In the movie Wall-E, the little robot had a task, and it did the task, long after the task’s necessity had passed. Like a funded bureaucrat, Wall-E just kept going and going and going.
In California, the Department of Transportation was given a mandate and a task, and now, long after the money has gone and the efforts proven fruitless, it’s still going and going and going, sucking up nonexistent funds and making expensive and pointless changes (emphasis mine):
In hopes of luring the endangered steelhead trout into the Santa Monica Mountains, California’s transportation agency is planning to spend $935,000 to pave over part of a popular beach with cement and boulders to build a freeway of sorts for fish.
The project is the latest, yet far from the most unusual, steelhead recovery attempt by government agencies that have spent millions of dollars on concrete fish ladders, cameras, fishways and other contraptions to allow seagoing trout to spawn in Southern California streams.
The problem, even some conservationists say, is that there is little evidence construction efforts since the 1980s have done anything except absorb taxpayer dollars. The work to save the species has led to about a dozen concrete fishways at a cost of more than $16.7 million.
A $1 million fish ladder — a structure designed to allow fish to migrate upstream over a barrier — may cost $7.5 million in stimulus funds to rebuild. Another fish ladder would require fish to leap 8 feet to reach it. Studies alone for replacing a third ladder have cost an estimated $3 million.
Read the rest here. Taxpayers and steelheads alike are weeping.
The above is a perfect example of the problems inherent in vesting too much power in government. I’m perfectly sure that the various individuals involved in the project are good people. Nevertheless, the bureaucracy for which they work has taken on a life of its own. For these people to secure their jobs, they have to just keep working. As long as they “look busy,”* they’ll keep getting funding, regardless of the fact that their task is pointless and costly. Government never shrinks; it just grows.
How much better it would have been to have created a goal, and then tasked the marketplace with achieving that goal.
*In my family, the phrase “looka busy” ties in to a very bad old joke my Dad used to tell, which is why I put “look busy” in quotation marks. Here’s the joke, and please pardon the pathetic 1960s Italian-style accent that’s a part of the joke:
On a hot summer’s day, two Italian monks are working in desultory fashion along the roadside, pulling weeks. Suddenly, the first monk gets a look of wonderment on his face. “Hey! Looka there. Itsa Jesus Christ himself, a-walking to us.” The second monk grabs his hoe and replies. “Don’t just standa there. Looka busy.”
See, I told you it was bad. I was a little girl when I first remember Daddy telling it, and he spent an inordinate amount of time explaining to me the whole principle of looking busy around the boss. I think that’s why the joke stuck in my brain.