Sometimes I hear defense contracts and military bases described as "jobs programs". But money won't actually be annihilated from existence if it isn't paid in taxes to be used on the F-35 failure/boondoggle. The money would be spent on some other thing, which would provide jobs for people supplying it – something people want. A lot. In a general sense, tax dollars compete against the thing people most want on the margins.

And maybe they love the marginal failure-to-produce-a-useful-F35 on the margin more than a Chipotle burrito or whatever. It's not inconceivable that some of that spending satisfies a deep need. But we already know we probably overspend on the military – their job is to deter threats to America. And they're doing great! So maybe we could spend less, and get the same result... but nobody knows how much less, and the costs of getting it wrong are very bad. So we routinely overpay for the military. This is essentially okay. If a robust military is war-insurance, overpaying for it is incompetent-bureaucrat insurance. And I think we should all agree, that's worth buying these days.

Except then you can't turn around and start making up new reasons to spend even more. You're just tilting it even more out of balance. And probably not even producing things that help military preparedness. If the goal is to shovel money out the door (as "jobs programs" typically aim at), efficiency, detecting fraud, aggressively negotiating with suppliers, these things all hurt the goal of "spend $X billion in district Y".

Which is all to say, we're basically screwed if any politician thinks like this, and almost all of them do.

Because money doesn't just flit losslessly around the economy. It matters who has it! That's the whole point of money! If you just hand it to a company and get some useless warplane back, you can't take credit for jobs. You didn't pay for those! You paid for the slow, not-particularly-stealthy warplane! And that was a waste. Pure and simple. You took taxpayer money. And threw it away.

Money doesn't get destroyed, so, I mean, the companies fulfilling that contract spend it on something. But the whole point of an economy is more efficient allocation of resources, and that task is destroyed by viewing public expenditures this way.

[You'd be surprised at how poor many federal government programs look when you ask what they buy with their money. American life-spans not long enough to impress you, and elder care hopelessly cruel and lazy? It will not surprise you to learn that fraud and over payment are the reason Medicare "overhead" is so low – they get dinged for "overhead", but fraud (so long as they are understaffed enough to not detect it) is "services delivered" and over payments make the 'mission accomplished' numbers even bigger. Which is to say, they buy almost nothing (when it comes to improved health outcomes) and yet cost astonishingly huge percentages of the nation's yearly spending. Just give me a lump sum for getting old, I'll buy hospital stays if I want them.]