I was listening to NPR as I was driving to work this morning, and heard a (pretty typical) news item that seems to me a perfect example of the perils of public policy–or why, as I continually tell my students, “it’s more complicated than it seems.”
The U.S. Defense Department has cut funding for an engine being developed by Rolls Royce and G.E. Robert Gates, Defense Secretary, has called the project a waste of taxpayer money. But some 400+ Indiana jobs are directly tied to the continued development of that engine, and–predictably–scrapping it has generated opposition from both Andre Carson and Mike Pence.
I have no information that would allow me to comment on the merits of this project, but it is a textbook example of the problem we face cutting public budgets. Even apparent “no brainers”–attempts to cut programs that are self-evidently unnecessary or wasteful–run headlong into the reality that the cuts will cost some people jobs or money. Those people vote. They make campaign contributions. Thus the protests from Carson and Pence.
Pence’s objections are particularly illuminating: he has been a reliable opponent of government spending, even spending that most of us would consider appropriate. He talks incessantly about the need to make the “hard” decisions. But when those decisions affect his constituents or donors, his tune changes considerably.
Pence is not alone. We have legislatures filled with folks who want to make the “hard decisions”–so long as those hard decisions don’t require them to make any sacrifices or take any electoral risks.