16 June 2011

H. Reid, Senator for the Fifth Time, Fecit

ProfessorBainbridge.com | Stephen Bainbridge | Banning naming stuff after congressmen

Prompted by this WSJ story:
A 2009 study of the EDA [Economic Development Administration] by the nonpartisan Cato Institute collected numerous government oversight reports and documented widespread abuse of taxpayer dollars. The study noted that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is familiar with the EDA process. In 2008, he hand- delivered a $2 million EDA check to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) Research Foundation to begin construction of the "UNLV Harry Reid Research and Technology Park."
Greg Mankiw proposes the following rule:
No institution receiving government funds should be able to name itself (or any part of itself) after any government official who had a hand in providing those funds.
As Mankiw aptly asks, "isn't it fair to say that Senator Reid received some nonpecuniary compensation from this recipient of government funding?"
I see this as our legislators trying to return to a pre-modern governmental system. It's not quite a patron-client arrangement (though you can see that elsewhere in our politics). Reid is trying to bolster his own prestige the same way Augustus or Sixtus IV did.

I'll do Mankiw one better — no public buildings or organizations named after anyone alive. There are plenty of deceased people who deserve to have their names on a building. If someone's accomplishments are so great that they deserve their name on things then surely we'll still remember those accomplishments in a decade or two. No need to rush things. If, on the other hand, their accomplishments consist mostly of having their fingers on the purse strings right this minute then they don't need these honors anyway.

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