I haven’t read her book yet but based on an interview with Daivd Leohardt I’d wager that Diane Coyle is the Amy Chua to my Bryan Caplan. A snippet:

There is too much cynicism about politicians, I think. Most people go into public life because they start out with the noble ambition making things a bit better for their fellow citizens. So why do they all seem to end up doing short-term pork-barrel politics?

I agree that most people go into politics to for noble reasons. However, at least is budgets are any guide, very little of what they do seems to be pork barrel projects. Moreover, many of those projects are the type of investments that Coyle seems to be supporting.

Here is sampling of some of the larger projects, taken directly from the 2009 report of Citizens Against Government Waste, a group not friendly to pork barreling.

  • $4,545,000 for wood utilization research in 10 states by 19 senators and 10 representatives. This research has cost taxpayers $95.3 million since 1985. One would think that after 24 years of research all the purposes for one of the world’s most basic construction materials would have been discovered.
  • $80,655,000 for 86 projects by Senate CJS Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), including:  $900,000 for fish management at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab; $800,000 for the University of South Alabama for oyster rehabilitation in Mobile; $500,000 for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for public education in Mobile; $500,000 for NOAA for the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center in Mobile for education exhibits; $475,000 for the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville for missions systems recording, archival, and retrieval; $400,000 for the McWane Science Center in Birmingham for education and science literacy programs; and $100,000 under the COPS program for the Talladega County Commission to make radio upgrades.
  • $41,065,000 for 26 projects by Senate CJS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), including: $1,000,000 for the University of Maryland College Park for its Advanced Study Institute for Environmental Prediction to study climate impacts and adaptation in the Mid-Atlantic region; $1,000,000 for Coppin State University, Towson University, and the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute to partner on a program to increase the number and quality of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics teachers in the region’s public schools; $550,000 for the NOAA Chesapeake Bay office for blue crab research; $500,000 for the NOAA Chesapeake Bay office for a network of environmental observation platforms; and $500,000 to Charles County public schools for a digital classroom project
  • $190,000,000 for 33 projects by Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), including:  $23,000,000 for the Hawaii Federal Healthcare Network, $9,900,000 for the U.S.S. Missouri (which costs $16 for an adult to tour and receives 100,000 annual visitors), and $3,600,000 for intelligent decision exploration.  That is something many members of Congress should be doing.
  • $87,025,702 for 28 projects by then-Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), including:  $18,000,000 for middle Rio Grande restoration; $4,757,500 for climate change modeling capability; $3,828,000 for New Mexico environmental infrastructure; $1,914,000 for Army Corps of Engineers construction of the Acequias irrigation system; $1,903,000 for the La Samilla Solar Through Storage Project; $1,903,000 for the Center of Excellence and Hazardous Materials; and $200,000 for the middle Rio Grande endangered species collaborative program.
  • $73,690,000 for 35 projects by Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), including: $5,600,000 for two projects at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area; $5,000,000 for San Francisco Bay restoration grants; $1,250,000 for the Angel Island Immigration Station; $800,000 for a tunnel at Yosemite National Park; and $460,000 for the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area.  In November 2008, Whiskeytown participated in the National Park Service’s Artists-in-Residence Program.  Participants include sculptors, painters, land-artists, and video artists, who get to spend up to four weeks in an “artist’s cabin … to produce new works.”


That, however, isn’t even our main point of disagreement. I think the main problem with being far sighted about the future is that no one knows for sure what the future is going to be. That makes future public policy especially hard and it planning for the future especially dangerous.

What I would point towards is contingency plans, guides of the nature: When You are Engulfed in a Credit Crisis or When A Giant Tsunami Has Struck, rather than trying to chart any particular course.

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