It’s hard to say with precision how much the average American earns in a lifetime, but $1 million is a “not unreasonable number.” So said Andrew Biggs, an economist for the American Enterprise Institute who has done a lot of work with Social Security numbers, when he called me back in late April.
Biggs was the third economist contacted that day. The first two said lifetime American earnings was somehow highly specialized information. I kept dialing for data because it was necessary to quantify the disbelief and rage.
As reported in the last “Oregon Trial” dispatch, it’s not only possible but likely that the state of Oregon scuttled the launch of a functional Obamacare website for political reasons, after wasting $300 million in federal taxpayer dollars.
That’s right: the total earnings of 300 working American lifetimes just tossed aside like it was nothing. This happened because a corrupt governor badly wanted to win reelection for a fourth term. He pulled it off last November, and lasted all of 38 days of the new term before resigning.
According to IT contractor Oracle, the site was ready to launch. The state chose to cancel the initiative and kick Oregonians into the federal insurance exchange instead, thus opening the subsidies of about 100,000 Oregonians up to a Supreme Court challenge this summer.
The government also decided to sue Oracle — which counter sued, of course. The legal fees alone could run to tens of millions of dollars. That’s before we get to damages, and the government case is not the strongest.
There was a slight delay before the last dispatch, during which I called up about a dozen folks who have some expertise when it comes to government spending. It’s a boring truism that government wastes a lot of money, but, really, $300 million?
How could anyone spend $300 million on something and just abandon it and wash their hands of it? That sounds a lot less like negligence and a lot more like theft on a massive scale.
One answer I got back again and again from these consultants, watchdogs, lawyers, journalists, economists, etc. was that they had all seen government waste of similar magnitudes before. It happens, often without anybody going to jail for it.
The most famous liberal take on paying for government comes from Mr. “You can’t shout fire in a crowded movie theater” himself, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. “I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization,” Holmes smugged.
It has to be granted that, yes, taxes can be used to do things we associate with civilization — like build and repair roads, set up courtrooms and libraries, and maintain parks. But in light of the spending patterns of our current government, Democrat or Republican, Holmes’s words sound naïve at best — or borderline batty.
To earn $300 million, 300 Americans had to work hard — often including long commutes on top of long hours, short vacations, and demeaning treatment by bosses. Time spent earning that money to pay for families ate up a good chunk of their lives.
And then the State of Oregon, empowered by a blank check from the federal government, went and casually tossed the sum total of all their lifetime incomes right into the delete folder and didn’t give it a second thought.
This is civilization? It can’t be, Mr. Holmes. If it is, give me barbarism.
The Cover Oregon scandal is not just about a website that didn’t launch, nor is it “just” about $300 million wasted. It’s about our nation’s complete disconnect of other people’s money from any sense of responsibility for that money.
In the last fiscal year, the federal government spent $3.5 trillion. That’s the sum total of the total lifetime incomes of 3.5 million working Americans, give or take.
How much of that was that was misspent? Ten percent? Fifteen? Twenty? More? Do we really want to know?
Most elected Republicans pay lip service to the waste of government but ultimately do not care to do anything about it. Democrats want to spend even more money and don’t want to be bothered with arguments about how that might not be the greatest idea.
A country that can readily wave off such waste is courting not renaissance but ruin.
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