The idea that politicians know better than the free marketplace when it comes to allocating resources has been the driving force for some of the most destructive and deadly philosophies of the past 200 years. So why does it remain a bedrock principle of progressive governance?
President Joe Biden and his commerce secretary recently announced the distribution of $1 billion in federal grants to various special interests. The money was part of the $1.9 trillion inflationary coronavirus relief bill passed by Congress in March 2021. The Associated Press reports that the money will go to 21 recipients “chosen from 529 initial applicants.”
The lucky few include “$65.1 million for California to improve farm production and $25 million for a robotics cluster in Nebraska,” the wire service says. “Georgia gets $65 million for artificial intelligence. There is $63.7 million for lithium-based battery development in New York. Coal counties in West Virginia would receive $62.8 million to help with the shift to solar power.”
Laughably, the AP reports that the Biden administration “said the winners were chosen based on merit rather than politics.” Yet at the same time, the story notes that the president was interested in how these taxpayer grants would “play out on the political scene” and that “money is also going ahead of November’s midterm elections toward political battlegrounds that could decide control of Congress.”
What any of this has to do with the pandemic is a mystery. In truth, the $1.9 trillion measure — which many economists believe helped trigger the worst inflation in four decades — was progressive pork masquerading as coronavirus relief. Not only did the legislation overheat an already blistering economy, it is a monument to rent seeking and economic inefficiency.
Yet the White House is still pressuring Congress to pass an addition $10 billion in pandemic money, arguing that it needs the resources to control future variants. Republicans have resisted, for obvious reasons. If mitigating potential future coronavirus outbreaks were important to Mr. Biden and his fellow Democrats, perhaps they should have included funding for such measures in the bill ostensibly written for precisely that purpose. New Orleans gets $50 billion for green energy projects thanks to the virus relief legislation. What if that had been just $40 billion?
The economic distortions that result from elected officials allocating resources based on political considerations makes the nation poorer as a whole. The most pressing question about Mr. Biden picking winners and losers with other people’s money: Which one of the “winners” announced last week will become the next Solyndra?