In light of our ‘fiscally responsible’ ‘onservative government shovelling money out the door for various infrastructure projects, the failure of McGinty’s ehealth ontario initiative, and of course the impending cornucopia of largess known as Obamacare being offered up in the USA, it is worth re-reading Guns, Fraud, and Big Numbers in Canada to remind ourselves of just how often our political masters screw up basic math:
The following essay won the Letter of the Week award on 2004-02-24 at Mark Steyn’s web site, http://www.marksteyn.com . In honour thereof, Mr. Steyn graciously sent me a copy of his “The Face of the Tiger”, autographed: “Congratulations. A Great Letter.” ]
My Fellow Canadian ~
I once read an excellent Isaac Asimov non-fiction essay on really big numbers. Humans are in general really bad at understanding big numbers. Because of my math / science / engineering background, I’m maybe a bit better than average, but I’m no Asimov. I have though learned a few ways to help me better understand big numbers, so that I can better deal with them when I need to. This essay shows how some of those methods work.
The initial Government of Canada estimate for the gun registry database system was $1 million. Technically, I think that’s probably a bit low. Based on my on three decades of work in the field of distributed multi-user database transaction processing systems like the registry, and on some systems I’m currently working on which are of that type, I think $3 million would have been a better estimate.
If someone from the Government of Canada can provide me with a simple accounting showing some component of the system that I’ve missed, I’d be more than happy to adjust my analysis of the situation to take that data into account. My current analysis is based on the numbers I have collected from the public media over the last few years.
Given how important it is for state monopolies to serve citizens to the highest possible ethical standard, let’s throw in a factor of three-ish over my base estimate and call it $10 million, to be as careful as possible.
Now, say you had such a $10 million contract with some customers. And then, say you spent three times that: $30 million. Does it occur to you that your customers (in this case, we citizens) might be, oh, shall we say, somewhat angry? Ok, let’s say it’s another factor of three: $90 million. How are your customers doing now? Fine. Let’s throw in another factor of three, so we’re now up to $270 million. How angry are your customers now? In more primitive times than we live in, would you still be alive? But wait, there’s more. How much would we pay for another factor of three? Oh, about $810 million. Say, that’s interesting, the gun registry database system has, according to the CBC, cost $750 million.
It didn’t cost 3 times as much. Or 3 times 3 times as much. Or 3 times 3 times 3 times as much. It cost 3 times 3 times 3 times 3 times as much.