While few would deny the value and necessity of public expenditure, yet the desirability of some uses of public funds may be open to question. To lay down a rule by which the justice of every expenditure could be measured would be impossible, because of the immaterial nature of such a large part of the services rendered. In general, however, a state is not justified in making an expenditure unless more utility results than would have been secured had the funds been left in the hands of the individuals. There is a temptation, where a public official is dependent upon the constituency of a particular district, to spend public funds for the benefit of his supporters. Some of our states recognized this when the constitutions were formed, and attempted constitutionally to prohibit expenditures the utility of which will be of less value than the cost. Pennsylvania is an example of a state which early had a constitutional provision of this nature. The difficulty arises, of course, in attempting to apply this general rule to particular cases.
It will be interesting for the student to give examples of public expenditures which appear to him to be unjustifiable. Many will be of a local nature, while others will involve state and Federal governments. The constant pork-barrel legislation is one of the standing criticisms against Congress, yet every district is anxious to get an appropriation, no matter how needless. Appropriations for magnificent post-office buildings in small towns, and for improvements of rivers and harbors, far in excess of any need, are so familiar as to scarcely need mentioning. States have squandered thousands of dollars in building roads and making other improvements because of the unbusinesslike methods of letting contracts. It is impossible to justify such expenditures on the utility basis.