Pork barrel critiques

From: David Mertz <voting-project_at_gnosis_dot_cx>
Date: Fri Mar 05 2004 - 12:10:23 CST

> Next to it is a hammer labeled $500 hammer

I would have some reservation about playing up these types of claims
too much. While I certainly don't deny for a moment that the current
voting machine vendors have hit a slush fund, and are involved in all
the usual bribes and kickbacks, a lot of what gets labeled as as
government waste really is not.

<rant>
As a note, when I watch "exposes" like Brokaw's _Fleecing of America_,
at least half the time I honestly can't even generate a hint of the
sentiment of outrage the "newscasters" intend. For example, they'll
try to make something sound silly, like "a million dollars to study
frog's mating habits"... ha, ha, how silly, who cares about frog sex!
But it takes just a bare sliver of thought to realize that the actual
researchers are concerned about a broader ecosystem in which frogs play
a role; and that under/overpopulation of the frogs will effect all
these other animals and plants; and that the ecosystem of concern is
directly economically valuable (much more than $1M, for example); and
that the frog mating study might lead to direct environmental action to
correct a problem. That's just a hypothetical, but it seems
characteristic.

I don't remember the hammer issue, but I do remember the toilet seat
one (though not the exact dollars). The claim starts that a toilet
seat cost the gov't $500 or whatever--and we all know that it costs
$29.95 at our local Aubuchan's (or whatever stores you have in your
neck of the woods). But actually, the $500 toilet seat is meant for an
airplane, and it needs to withstand unusual temperature, vibrational,
and tension stresses that don't apply to the ones in your house. And
the shape has to match some unusual dimensions. And the fasteners have
a bunch of metallurgical and weight requirements. And the $500 covers
all the specific design and testing for a part that will only have 200
units made, rather than the 10 million units made by commercial makers.
  In fact, all this design and testing was for use in some military
plane that I'm sure I don't support in the first place... but that's
not waste: given that a B2 (or whatever) is specified to do certain
things, you really do need the toilet seat to meet these specialized
requirements. And that costs $500/unit for a small run.

It sort of reminds me of another bugbear of the right: the (in)famous
McDonald's coffee burn suit. Many people go on about how it proves the
rampant abuse of the court systems, spurious litigation, etc. In fact,
this was a moderate and reasonable lawsuit. McDonald's *repeatedly*
disobeyed OSHA orders on temperature settings; the victim suffered 3rd
degree burns over a large part of her body; McDonald's covered up
*thousands* of other burn cases; McDonald's refused an offer by the
victim to pay medical-costs only. Punitive damages sufficient to make
a huge company notice (and adjust behavior) are necessarily large by
the standards of ordinary income earners.
</rant>

Yours, David...

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Received on Wed Mar 31 23:17:01 2004

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