Russia’s invasion of Ukraine serves as a pointed reminder that war is the greatest of man-made disasters. Earning a place on the same list of unseemly human enterprises is one largely unmentioned: government waste. The blizzard of relief dollars that Washington has strewn across that national landscape during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an astounding level of fraud. The consequences can’t be measured in ruined cities. Rather, it manifests as erosion of public trust in government, which is almost as laborious to rebuild.
Pandemic-related graft has robbed Uncle Sam blind. Labor Department figures presented to Congress last week showed that of $872.5 billion in federal unemployment money distributed to Americans left jobless by the two-year battle to control the virus, $163 billion was doled out to individuals making fraudulent claims, according to department Inspector General Larry Turner.
Thanks to the convenience of the internet, collecting free money has been as simple as filing state unemployment claims that overwhelmed public employees who lacked the wherewithal to authenticate. The $163 billion spirited away from the American people is more money than the annual gross domestic product of 136 of the world’s 193 nations, according to International Monetary Fund figures. Coincidently, it also exceeds the $142 billion annual GDP of aforementioned Ukraine, which Russian artillery is busy grinding into ruins.
Most of the plunder is long gone. By nature, swindlers tend to sink their ill-gotten gains into luxury homes and vehicles rather than in their sock drawers where law enforcement can easily discover it. Consequently, less than $1 billion — couch-cushion change compared to the total lost — has been recovered. “So many of the fraudsters have already spent it on high-dollar items,” admitted Mr. Turner.
There is a tendency among many who make up the governing class — mostly Democrats but also some Republicans — to discount the deleterious effect of government waste under the blithe assumption that even misappropriated funds eventually filter back into the economy and enrich the lifeblood of American business. And if it’s easy to spend other people’s money, it’s easier still to waste it when the Federal Reserve simply prints dollars by the trillions.
Consequently, it shouldn’t surprise that trust in government hovers near historic lows. The last time a majority of respondents said they trust Washington to do what is right just about always or most of the time, George W. Bush sat in the Oval Office, according to a survey conducted periodically by the Pew Research Center.
Americans have been understandably delighted to be compensated for their government-mandated pandemic job losses, but citizens witnessing the theft of their tax dollars by the undeserving can be forgiven for concluding that stewards of the nation’s Treasury are unserious about their obligations.
Sadly, the venerable adage “waste not, want not,” has been consigned to the trash bin overflowing with the nation’s commonsense heritage.