(note: this article is a revised and edited version of the original, which can be found here)

Many so-called “conservative” talking heads are giddy over President Trump’s proposed economic platform. Within Trump’s economic agenda include raising Protectionist barriers to international trade and, interestingly, public works projects. Conservatives (such as myself) have spent the previous eight years on a tirade against President Obama and the Democrats attempting to constrict the flow of international trade and ramp up the federal government’s budget. And yet, with the election of Donald Trump, it appears as though the concern over the national debt and the size and scope of government has virtually vanished. If one had to define Trumpian economics succinctly, it could be done by imagining the minds of Pat Buchanan and Paul Krugman transfused into one brain.

The Donald proposes to boost employment via spending roughly one trillion dollars on public works projects – building roads, bridges, hospitals, schools, airports (the favored example by Trump), and so on. Public works projects aren’t so public after one considers that the government almighty is merely confiscating wealth created privately from elsewhere to funnel into the boondoggle – dollars that could be put into other alternative uses. It will be sufficient to revisit and paraphrase the classic refutations of proposals in this style – most notably, of Frederic Bastiat and, a century later, Henry Hazlitt.

Upon first sight, the project might appear to be successful – as you drive over a newly built bridge, you observe dozens of workers hired by the government to build a brand new marble road, all constructed by billions of taxpayer dollars. You can hear a politician over the radio claim that the project was a success, that government had created wealth and brought employment to a community whereas free enterprise had failed to do so. This, as Hazlitt and Bastiat would write, is what is immediately seen. Upon observing beyond stage one, however, one finds that there are consequences not seen. In order for the State to act, it must first have the funding to do so, and only through the act of taxation can the Treasury contain the means for the State to carry out its activities. Whenever one hears the phrase “public works projects” for the purpose of boosting employment, one should brace their wallets, for it is about to plucked by the government – it is nothing more than highway robbery shrouded in the veil of providing a public benefit.

The tax dollars surely employed those who partook in the project. However, the populace – each individual citizen – now has less dollars expendable than they did before as a result of the taxation required to fund the project. Each individual citizen is unable to purchase the same amount of goods and services as they were able to beforehand. There is less “real” purchasing power available to consume other goods and services – cars, groceries, clothing, etc. – and thus, there is less business for firms providing those said goods and services. As a result, there is less employment for these firms. For every new bridge, there are fewer suits, cars, houses, and whatever else. The community is made poorer as a result; the dollars taken via taxation could have been put to much more efficient alternative uses in the market. Public works projects do not boost employment; rather, as Hazlitt wrote, public works merely divert employment. When public expenditures rise, private expenditures merely fall as a result. For every dollar the government spends, there is one fewer dollar available to the populace – for every government job created, one job is forsaken in the competitive marketplace, and so on. The emphasis on mere money is misguided; money is simply a medium of exchange, and man does not sustain himself on money. Only after the act of production can consumption logically follow, for one cannot exchange without having produced anything.

Public works projects – for the sake of boosting employment – merely commit the broken windows fallacy on a grander scale.