Pork barrel is a metaphor for the appropriation of government spending for localised projects secured solely or primarily to bring money to a representative’s district. The conventional wisdom is that Members of Parliament are not Burkean trustees that sacrifice their partisan and parochial interests for the greater good of the general public and their interests. They try to get the maximum “pork” or appropriations for their respective districts. These funds which they derive are used to build unnecessary public buildings, harbors, provide pensions in their respective home districts, etc. Such acts are done to ensure that these Members of Parliament get enough votes in the next elections as they make it looks like they have worked hard to gain benefits for the greater good of the community.
Au contraire, these appropriations are not used in an efficient manner most of the time, but in fact, they increase the public deficit. Despite that in many situations the district leader becomes their hero and in the upcoming elections, people tend to vote for them again. The leaders tend to target groups with tax cuts, higher expenditures, and finance tax increases on those groups that are less sensitive to such policy. This is known as pork-barrel spending, policies and legislations are targeted to specific groups of people which then give the party more votes in the next election. Thus pork-barrel spending is important as it shows how and where the tax money is used and a unique technique to gather votes apart from the conventional gerrymandering and paying off voters. Thus making it an important area of study to understand what affects the policies and public investments in our nation.
One cannot unarguably conclude that pork-barrel spending is necessarily bad all the time and leads to inferior economic or political development, but it can be seen as a double-edged sword with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. If a candidate acquires extra funds for their constituency and uses it in an efficient manner or even if they are particularistic they help a predominantly backward part of the society to develop it would have a greater benefit when one checks the cost-benefit analysis. Although pork-barreling is considered wasteful, not everyone is against it, as it could be one way to get additional funds to one’s district by which many members could benefit in some way or the other. It is also a way for politicians to seek funding for their further campaigns by using the funds to help those members of the society that are wealthy enough to fund them. In recent years there have been many organizations that have come together to keep acheck on the “pork” like the C.A.G.W
Why pork barrel?
Pork-barrelling plays a major role in affecting economic and political decisions. At one end of the “Downsian” world, a party may announce its policy platform to which its members if elected would comply on the other extreme they may not comply wholly, as in the middle they try to get individual and local candidates on board in order to maintain their majority.
According to Ransdell (1916), it is very difficult to acquire pork as the harbor bills are passed after they are vetted by an engineer to check the economic viability of the project. After the cost-benefit analysis, if approved by the board of engineers and chief of engineers in the USA only then it passes. Thus there is no “pork” and the spending is justified. The expenditure on the public buildings shows patriotism in the beautiful architecture, therefore a true American would have a sense of pride looking at those structures. Where the pork lies in the US is in the pensions.
However, over the years pork-barrelling has increased.In India, it is observed that the states spend more on public investment projects as they approach elections while they reduce the spending when the election period isn’t very close. Thus this leaves the overall budget expenditure relatively unchanged or has minor fluctuations ((Khemani (2004) cited by Drazen & Eslava (2006))This is because when there are two competing parties in a region, the party which has central dominance or a greater influence in the house tries to gain maximum pork to influence the people in the constituency (Roberson, 2008). Hence, we find greater public investment before elections and it shows that the spending before elections is directed towards targeting special interests and regional groups rather than swaying a large mass of voters. As swaying a larger number of people with varied interests would be rather difficult and there would be many median voters who could flip on any side((Khemani (2004) cited by Drazen & Eslava (2006))
How to garner votes?
The main reason for pork-barrel spending is to get more appropriations for your constituency in order to gain more votes to be elected again. Increasing public spending increases the confidence of the voters to vote for that party, this helps the party in power to remain in power and the votes to not be swung by the opposition. The party dominant in the centre follows local pork-barrelling in order to maintain and gain votes.This shows a positive relationship between public investment and central ruling. Public investment can be seen as a reward to local governments for not transferring their vote to the opposition party.
The dominant party provides grants to states in which it has a majority and does not provide grants or enough grants to the opposition states. This helps it swing states irrespective of the chief minister’s party affiliation in order to whip out more votes and gain new territories. The grants are significantly greater when the swing effect is in affiliated states. This was noticed in India post-1971 and was a form of “presidential pork” as the grants were given to allies. (Sharma,2017) Parties tend to have particularistic beliefs to increase their voter’s turn-out as the voters tend to re-elect those representatives that deliver particularistic pork-barrel benefits and tend to not elect those representatives that prioritize social welfare over district-specific benefits. While we rightfully expect the politicians to work for social welfare we check for those politicians that fulfill our desires. (Herron & Shotts, 2006).
In Mexico, a phenomenon of negative correlation is observed between the education level in a state to the local support to the party. The party’s support mainly lies on rural or semi-urban votes, involving basically, people from the lower-income groups with a lack of knowledge and awareness, who can be easily influenced. (Costa-I-Font et al., 2003) Thus urban legislators do not receive equitable pork barrel allotments (Broach (1972) cited by Thompson (1986)) In Contradiction to this finding it was observed in Bulgaria and Latvia that regional aid projects went to the wealthier and well-to-do section rather than to the poorer localities.( Bloom & Petrova ,2013)
4 Pork-Barrel Politics
This is because the parties receive an excess of funding for elections from the wealthier section of the society. Brazil is seen as a paradigmatic case supporting the hypothesis that pork barreling helps in gaining votes but in this case, it has a different approach. It is money, not pork which is the main source that helps the politicians to gain votes and maintain their support base of loyal voters. Therefore pork isn’t used because it provides a direct electoral pay-off but they do so in order to gain indirect financial support. The money which comes from pork-barreling then helps them gain the votes which they require to further win the election(Samuels, 2002) Thus legislators do not seek pork for just the sole benefit of the voters but to benefit those whose financial support is of utmost importance to them, for re-election or running for higher office. It is unclear whether or not the voters ultimately receive the benefits, but it is beneficial to the incumbent (Samuels, 2002).