. If sheep and goat ranchers get $200 million in handouts, it costs each of us less than $1. What are you going to do about that? Go to Washington and protest? For a buck, you probably won't even write your congressman, let alone take him out to dinner or give him a $2,000 campaign contribution. Yet the sheep ranchers have an incentive to spend $199 million lobbying if it gets them a $200 million subsidy back. Economists call it rent-seeking.
Of course, even the sheep ranchers would be better off if the government stuck to its basic purposes. But it makes no sense for them to pay for everyone else's programs and not demand their own.
The big bill came Monday. But see if you can catch all the taxes you paid today.
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