In these days of trillion-dollar budgets, a mere $110 million looks like a rounding error. But it is not so; it’s a huge amount of money that someone, or some organization, would immediately put out its claws to snag. So any rationale under which a government could appropriate $110 million is something to be examined closely.
And looky here!
Two years ago, amid a national wave of violent crimes against Asian immigrants and Asian Americans, the state of California awarded $110 million over 3 years to non-profit organizations to provide services to victims and to develop programs to prevent anti-Asian hate crimes. “In response to the visible rise in anti-Asian hate, both locally and nationally,” the California Department of Social Services wrote on the program’s website, the state legislature provided those funds “to address the rise in hate against Asian and Pacific Islander Californians.”
What was that money spent on? Through a public records request, Public recently obtained grant applications from close to 50 grantees in the San Francisco Bay Area region, through two rounds of funding. The programs proposed by most of these groups, which typically received hundreds of thousands of dollars each, have little obvious connection to the goal of protecting Asians from violent attacks.
Collectively, the applications provide a glimpse into how much of the activist non-profit sector sustains itself by exploiting high-profile crises to raise funds that are then diverted into barely related or entirely unrelated causes. It also indicates how little the actual victims of those crises — in this case, Asian hate crime victims — actually benefit from these ballyhooed government spending sprees, which keep non-profit workers employed but do little for the communities they purport to serve.
Read the rest for yourself if you can’t already see where the money was headed.
Government appropriations are regarded by organizations like the ones the article cites as “free money.” In truth, some such organizations are formed to capitalize on the appropriation. Government spending is like that.
Some years ago, the British government of India appropriated funds for fighting a different sort of problem: a plague of cobras in Delhi. The incentive created by that appropriation stimulated action to collect it:
The British government was concerned about the number of venomous cobra snakes in Delhi. The government therefore offered a bounty for every dead cobra. Initially this was a successful strategy as large numbers of snakes were killed for the reward. Eventually, however, enterprising people began to breed cobras for the income. When the government became aware of this, the reward program was scrapped, causing the cobra breeders to set the now-worthless snakes free. As a result, the wild cobra population further increased. The apparent solution for the problem made the situation even worse.
That was a clear demonstration of the power of free money. There have been plenty of others. And it gets worse from there.
“The closest thing to eternal life on Earth is a temporary government program.” – Ronald Reagan
Way back in the early Obscene, president Richard Nixon became aware of a government program that seemed a fine target for cutting spending: the federal Board of Tea Tasters. Congress established this body in the late 19th Century to evaluate foreign teas for import to the United States. Mind you, it didn’t screen them for toxicity; it merely evaluated flavor. The Board received a small annual appropriation, which in 1970 amounted to $200,000.
Nixon felt this was a fine example of a government program that could be eliminated, and spending thereby reduced, without exciting undue resistance. Martin Anderson recounts what followed:
I drafted a brief memorandum to President Nixon recommending we eliminate the tea tasters. He agreed and a thick pencil line was drawn through that item in the budget.
Then a call came from the Bureau of the Budget, informing us that we couldn’t eliminate a federal program by drawing a line through it. The tea tasters had been established by Congress and the only way to get rid of them was for Congress to pass a new law repealing the old one.
So we drafted a law and arranged to have it sent to Congress. Soon the tea industry lobbyists swept into action, pleading to save their personal tasters.
We said, “No, sorry.”
Well then, they replied, “We’ll pay for the full costs of the tasting.”
“No,” we said. “It’s the principle of the thing. The federal government has no business tasting tea.”
The lobbyists left and once again we felt pleased. But soon we discovered that the lobbyists had simply moved over to the Congress. Several weeks later we heard the fate of the “Tea Tasting Repeal Act of 1970” – it was dead. The excuse given was that the amount of money was too small to bother with.
The Board of Tea Tasters eventually was eliminated — in 1996. But the amount of effort that went into fighting for its life was instructive.
Any bureaucracy that battens on government money will have three groups of supporters with powerful motives to keep it alive and healthy:
- The employees of that bureaucracy;
- The vendors who sell to it;
- Its external beneficiaries.
All three of these will fight desperately to preserve, and if possible enlarge, the bureaucracy. Because their motives are common, strong, and narrowly focused, they will wield disproportionate influence in any contest over the bureaucracy and its funding. The rest of us simply have too many other things on our minds. In nearly every case, we will fail to persevere long enough to defeat them. Sociologist Robert Michels called this the iron law of oligarchy.
So what do you suppose will become of California’s appropriation to “stop Asian hate?”
Just a quickie for this morning, Gentle Reader. Apologies for yesterday, by the way; I was too exhausted to write. But I thought the vignette about California’s anti-hate appropriation and what came of it would raise a few eyebrows.
“The dynamic of governments is to grow,” writes David Friedman, and he is quite correct. Indeed, this was well known at the time of the Founding:
It is the Nature of Power to be ever encroaching, and converting every extraordinary Power, granted at particular Times, and upon particular Occasions, into an ordinary Power, to be used at all Times, and when there is no Occasion, nor does it ever part willingly with any Advantage. …
Alas! Power encroaches daily upon Liberty, with a Success too evident; and the Balance between them is almost lost. Tyranny has engrossed almost the whole Earth, and striking at Mankind Root and Branch, makes the World a Slaughterhouse; and will certainly go on to destroy, till it is either destroyed itself, or, which is most likely, has left nothing else to destroy.
[John Trenchard, Cato’s Letters.]
So beware the voluble sort who claims that “we” need a federal Board of Screw Standards, or a U.S. Commission for the Preservation of Classic Literature. Ask him a sharp question: “What do you mean by we, paleface?”