Throughout the last two years of budget negotiations, debt ceiling fights, and the supposedly economy destroying sequestration, legislators have pointed to government grants as an easy way to cut down on spending. Yet indiscriminate across-the-board cuts in one form or another have occurred without eliminating what many Americans feel are real cases of government waste. Here’s just one government grant that we could do without: the Department of Commerce’s Make it in America Challenge.
From a 2012 summary, $40 million of federal tax dollars will be made available to levels of state and local governments as well as nonprofit organizations in the form of up to 15 projects, each at $4 million maximum allotments. Grants will be used to “encourage insourcing, either through on-shoring of productive activity by U.S. firms, fostering increased foreign direct investment, or incentivizing U.S. companies to keep their businesses and jobs here at home, as well as train local workers to meet the needs of those businesses.” Funds will be provided through the existing budgets of:
- Economic Development Administration (Department of Commerce);
- National Institute of Standards and Technology Extension Partnership (Department of Commerce);
- Employment and Training Administration (Department of Labor);
- Rural Community Advancement Program (Department of Agriculture); and
- Rural Business Opportunity Grant Program (Department of Agriculture)
The Make it in America Challenge would also accept additional appropriations from Congress, which would likely require new spending. However, as the program is set up, budget outlays would not increase.
Many problems can come out of having the government pay for businesses to re-shore or pay to prevent those firms from leaving the country. Living in Ohio for years, I saw this first hand. Companies were given tax or other deals to stay in the Buckeye State but when the terms expired, the companies responded to incentives and expected an equal or better deal to remain in the state. When the state could’t or refused to comply, the company left for a better business environment (sometimes for better deals, more consistent or lower tax rates, or more competitive labor markets). In other words, the act of giving individual businesses (at times, picking winners & losers) results in unintended consequences that left the state worse off.
Now, potentially expand Ohio’s example to the entire nation. Some companies could not afford to leave for better fiscal pastures (think your local hair stylist or car mechanic) but with e-commerce expanding fast, many corporations would leave or threaten to leave without a government handout. This is not an example of businesses, or even capitalism, being evil. It’s a situation where people seek scarce resources and jump on opportunities. We all do the same thing picking store brand canned goods because of the lower price or use a coupon to get $10 off an oil change.
What would be better is to allow companies to move about freely (domestically or internationally) to encourage greater tax competition and competitiveness across all boarders. That starts with having a freer marketplace. By allowing firms to succeed and fail because of their own choices and workers to have earned success by taking less out of their paychecks, the economy will grow and erase the need for government handouts. Plus, saving $40 million is no small feat.