Wasteful Spending: An Issue From the Past?

Josef Stalin famously said that one death is a tragedy, while a million deaths are a statistic. The same holds true for spending: most people’s eyes glaze over at the thought of a billion dollars, but we get outraged over the idea of a $400 hammer.

The $400 hammer won one of Senator William Proxmire’s Golden Fleece awards, decades ago. Proxmire did a more effective job than just about anyone at highlighting wasteful federal spending, and his Golden Fleece awards got enormous publicity. Proxmire was a Democrat, but there was a time when politicians of both parties–some of them, anyway–didn’t like to waste money.

Is that still true? Senator Everett Dirksen famously said, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.” Nowadays we often talk in trillions, but voters still don’t want to see their money wasted, and they still understand relatively small instances of stupidity better than mind-numbing billion-dollar bureaucratese.

Hence the Golden Turkey award. My organization, Center of the American Experiment, is inaugurating the Golden Turkey award, which highlights wasteful spending in our state, Minnesota. The point is to expose foolish government spending, in order to motivate voters to demand spending cuts rather than tax increases to close our state’s COVID shutdown-related budget deficit.

We have a long list of foolish spending projects, from which we have selected four finalists for the inaugural Golden Turkey prize. They include:

* $6.9 million for a refrigerated morgue to hold the bodies of tens of thousands of COVID victims, who didn’t materialize. Never used.

* $57,000 paid to celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern to tweet on behalf of Minnesota tourism, twice a month. Nice work if you can get it!

* In the same vein, $900,000 to pay Minnesotans not to cut their lawns, but rather to let them grow wild. Because bees. Never mind the neighbors!

* Here the dollars are small, but the intent is incredibly stupid: $1,000 for “a woman to host a hands-on climate mapping workshop where participants create maps of their personal emotional terrain of climate change.”

Hey, you would care if it was your $1,000! Which is the whole point.

If you go here, you can get more information about the nominees and vote for your favorite. The inaugural Golden Turkey will be awarded at a press conference on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

We are promoting the Golden Turkey award with a digital advertising and organic Facebook campaign. We would do Facebook ads, except that Facebook continues its ban on “political” ads, which it defines broadly to include anything related to policy. Also, we are doing electronic billboards to promote the campaign. This is what they look like:

We intend for Golden Turkey prizes to be awarded into the future, indefinitely. Government waste is a huge issue. It is most acute at the state level because most states are required to balance their budgets. Waste at the federal level may seem cost-free to the extent that it is covered, temporarily, by deficit spending. But all bills must eventually be paid–with interest, in the federal case.

There is much talk these days about where conservatism should go in a post-Trump era. That is a big topic, but one point seems crystal clear: if we want lower taxes, we need to constrain spending. Because there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Meanwhile, please do go here and vote for your favorite turkey.

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