I announced recently, on the opening page of this Blog site, that I would soon be initiating a new “Golden Fleece Award” on a fairly regular basis. I thought I would give you, my readers, an idea of what Sen. William Proxmire thought deserved his award back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. My purpose is two-fold: First to show that idiocies in government spending have always been alive and well, regardless of the era and, second, to encourage you to send me examples of public stupidities that you come across today. I promise to publish your contributions in future “Award” lists.
Senator Proxmire hadn’t been in Washington long before he observed a great deal of wasteful, and often nonsensical, government spending. So, the Democrat from Wisconsin decided to highlight the frivolity by issuing 168 “Golden Fleece” awards every month from 1975 to 1988.
Kicking off what would become “the most successful public relations device in politics today,” according to The Washington Post, Proxmire gave his first award to the National Science Foundation for spending $84,000 ($420,304 inflation adjusted today) on a study of love. “I believe that 200 million other Americans want to leave some things in life a mystery, and right on top of the things we don’t want to know is why a man falls in love with a woman and vice versa,” the senator said in 1975.
There follows a selection of his more famous awards:
- To the Federal Aviation Administration for spending $57,800 ($289,209 inflation adjusted) to study the measurements of 432 airline stewardesses, including the “distance from knee to knee while sitting” and measuring the “length of the buttocks.”
- To the National Institute for Mental Health for its $97,000 ($400,489 inflation adjusted) study on the activities inside a Peruvian brothel, where the researchers said repeated visits were made in the interests of accuracy.
- In 1977, to the Justice Department for spending $27,000 ($119,938 inflation adjusted) to determine “why prisoners want to get out of jail.”
- In 1979, to the Pentagon for a $3,000 study ($11,123 inflation adjusted) to determine “if members of the military should carry umbrellas in the rain.”
- In 1977, the U.S. Postal Service earned a Fleece award by spending more than $3.4 million ($15.1 million inflation adjusted) on a Madison Avenue advertising campaign to encourage Americans to write more letters to one another.
- The senator also gave an award to the National Institute on Drug Abuse for funding a project from psychologist Harris Rubin that developed “some objective evidence concerning marijuana’s effect on sexual arousal.” The study had male pot-smokers watch pornographic films and measure their responses with sensors attached to their genitals. Cost $121,000 (Adjusted cost $375,000)
- To the National Science Foundation for spending $103,000 to compare aggressiveness in sun fish that drink tequila versus gin.
- To the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for spending $6,000 ($22,297 inflation adjusted) to show that marijuana is harmful to scuba divers (1979).
- To the National Science Foundation for spending $46,100 ($170,935 inflation adjusted) to study the effect of scantily clad women on Chicago’s male drivers (1976).
- To the National Endowment for the Humanities for spending $2,500 ($11,105 inflation adjusted) in Arlington County, Virginia, to study why people are rude, ill-mannered, cheat and lie on the local tennis courts (1977).
- To the Department of Agriculture for spending $90,000 ($333,712 inflation adjusted) on a two-year study titled “Behavioral Determinants of Vegetarianism” (1979).
- To the Department of Education’s Institute of Museum Services for giving $25,000 ($81,675 inflation adjusted) to a California zoo to be used in part to send two animal keepers to attend a three-day elephant workshop in Tulsa, Oklahoma (1980).
Those examples should give you an incentive to look for the even greater idiocies that constitute public today. I should add that these are not necessarily confined to financial expenditures.
Good hunting and I look forward to hearing from you.