West Virginia discredits Keynesianism

Joanne Butler Contributor
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For liberals who are complaining about the debt limit deal and how its spending cuts will hurt the economy, I have two words for you: West Virginia. If increased government spending were a sure-fire path to prosperity, West Virginia would be an economic powerhouse. It’s not — even though the late Senator Robert C. Byrd earmarked at least $3.3 billion of federal spending for that lightly populated state during his tenure.

Granted, West Virginia’s economy grew by 4 percent last year, but that was largely due to the state’s traditional extractive industries, namely coal and natural gas. Not those 27 (count ’em!) Mountain State tech centers named for Senator Byrd, or those other six centers named for his wife, which we, as taxpayers, funded.

Likewise, those liberals who don’t understand why Republicans were able to hold the line against tax increases need only observe Byrd’s Ozymandias-like attempts at immortality on the federal dime. Sure, it got him (and other earmarkers) re-elected in the past, but it raised the disgust of thousands of taxpayers elsewhere, while eroding their faith in the government’s ability to spend money wisely.

The end result: When many Americans hear liberal code phrases like “shared sacrifice,” what they really hear is: “D.C. wants more of your money to dump down a boondoggly rathole.”

“But our infrastructure! We need more tax revenue to fix our roads and bridges!” liberals cry. I suggest they look at — you guessed it — West Virginia. I’ve driven on the state’s highways; they’re excellent, no doubt in part because the state is home to 11 separate transportation infrastructure projects named for Senator Byrd. Did each of these projects represent the highest and best use of our scarce transportation infrastructure funds — especially considering that West Virginia has no major population centers? Think about that the next time you’re stuck on the highway during rush hour.

Getting our government back on a fiscally responsible path will involve big steps and small steps. Indeed, small steps are important. For example, last April, President Obama and Congress agreed to finally shut down the Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship program, a federal program that Byrd initiated in 1985.

Did that small step lead to the big step of this week’s debt limit deal? I like to think so. And I hope the debt deal will lead to even bigger steps later this year.

Joanne Butler is a senior economics fellow at the Caesar Rodney Institute of Delaware. You can email her at joanne-butler@comcast.net.