Monday, May 11, 2009

Helicopter to nowhere

The new bridge to nowhere is apparently a helicopter. Congresscritter from NY funds a new 834 million dollar chopper for Obama. Obama, attempting to convince the innumerate that he's making a good faith effort to respond to looming deficits by shoring up spending, ommits the chopper from his budget proposal. Hilarity, politics, and rent-seeking ensue.

Spending 834 million on a chopper that isn't needed is, of course, what one might call a misallocation of resources. Sure, we'll use the chopper, and sure there were some side benefits like whatever Lockheed learned in building it, but the opportunity cost is the issue here. What else could have been done with that money and that labor? Just paying the 834 million in ransom to Hinchley and his lobbyists would have been a superior alternative. The cost is wasted production from the taxpayers who foot the bill, but why double the folly by wasting the labor of the chopper manufacturers? Maybe that labor could produce something that people actually want. Or maybe the workers would just take the money and retire, spending it on leisure, which is something that they probably prefer to building helicopters.

This is just one more example of kicking the structural employment can down the road. In economic terms, if what you're making isn't something that anybody wants... STOP MAKING IT. MAKE SOMETHING THAT PEOPLE... DO... WANT. You don't get that lost labor back, ever.

Still, lest we get carried away, I've made a little chart to put things in perspective. In the likely event that you can't read the legend, the costs going left to right are: AIG Bonuses (the Financial Services ones that I posted about earlier), the chopper, the overall AIG bailout, the 2008 regular defense spending (not including wartime supplements), the overall cost of the bailout (AIG included), and the overall cost of the Iraq war (aggregate, not annual).

If you look really closely, you'll notice that the AIG bonuses and the helicopter don't seem to have bars. That's not a mistake. Actually, it's the point of the exercise. They're so small that you can't even see them. For more on this, see this video.

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