RALEIGH -- The Raleigh News & Observer recently reported that 20 solar-powered "Big Belly" trash cans are being installed in the Glenwood South entertainment and restaurant district. These trash cans automatically compact the trash and, when full, signal city crews to empty them.
According to the report, these smart trash cans save "on both fuel costs and manpower time." In other words, they are more efficient than the old dumb trash cans. I will circle back to the labor-saving aspect of these cans in a minute.
Unfortunately for N&O readers, the reporter missed the irony in this program.
Raleigh is paying for these high-tech gizmos with $150,000 from a federal grant the city received in January 2010 that was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as President Obama's stimulus bill. Congress passed and the president signed this law with huge national media fanfare.
At the time, stimulus backers promised that spending $787 billion would create jobs and bring the country out of the recession. As soon as workers were hired for thousands of "shovel-ready" projects, the economy would boom, and millions of unemployed workers would be back on the job, or so Keynesian economic theory predicted. How's that theory working for you, America?
Raleigh applied for and received a portion of this jobs stimulus money and initially used the bulk of the grant money for a Weatherization Loan Program. This program would assist homeowners to hire workers to install insulation, energy-efficient windows, and other energy conservation measures. Thus the program would meet two objectives: put workers to work and reduce energy consumption.
But this program quickly failed, according to city council minutes, "due to lack of response from the banking and nonprofit community."
In May 2011, funds were transferred to various pet projects of liberal city council members, including $300,000 for the "Climate & Energy Action Plan" and $130,000 to "Establish [the] Office of Sustainability."
Once again in early 2012, the city council transferred the Obama jobs stimulus money. This time the council approved the transfer of $150,000 to the "Big Belly Solar Trash Compactors" currently being installed in Glenwood South.
Let's review: In 2009, the president and congressmen got rave press reviews for passing nearly $1 trillion in stimulus money to create jobs and bring the nation out of the most severe recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. More than 200 economists predicted at the time in an ad they purchased in The New York Times that it would not work.
Now in 2012 the nation still has an 8.2 percent unemployment rate, many states are facing high home foreclosure rates, and gross domestic product growth is anemic. But local city council members get rave press reviews for using the same jobs stimulus money to install labor-saving solar trash cans.
In other words, the N&O has praised Raleigh City Council for a labor-saving program that should reduce the number of jobs. I agree that if these trash cans work as advertised, they will reduce labor costs and save taxpayers money, but that is not the issue. That's economics, not politics.
The political issue is that federal politicians spend some money claiming to create jobs, while local politicians use the same money saying they'll eliminate jobs. They use this trickery in an attempt to fool their constituents, and it would not be possible without the complicity of the gullible press.
Or as George Orwell concluded in his 1946 essay "Politics and the English Language": "Political language ... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."
Dr. Michael Sanera is director of local government studies at the John Locke Foundation.