Greg Mankiw defends Republican congressman who opposed the stimulus but are bragging back home about directing stimulus money to their districts. He points out that it is not logically inconsistent to both oppose government spending as a means to fight a recession, and to also direct such spending it to their constituents in the event that there is inevitably going to be stimulus.

I won’t disagree with the claim that the position is logical; once there’s definitely going to be a pie, it’s not wrong to fight for your share, and that’s important to point out. Furthermore, Mankiw admits, as will I, that he’s not familiar with the details of these supposed congressional hypocrites. I’ll go a step further though, and say that the details matter here, and without them you can’t really defend the congressmen.

For instance, when celebrating the greatness of a local stimulus project, a congressman owes the local constituents a disclaimer that if he could have things his way, he would rather this project not exist. Also, if he’s going to praise all the jobs created by it, he should probably point out that he believes the project on net is going to destroy jobs. If that’s logically consistent enough to please his constituents, then great. But to omit those points is to imply more support for the project than is accurate. Did the congressmen make those disclaimers?

Another problem I have with his defense is this metaphor of his:

Many Democratic congressmen opposed the Bush tax cuts… But once these tax cuts were passed, I bet these congressmen paid lower taxes.  I bet they did not offer to hand the Treasury the extra taxes they would have owed at the previous tax rates.  Would it make sense for the GOP to suggest that these Democrats were disingenuous or hypocritical?  I don’t think so.

A more apt metaphor would be if Democratic congressmen who opposed the Bush tax cuts then went to their home towns and made stump speeches bragging about the jobs those tax cuts were going to create. Would it make sense for the GOP to suggest that these Democrats were disingenuous or hypocritical? I think Mankiw would agree that it would.