A rain barrel full of government waste.

From the diaries by Erick.

One of the print papers I like to read is a little 8 page weekly that I pick up free at the bank. The Tazewell County News Bulletin* is a “paper of record” meaning that legal notices can be published there to meet the legal requirements for publishing actions before they become effective. You’d be surprised at the things that show up in legal notices, but I digress…

The July 22 edition had an article entitled “Study Examines Rain Barrel Adoption in Chicago”. My first thought was “why would you want to study that“. My second was “who’s paying for it”.

The answer to the first question is that rain barrels have some theoretical beneficial side effects. In areas that are prone to water damage problems from rain drainage, getting residents to use rain barrels can help mitigate the problem by reducing the runoff. They can also reduce the demand on city water supplies as the water from the rain barrels can be used for watering the lawn instead of using city water. I suspect the theoretical benefits are far greater than the benefits from actual usage, but at least the proponents of rain barrels are using a logical argument. Unfortunately, residents aren’t buying and using rain barrels to as great an extent as the proponents, city and rain barrel manufacturers would like. Thus the study.

The answer to the second question is answered in the article:

Funding for this project came from the Adaptive Environmental Sensing and Information Systems Initiative at the University of Illinois and from the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

So both state and federal tax payers are supplying the market research that the rain barrel manufacturers needed. And there’s the problem.

This project, while having a nominal public good, is primarily beneficial to the marketing departments of rain barrel sellers. Tax payers (and our children and grandchildren) are funding it instead of the companies that benefit.

Which leads to the real point of this article. There are tens (hundreds?) of thousands of such projects being funded by tax money. Each of these projects are small and don’t cost much when compared to the entire budget. Each can show at least some public good to justify the cost. But do we really think that these projects provide so much good that our children and grandshildren should be put deeper into debt to pay for them? Or to put it another way, would you withdraw money from your child’s college fund to pay for such studies and programs? No? Well that is exactly what our government is doing.

*The web site isn’t up to date so I linked to the same article on the U of I Extension page.