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Posts Tagged ‘Cost Overruns’

Why does virtually everything the government does cost more than we’re initially told?

In 2009, for instance, I warned that Obamacare would be much more costly than advertised, so I certainly wasn’t surprised several years later when the numbers began to climb.

Heck, I narrated an entire video warning that this would happen.

There are probably an infinite number of reasons why government programs wind up being needlessly expensive, but I think most of them fall into these four broad categories.

1. Government is inherently inefficient and wasteful (obvious to anyone who’s ever been stuck in a motor vehicles department).

2. Government doesn’t solve problems, and its failures are used as an excuse to increase budgets (a version of Mitchell’s Law).

3. Bureaucrats who produce cost estimates fail to incorporate behavioral effects (people acting in ways to take advantage of government largesse).

4. Politicians deliberately understate costs in hopes of tricking taxpayers into supporting their schemes (yes, we’re shocked that they lie).

These are some of the thoughts that went through my mind when I looked at this chart on estimated disability expenditures over time. As you can see, the government routinely underestimates the cost of the programs.

SSDI Projections

It goes without saying, of course, that the 2010 projection will be wildly inaccurate. The disability rolls have exploded during the Obama years.

But at least we’re not Greece, where you can actually get disability handouts for being a pedophile. In the United States, you have to do something far less offensive (like being a 30-year old who likes wearing diapers) to scam the program.

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Many of us know that Obamacare will be very expensive and that supporters, aided and abetted by the Congressional Budget Office, deliberately low-balled the cost estimates.

I’ve also cited my Cato colleague Chris Edwards, who has made a more comprehensive (and well-documented) claim that government officials systematically lie about the cost of new projects.

Now we have a rather remarkable example of this fiscal prevarication from across the ocean.

In 2002, the British government estimated the cost of hosting the Olympic Games at $2.8 billion. Ten years later, the price has passed $15 billion and is still rising. When everything is added up — lost business, as many as 13,500 British soldiers patrolling the streets of London (more than are in Afghanistan) — the expenses may come to $38 billion.

Wow, cost overruns of somewhere between 500 percent and 1300 percent. That’s bad, even by government standards.

Though I imagine that moronic advocates of Keynesian economics will argue that the $15 billion-$38 billion is a form of stimulus that will percolate through the economy – conveniently forgetting that the money had to be taxed and borrowed from the private economy in the first place.

P.S. The top cartoon in this post is a good description of how government officials come up with their fiscal estimates.

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