Sunday, November 09, 2008

Analogies gone wild

Today's LA Times carried this headline: "Economists see revival of an old fix ... Public works projects once disminssed as too slow, are on the table again. Obama backs the FDR-era idea."

Just days before the election, the Times business writer told readers to "Say no to traffic ...," advocating a "yes" vote for multi-billion dollar rail projects for LA county and the state. The county measure seems to have passed, raising the local sales tax at the worst possible time. State budget problems have prompted the Governor to propose higher sales taxes. And the state proposition to build mega-dollar high-speed rail, which requires a 2/3 majority, is also close to passage.

The wasteful nature of these projects is well known. It is strange but not surprising that a time of economic difficulty is seen as a time to pile on the economic blunders. Intellectual President-elect or not, the stars are aligned for pork dressed up as wise policy.

On the bright side, California voters have approved a redistricting measure which might (might) put the brakes on some of the mendacity. But the model of redistricting done by an impartial body (retired judges?) might be useful. Subject all of the infrastructure pork proposals to cost-benefit analysis by a similar impartial body (retired economists?).

There is the obvious (and disturbing) analogy between having politicians in charge of gerrymandering district boundaries, having public agencies do project evaluation of projects they would operate and having the bears guard the honey.