John Maynard Keynes made allusions to the economic benefit of government creating demand-side wealth by paying people to dig holes, and then pay other folks to follow on behind them and fill 'em in. Now, we can get all pointy-headed, and argue about whether or not this English Fauntleroy actually said it, but the fact remains that this sort of Keynesian flibber-flubber is what has been passing for Serious Thought amongst our Lords and Betters in Washington for eons now.
For proof, I have exhibit "A": An actual taxpayer-funded hole...
And, as holes go, it's a really, really BIG one.
If you draw a rough circle around Waxahachie, Texas, going twenty-seven mile out like the center-point of a compass and draw a semicircle, you would have the approximate course of the Hole. This hole (or tunnel, really) is about sixteen feet in diameter, at an average depth of eighty feet, and it winds it circular path for nearly thirty miles.
It is utterly empty, and you've paid over $4 Billion for it.
Well, admittedly, that $4 billion also includes such luxury features as an empty building, weed-choked parking lot, and a chain-link fence that's askew and akimbo. I guess the only redeeming feature of this Hole of Holes is that, unbelievably, it is only half-finished, and would have cost another $8 to $10 billion (and probably a ton more than even this herculean amount) to complete. As it stands right now, the path of the hole, if viewed from above, is only a semi-circle, a crescent. When originally planned, Waxahachi was supposed to be surrounded by this circular hole, rather like a subterranean moat. But, by 1994, the Federal Government decided it had had enough hole-digging, and cancelled the project. The first half of the Keynesian project is completed, though. All we have to do is hire someone to go back and fill it all in.
Why, the astute reader may ask, is there a thirty-mile long hole that (half) encircles Waxahatchie, Texas? Was there once a sober argument making the rounds for a Metro-style subway system connecting rural Waxahachie with itself? Was this some sort of bizarre attempt to link south Texas with the Pas-de-Calais that went errantly off-course? Why is there this multi-billion dollar taxpayer-funded hole Deep in the Heart of Texas?
It is the discarded remains of a monument to governmental self-delusion, known in popular parlance as the "Superconducting Supercollider". The idea behind it went something like this: "Shoot atomic particles at ever-accelerating speeds through a 55-mile long circular tube, toward targets to make them collide, and see what happens". Sort of a nuclear NASCAR.
In typical government fashion, some scientists went before congress, and convinced the august body that this would have Many Scientific Benefits (-sort of like the benefits of measuring atmospheric temperatures by putting thermometers on black-tarred roofs near the air-conditioning condenser motors). At the time funding for this project was approved, notorious author, doofus and scold Jim Wright was the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, and this gave him a wonderful opportunity to sit in benevolent judgement, holding his chin in great wisdom with his thumb and forefinger, and nodding with sophistication, while the scientists before him talked about things like "cyclotrons" and other whiz-bang stuff while he was nodding off to the tune of "Gilligan's Island".
But, the crux of the matter that the Scientists laid before Speaker Wright, even if he couldn't begin to understand what the hell the eggheads were talking about, was this: Bacon. Palm Grease. Pork.
And, it fit perfectly into the Keynesian theorem: Dig a hole. Fill it in. Cha-Ching!
All Speaker Wright had to do was somehow steer the scientist toward digging the deep, 55-mile long hole in his South Texas district, and, even as the Scientists were talking about Einstieneum and other stuff that made his head swim, the project was already making all the sense to Speaker Wright it ever needed to.
Then, Bill Clinton came to town, and he was damned if he was going to let George HW Bush's Texas become some sort of Armadillo-Clad Silicon Valley on HIS watch. So, he shut the project down. But, not until after shoveling more dollars than dirt into Jim Wright's retirement fund.
Ah, well--; What's $4 billion down a hole, between friends?
Now, this picture is interesting:
At first glance, it is a typical shot of our iconic (and now-retired) Space Shuttle. And so it is-- Enterprise, to be specific. But, if you look a little more closely, you will note the stubby mountains in the background. Anyone who has ever been to Florida's Space Coast will tell you that Kansas has more hills than the Cape. So, where, pray tell, was this picture taken?
They say some pictures are priceless. Well, this one almost is. $20 billion, actually.
On January 27th, 1986, the shuttle Columbia was in California. Not at Edwards Air Force Base, (where we normally heard about the spacecraft's western digs) but rather at Vandenberg Air Force Base, some 100 miles directly west, at Space Launch Complex Six. Vandenberg is about as far west and remote on the elbow of California as you can get in that area of the country. In fact, the promintory is called "Point Conception".
Space Launch Complex Six (or, as it was called in wing-nut lexicon "Slick Six") was designed as a near duplicate of the Shuttle Launch Complex at Cape Canaveral, Florida. It even was to feature the exact same checker-board painted cooling-system water tower. And, just over the hill, the Air Force built the world's longest paved run-way, which, today, tops out at over four miles in length. When completed (projected then to be sometime in 1987), it was to be California's Space Shuttle Port.
Why were two shuttle-ports needed? Well, "needed", in the broadest sense, meaning "wanted". Ostensibly, the idea was to be able to provide polar orbits of the earth, versus the more commonly witnessed equatorial orbits . More practically, the enormous build-out at Vandenberg was a payoff to the loathsome Senator Alan Cranston, who was famous for shoveling military payoffs to his state of California at the same time he was braying about Global Nuclear Disarmament.
Well, on January 29th, 1986, while the debris of the Challenger explosion was still being salvaged in Titusville, the Colombia was unhooked from Slick Six, and shuttled back to Florida. No Space Shuttle was ever to make use of Slick Six. The windows were boarded up, the lawn furniture was overturned under the eaves, and the place was mothballed. But, not before we'd spent over $20 billion on the place-- in 1986 Dollars.
Unlike the Superconducting Supercollier, Slick Six has found an after-life as a place for private space contractors to try out their wares. But, even at that, we've sunk hundreds of millions of dollars tearing apart the earlier contraptions, and retrofitting them for some useful purpose. But, even this isn't the end (or even the beginning) of the story...
What is intriguing about Slick Six is that it was built atop another discarded barrel of pork, know as MOL: The Manned Orbiting Laboratory. The Air Force was attempting to get it's foot in the door of a Johnson-era weaponized space. It was a boondoggle from start to finish, but during the go-go era of Space Exploration, it was thought that, once again, polar orbiting of some sort of platform for launching military missions might somehow be important. And we spent nearly a billion bucks (in 1969 dollars, when the whole budget was around $170 billion!) before deciding it violated numerous treaties, and that putting nuclear powered space launch vehicles into the upper reaches of our atmosphere might not be the most healthy thing to do.
* * *
I've just given a tiny smidgen, a taste, of the colossal waste and incompetence and abuse inherent with federal spending. Chances are, everybody reading this can come up with their own examples without much problem or sweat. These two examples account for a nut the size of $25 billion, and yet, almost no one has ever heard of them.
Current Speaker of the House John Boehner, during one of his attempts to roll over and have his tummy rubbed by the Leftists in the Washington-New York corridor, proposed a "supercommittee" to go over the Federal Budget with a fine-toothed comb, looking as carefully as possible to pick the gnat-crap of overspending out of the pepper of Federal largesse, and see it maybe, just maybe, we can find a thing or two to cut.
It should come at no surprise that the "supercommitte" is at loggerheads, and getting very little accomplished. Pace the Paris Peace Conference, they are bickering at present (more or less), over the size of the conference table, and what the meaning of the word "is" is. The Supercommittee is on a collision course with destiny, and we know the outcome won't be either pretty or terribly important or efficacious. The Sword of Damocles is said to be dangling above the heads of the committee members, and they are simply posturing about phantom cuts to a phantom budget that's filled with phantoms.
As you read this, there are Slick Six's on the books, going on the books, or about the be cancelled after having been on the books for many years. There are Superconducting Supercolliders boring holes through the earth, intent on targets no one can define toward ends that cannot be foreseen. We know they are in the budget, especially since that budget itself contains every last shred of Obama's $900 billion one-year "stimulous" that apparently goes on and on, year after year, with no end in sight.
Supercommittee Member Patty Murray will screech "Raise Taxes!" Jeb Hensarling will rumble "Cut Spending!". And so on, and on, the media will get it's bloomers all a-twist, and November 28th (the deadline for some kind of deal) will come colliding at the Committee, there will be a big puff of smoke like you see when Wyle E. Coyote hits the canyon floor, and nothing will change. Taxes will go up, spending will increase...
And we will keep digging holes, and filling them in.
Congress, as we have seen, doesn't know how to do anything else.