The effect of government grants

Trackside is a column written occasionally by John D’Aloia Jr. He lives in St. Marys, Kansas.

TRACKSIDE © by John D’Aloia Jr.
February 5, 2012 AD

How do you view government grants? Are they “free” money handed out by a caring and beneficent government? My view is that government grants are funded by a forced redistribution of the resources from many people for the benefit of a few. Such grants are a means by which the grantor achieves control over the grantee. Such grants are morally and politically unacceptable.

“The Eighth Commandment does not say ‘Thou shalt not steal … except by a majority vote or unless it’s for a park swing set.'” (A paraphrase of a line from Mark Hendrickson’s article “Our National Blind Spot,” American Thinker, 6 February 2010.) Those who accept government grants for projects that they cannot fund from local tax sources are stealing resources from others, and in so-doing, are no better than the Occupy Wall Street gang which wants government to extract dollars from everyone else to give them what they want. (I am conflicted on grants that fund what would otherwise be an unfunded federal mandate — if the feds mandate X, then the feds should provide the dollars and take the budget hit, not the government unit needing the dollars to comply — but what if only some governments get a grant to pay for X, setting up an environment for favoritism? or the feds give a grant only to the governments that accept all the attached strings? As I said, conflicted.)

The only real beneficiaries of this government-forced redistribution of resources are the politicians who buy “good” press by making the grants available (look what we are doing for you), crowing that they have “brought-home-the-bacon” for their constituents, the Clerks in the myriad agencies who administer the grants, and those companies to which some of the dollars ultimately trickle down.

The willing accomplices in the grant process ignore Frederic Bastiat’s concern for the unforeseen consequences, particularly the impact of grants on the national fiscal mess, the inability of the citizens whose resources have been taken (higher taxes, inflation) to use those resources for their own benefit, and the impact of grants on future tax demands. Grants do put a long term tax burden on communities. In their report titled “Do Intergovernmental Grants Create Ratchets in State and Local Taxes — Testing the Friedman-Sanford Hypothesis,” Russell Sobel and George Crowley wrote: “Our findings confirm that grants indeed result in future state and local tax increases of roughly 40 cents for every dollar in grant money received in prior years.” The report is cited as Mercatus Center Working Paper No. 10-51, West Virginia University, August 2010.

For immediate satisfaction, grantees are placing the financial burden on others and on future generations. Grant dollars come from three sources: taxpayers at large, deficit spending (insane, obscene borrowing), and the Fed’s printing presses creating phony money out of thin air (inflation). All three sources extract resources in one way or the other from citizens who cannot, will not, benefit from the grant, nor even ever receive a thank-you note.

Bastiat said that “Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.” In The Law, published in 1850, (which should be mandatory reading for all legislators and voters), Bastiat used the term “plunder” to describe the “legal” appropriation of the fruits of one person’s labor for the benefit of another. If he were alive today, he would be applying it to grants, recognizing that specific organizations and local governments are using the grant process to obtain the resources of others for their specific benefit and enjoyment.

Grants are not an economic development plus — at best neutral (dollars not spent by X are spent by Y) — but most likely they have a negative economic impact, directly because the grantor government agencies extract a “shipping and handling fee” out of the economy to keep themselves employed, and indirectly because grants provide an impetus for a sprawling, out-of-control Leviathan.

Accepting grants also place the grantee under the thumb of the grantor, as grants impose requirements that detract from the authority and sovereignty of the grantee. People look in glee at the line in the grant contract that has a dollar sign and a bunch of numbers after it but neglect to read the fine print that requires them to do this and that for eternity. The federal government uses grants to bribe states to pass laws that the feds want but don’t have the authority to impose. In all too many situations, federal grants are unconstitutional in that they are for purposes that are not within the enumerated powers given to Congress by the Constitution.

The ends (accomplishment of a project that local groups want but will not fund locally) do not justify the means (stealing now, and in the future, from all citizens).

See you Trackside.

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