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How did the national debt get so big?

Written By: Jason Shafrin - May• 08•09

The book Cadillac Desert discusses the development of dams, aquaducts, and irrigation canals to slake the thirst of cities and farmers in the Western U.S..  While these projects did eventually deliver the water they promised, they did so at huge costs to taxpayers.  In the words of former congressmen Robert W. Edgar:

“The old-boy network comes to you,” says Edgar, who was elected to the House of Representatives in 1974, at the age of thirty-one.  “They say, ‘You’ve got a water project in your district?  You want one? Let us take care of it for you.’  Then they come around a few months later and get their pound of flesh.  You actually risk very little by going along.  You get a lot of money thrown into your district for a project that few of your constituents oppose.  In return, you vote for a lot of projects your constituents don’t know or care about.  Not many of my constituents are going to base their vote for or against me on whether or not I supported Stonewall Jackson Dam in West Virginia.  Then everyone wonders why we’re running such big federal deficits, and they cut the social programs, which must be the culprit.”

  • Robert W. Edgar, U.S. Congressman from 1975 to 1987.

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  1. jim jaffe says:

    Rep. Edgar was certainly one of the good guys, but I wonder about his math. He seems to suggest that public works — water projects in particular — have created today’s deficits and that social spending gets the blame. Money is, of course, fungible, but I think we’re giving the Corps of Engineers too much credit here and would welcome an analysis that gave us the relative order of magnitude of the two groups.

    You don’t have to be a conservative to conclude that ongoing spending — which includes social programs like entitlements as well as defense — is the culprit. One-time expenses like water projects are insignificant, although sometimes quite useful.

  2. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the public choice theorists call this “logrolling.”

  3. Tom says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t Edgar basically saying pork projects in general, etc is what caused the National debt?

    Aren’t we all tired of the bleeding hearts saying, “it’s for the children” we already know that children have been having babies for the past 30 years. I can understand ANYONE making a mistake and getting pregnant. We then give them a housing allowance, food stamps, medical care, etc. Then low and behold they go out and get pregnant again and we double the money their already receiving…why? I subscribe to the fool me once shame on you…fool me twice shame on me!

    From here on out, NO person shall receive any Governmental subsidy that wasn’t earned if they do not submit to drug testing and from this day forward if you get pregnant and can’t or won’t provide the Fathers name of the child you just delivered you’ll receive no benefits from the Government.

    In closing, since when did we become a society of bleeding hearts?

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