High atop a hill in Birmingham, Ala., stands a statue of Vulcan. With a spear raised in his right hand, the Roman god of fire and the forge makes an imposing figure — one that remains the tallest cast iron statue in the world. In 2001, however, he was less a symbol of the Alabama steel industry than of questionable government spending. Over a two-year period, $3.5 million in federal funds were spent overhauling the titan — to the point that fiscal hawk John McCain issued a tongue-in-cheek demand: “Not one more federal dollar to promote tributes to pagans!”
Unfortunately, the proper lesson has not been learned. For the people of Alabama the level of largesse has only grown. Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that ThyssenKrupp, a German manufacturer, decided to sell the largest, and newest, steel plant in America. It cost $5 billion to build and has been open for less than two years. The state of Alabama gave the company $1 billion in subsidies — most of which is now gone for good. That’s a lot of money. That’s crazy money. Which raises the question: How much crazy will it take for this kind of silliness to stop?