Commentary: A Tsunami of Bad Policy
This commentary appeared in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch on December 7, 2021
Inflation has reared its ugly head again—hitting a 30-year high of 6.2 percent, which is more than triple the Federal Reserve’s definition of stable prices. Unfortunately, the wayward policies that have contributed to soaring prices, pervasive shortages, and sputtering growth are not going away. In fact, they are poised to get a whole lot worse.
President Biden signed the first of two giant spending bills into law on Nov. 15. That was the $1 trillion “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.” The second bill is the administration’s proposed Build Back Better Act, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives a few days later and now pending before the Senate.
Taken together, we are looking at a potential tsunami of bad policymaking. Let us count the ways the two pieces of legislation threaten our nation’s freedom and prosperity:
#1. The infrastructure act is only partially about infrastructure as most people think of it. For example, the law spends only $110 billion on fixing roads and bridges—barely putting a dent in the maintenance backlog—while Amtrak alone will get 60 percent as much as all of America’s bridges and roads combined. Yes, that Amtrak—the one that has consistently run operating losses almost every year for the past 50 years. Tens of billions of additional dollars will go into public transportation even though only five percent of Americans rely on public transit in commuting to work.
#2. Also under the infrastructure act, the government says it will make “the largest investment in clean energy transmission and grid in American history,” and it calls for “building thousands of miles of new resilient transmission lines to facilitate the expansion of renewables and clean energy.” Wind and solar have been lavishly supported for decades, but still only account for 11 percent of U.S. electrical power generation, and their actual role is much less than that because they are intermittent. Does anyone seriously think they can come anywhere close to replacing gas and coal as the primary source of 60 percent of electrical power generation and be equally cheap, reliable, and easy to use?
#3. Then, too, as part of the green energy component of the “infrastructure” plan, the federal government will mastermind the building of a network of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations, thereby not only putting taxpayer money at risk, but also putting the federal government in the position of picking winners and losers among America’s small-town communities through its choice of where to put those stations. The survival of local communities may soon depend increasingly on Washington, D.C.’s whims.
#4. The proposed Build Back Better Act would permanently and dramatically expand the welfare state and abolish work requirements as a condition for receiving aid. There would be some “free money” for taxpayers at all levels of income. The wealthy would get theirs in the form of expanded state and local tax (aka SALT) deductibility. The top current deduction of $10,000 isn’t much for a top-one-percenter living in an expensive house in a spendthrift, high-tax state like California or New York. Build Back Better includes an eightfold expansion of the maximum SALT deduction to $80,000. The typical taxpayer would get no benefit, while top earners would receive an average windfall of nearly $23,000. The Build Back Better Act would also permanently enshrine the Biden administration’s reimagined Child Care Tax Credit, which would allow a family to receive thousands of dollars a year ($3,600 per child under age 6 and $3,000 per child at 17 and under) in government cash with zero earned income and no expectation whatsoever of anyone having to seek a job.
#5. Adjusted for a lot of gimmickry, a close reading of the bill shows that it would result in nearly three trillion dollars in cumulative budget deficits over the next decade. Claims that the bill will not add a dime to deficits and debt are entirely spurious.
To sum up, what we have here is an overarching vision for transforming America. It would concentrate more decision-making power in the hands of the central government. And it would turn what has been a society of producers, workers, and investors into a society of people and institutions (including unions, businesses, schools, and an enlarged army of social workers and activists) whose livelihoods depend on what government gives them.