The Birth of Pork: Local Appropriations in America's First Century
37 Pages Posted: 10 Dec 2016
Date Written: December 8, 2016
After describing a newly assembled dataset consisting of all local appropriations made by the U.S. Congress between 1789 and 1882, we test a number of competing accounts of the politics surrounding them before offering a more nuanced, historically contingent view of the emergence of the pork barrel. First, we demonstrate that the pattern of appropriations is inconsistent with credit-claiming motivations, even accounting for the frequent rotation in office common during the period. Second, it was rare that over fifty percent of districts directly benefited from these appropriations until the 1870s, even aggregating by congressional session. Moreover, support for these appropriations was not reducible to geographic proximity, but did, until the end of Reconstruction, map cleanly onto the partisan/ideological structure of Congress. Finally, we show how the growth of recurrent expenditures and the emergence of a solid Democratic South eventually produced the universalistic coalitions commonly associated with pork-barrel spending.
Keywords: pork barrel, distributive politics, 19th century, rivers and harbors, infrastructure
JEL Classification: D72, N41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation