Daily Archives: April 26, 2009

Your Legislators Would Never Lie to You

Or would they?

But a professor at Oxford University in England has done a compelling series of studies trying to get at why big public-works projects such as bridges, tunnels and light-rail systems almost always turn out to be far more costly than estimated.
“It cannot be explained by error,” sums up one of his* papers, matter-of-factly. “It is best explained by strategic misrepresentation — that is, lying.”

Don’t think for a minute that this problem is limited to large public-works projects.
It permeates every branch of government and every political party.
It’s not just that they don’t know what they are doing:

It’s not technical challenges or complexity or bad luck, he asserts. If that were so, you’d get more variation in how it all turns out. He concludes the backers of these projects suffer from two main maladies.
One is “delusional optimism” — they want it so badly, they can’t see its flaws. I know about this firsthand from when I supported the monorail.
The second is worse: They knowingly are lying to the public.

Large public-works projects are small compared to wars and massive social programs and the same maladies apply.

*The person referred to is Bent Flyvbjerg. See here and here for more detailed information