On June 16, 2010, American bureaucrats managed to charge $1.2 billion and $1.25 million to their already empty bank accounts. Feeding the poor? Healing the sick? No, the big spenders have more urgent “issues” on their to-do list: squirrels and cycling.

As someone who is studying economics, stumbling across expenses like these does more than make my toes curl.  As I bite my tongue, questions regarding “utility” and “opportunity cost” start to flash through my mind.  Does Arizona really need to spend $1.25 million on saving 250 squirrels? Is the opportunity cost even remotely worth this? Working in Friendship Heights, I struggle with opportunity cost evaluations constantly.   Is a new J. Crew necklace truly the best alternative to some extra groceries? Does one $7 Cosi sandwich really satisfy my utility and demand more than the bland-but much cheaper–dinner I’d cook at home?

 These bureaucratic spenders could use a little Econ 101.  The $1.25 million spent on saving a few squirrels could have been invested elsewhere (or saved!). That’s about $5000 per squirrel saved.  Can Arizonians really think that makes sense?  That $1.25 million is pulled  from individuals’ taxes.  That’s money that won’t be used by families on a vacation this summer, invested in a child’s college fund, or used to start a business or fix up the house.   

As if $1.25 million wasn’t enough of a shopping spree, on June 16th, Obama decided to splurge an additional $1.2 billion on cycling and walking “initiatives”.  I have a difficult time finding any logic in this expenditure. We act based on our needs and preferences, and there’s a reason why we prefer to catch a ride to work rather than hiking across the Potomac. Spending $1.2 billion will not magically move my job and school closer to my home.  Thus, no matter how much is spent, the convenience and efficiency of taking the metro or car will not be changed for commuters set in their ways. I doubt Obama’s move will make a suit-clad businessman in the DC metro area have some epiphany to bike across the Key Bridge in 90 degree humidity.  Again, it appears officials are acting based on assumptions of what Americans’ should value, rather than on actual preferences.   place their values.

It’s easy to read these headlines and give into your emotions. I’m an animal lover and I care about the environment, which is why I think it’d be a much wiser decision to allocate resources to other matters like saving the wildlife affected by the BP oil crisis instead.  Or better yet, how about policymakers let Americans keep that money to use as they see fit or to reduce the national debt?