Essential Air Service

Most of the stuff that the government spends money on is in there because someone wants it in there. And the extent to which someone wants it has little to do with his or her nominal ideology. Brian Beutler has a number of examples of which this is my favorite:

For instance, the RSC plan would slash $150 million in spending on Essential Air Service — a government program, which ensures small and rural communities continue to receive commercial airline service.

Flash back to 2007, and possible Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) spearheaded an effort to restore such service to his constituents. “I am encouraged by the Senate’s action to move this important legislation. Essential Air Service is just that, essential. It is essential to the people it serves and it is essential that the House of Representatives pass this legislation without modification so that we can restore commercial air service for Brookings,” said Thune. “Ensuring access to communities like Brookings strengthens the local economy, provides consumers with choices, and makes the entire commercial airline network more valuable.”

One of the main things the federal government does is transfer resources from high-productivity urban areas to low-productivity rural ones. It does this in part through direct obvious measures like this, in part through agricultural subsidies, in part through universal programs like the Postal Service that mask these subsidies, etc. And in the aggregate, it’s a huge drag on the American economy. Not so much because it costs money (though it does cost money) as because over time it drives misallocation of private sector resources.

In principle, it would be a good idea to change this. In practice, America’s constitutional setup all but guarantees this outcome. Which is what it is. But given the fact that politicians who like to talk about free markets and small government tend to also be the most zealous defenders of these measures, it would be nice if writers and thinkers who like to talk about free markets and small government spent some more time acknowledging that this is one of the main things the government does, and it does it because conservative voters, donors, and activists want it to happen.