Government Spending to Fix Government Screw-Up?
Fellow libertarians and Libertarian-leaning folks:
If big government creates a situation that will do long-term harm to individuals, communities and bussineses is it reasonable for government to use a large amount of money and resources to fix the problem and compensate affected parties?
I’m gonna explain the situation that got me started thinking about this. For anyone who isn’t from the Pacific Northwest, there’s a lot of controversy on the region about the effects of hydroelectric dams on the salmon population. A large amount of dams were built on the Snake, Columbia and other rivers in the Northwest under FDR and into the late 20th century. The rationale was that building these dams would create jobs, aid irrigation in dry farming regions, mitigate flooding and provide hydro electric power. In addition, the lower Snake River dams have become important in the shipping of grain to Pacific ports because they allow for the movement of barges on the Snake from inland farming areas.
The initial negative affect of this was the destruction of hundreds of year-old fishing areas used by a large number of tribes for subsistence, cultural events and livelihood. Longer term, it is widely accepted that these dams will cause the extinction of inland salmon populations and continue to greatly reduce coastal salmon populations.
Efforts to reduce and mitigate the damage these dams are doing to salmon populations have involved massive government spending and gave been almost entirely ineffective. It is also important to keep in mind that there are more existing dams than are needed to provide electricity to the region, and there are alternative methods for the irrigation/transportation that the dams allow.
The possibility of breaching some of these dams to save the salmon population has been advocated by some Democrats, environmental groups, tribes and professional associations. Their argument is that in the long run salmon populations will do more good for the region than the benefits of the detrimental (to the salmon) dams because of their commercial value, recreational value, positive effects on tourism and cultural value. It should also be noted that continued mitigation efforts may actually cost more in government spending than breaching the dams would, while being much less effective.
Republicans in the region have generally been opposed to dam breaching. This is largely because in populous Oregon and Washington their voter base is in the relatively sparsely populated agricultural Eastern side of those states (also where most of the dams are located), and because breaching the dams would involve government spending for what seems like an environmental issue on the surface.
Recently, an unlikely advocate for breaching the Lower Snake River dams has emerged in the form of a Republican member of Congress from Idaho. These dams are especially contentious because they allow for easy barge transport of grains from the inland port of Lewiston, but are also cited by tribes and scientists as potentially leading to a not-so-distant extinction of Idaho salmon.
This member of Congress is seeking to bring together politicians from accross the aisle and around the region to approve his multi-billion dollar plan to breach the Lower Snake River dams. The reason for the cost (much more than it would cost to simply breach the dams) is to compensate groups that breaching would immediately impact and to build infrastructure to allow for irrigation, transport of grain and research into alternative power generation and storage. The plan also involves a fund to pay out a generous sum to any private dam owners willing to breach their dams as well.
Personally, I am in favor of this proposed plan because I see it as the Federal government fixing a problem it created. While I would usually oppose such a large and expensive government undertaking, I really can’t see another way to fix this problem while compensating the parties that the neccesary solution would hurt. And for people from outside the region, I really can’t stress enough how important salmon are to the Pacific Northwest. Aside from salmon being central to the history and culture of Indian Nations and much of the general population, a revitalized salmon population could strengthen fishing-based tourism and revive the region’s dying fishing industry. These are things which I believe the government stole from us, and I see the benefits of avoiding extinction and revitalizing the salmon population as far outweighing short term cost and negative impacts of dam removal.
That said, if you made it this far in my massive post I’m curious how other libertarians would specifically evaluation this situation.
Article from r/Libertarian: For a Free Society