Walter E. Williams bio photo

Walter E. Williams

Bradley Prize Winner 2017

Professor of Economics.
(703) 993-1148
D158 Buchanan Hall
Department of Economics
George Mason University

Related Sites:
The homepage of George Mason University.
Homepage of the Department of Economics at GMU.

Vultures and looters can always be expected in the wake of tragedies; they take advantage of increased opportunities to steal. Looters were arrested in New York – caught stealing from shops in the rubble of the World Trade Center. The losses caused by these vultures pale in comparison to Washington-created legalized looting opportunities in the aftermath of the terrorist attack.

The airlines industry quickly descended on Congress demanding a $15 billion bailout. Congress caved in. The bailout won’t do anything for airline passengers; the beneficiaries are airline creditors and stockholders. Through the bailout, Congress has transferred what is legitimately their risks to the American taxpayer. Airlines managed this feat through an extremely powerful lobby that included wives of congressmen.

When Congress caves to legalized looting, you can count on hoards of other people seeking their share of the recently created looting opportunities. Dr. Ron Utt discusses some of these people in his paper published by the Heritage Foundation titled, “Lobbyist Use Tragedy to Raid American Taxpayers.” Dr. Utt first quotes H.L. Mencken, writing some 60 years ago in the Baltimore Sun that “government is a broker in pillage, and every election is a sort of advanced auction of stolen goods.”

Is that too cynical? Dr. Utt reports that the steel industry was in there early with renewed calls for import restrictions on less costly foreign steel. A senator from a steel-producing state declared, “Without steel, we cannot guarantee our national security. Without steel, we cannot build from our tragedy.” The senator didn’t explain how higher-priced steel that would result from import restrictions would help “build from our tragedy.”

Then comes the American Bus Association (ABA) claiming that the “U.S. motorcoach industry is in the midst of an economic crisis.” ABA is asking Congress for cash handouts, low-interest loans, tax credits, and federal fuel tax repeal. American Society of Travel Agents tell Congress they need $4 billion in grants and low-interest loans. The agriculture industry, a perennial federal trough feeder, sees possible victory for a $167 billion farm bill that was headed for defeat. Farm supporters beef up their handout claim, making the childish assertion that “terrorist attacks have bolstered the argument that food production is vital to the national interest.”

Dr. Utt says that as egregious as these appeals are, they pale in comparison to appeals by Amtrak. Amtrak officials are asking Congress for a $3 billion emergency cash infusion, while Amtrak’s annual revenues total only $2 billion. The National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP), an Amtrak support group, calls for Congress in the wake of the terrorist attack to enact a $19 billion High Speed Rail Reinvestment Act of 2001. One senator proposed giving Amtrak $37 billion, and a congressman proposed $70 billion in loans and grants for rail infrastructure. By the way, Amtrak already has a new “high-speed” train service that, because of congestion and poor track quality, averages 66 mph between New York and Boston – the speed most cars travel on Interstate 95.

We Americans are a generous people and have voluntarily given close to a billion dollars to victims of the terrorist attack. The Red Cross alone has raised enough money to give every victim’s family a $30,000 cash grant. That’s true compassion when people are willing to reach into their own pockets to help others. What Congress is doing and being asked to do for various businesses is not compassion at all; it’s reaching into the pockets of others, and there is a name for that – theft. In some ways, I prefer New York’s illegal looters. They take property and then take off. Politicians take property and then stand there and bore us with the whys and wherefores of why we should be happy about it.