Jan 032013
Laws from pork policy and earmarks.

Laws can be made from childish pork policy and earmarks. Photo by nirots/freedigitalphotos.com

When I hear of pork and earmarks, it’s not a pleasant thought.

I’m not going to lie, I think of the farm animal and bugs crawling out of people’s ears.

Now, while I don’t claim to know much about pork policy and earmarks, I do feel I should know what these euphemisms mean.

I started by wondering where the word origins of pork policy and earmarks came from. How did these specific words creep into policy jargon? Out of curiosity, I looked it up the only way I knew how; I googled it.

The best definitions I could understand find that made any sense to me are almost synonymous. And apparently, I’m not the only one who overlaps their meanings.

What I found was pork policy (barrel) originated from giving slaves salt pork as a reward, while earmarks came from farmers cutting distinctive notches in their livestock’s ears to mark as personal property.

So, basically the root meanings are ‘reward and all-mine,’ and in legislation it would translate to reward:manipulation and all-mine:selfishness.

Now that I understand the semantics (sort of), it makes a little more sense how they got weaseled into legislation talk.

Pork policy

Pork policy is manipulation to benefit a certain politician, the one who wants the legislation to pass. Usually, the pork reward goes to another politician’s district, like a bribe.


Earmarks are provisions added to a particular legislation without a meeting or discussion. This one usually goes to the one who created the pending legislation.

Both pork policy and earmarks appear to me as selfish and wasteful.

Again, I am not a political person in any sense and will readily admit my ignorance. Politics is definitely not one of my strong areas, but I do know a little bit about behaviors. And the activities of ‘reward and all-mine’ factors can be analyzed with a behavioral twist. I can do that!

Childish behaviors

Pork policy – The reward manipulation in legislation called ‘pork barrel’ can be viewed as positive reinforcement. It’s like giving ‘treats’ for good behavior. What comes to mind is B.F. Skinner’s positive reinforcement theory. An individual will do an action for a reward. The politician will vote for the legislation if she/he receives provisional monies (pork policy) from it.

Earmarks – The all-mine, selfish attitude by adding ‘stuff’ to the bill without consensus reminds me of egocentrism. Piaget’s stages of cognitive development fits this all-mine attitude. It is the “pre-operational stage” in the 2 – 7 year-old period. Egocentric adults tend to lean towards solipsism disregarding other people’s issues. It’s very immature thinking in adults that one’s own needs are prioritized over everybody else’s needs.

By now, you may want to give me a lesson in politics, and I don’t blame you. But maybe I just see politics through a different lens than most other people. Obviously, I bypass the necessity of these actions to pass legislations and look into the behavioral dynamics instead.

Pork policy and earmarks may be political words, but they sound (to me) as immature actions of adult politicians.

At least now I don’t visualize pigs and ear bugs.