Government Project Disasters

"Only" £100m... but hardly a snip

An excellent new paper today from the IEA. It's called They Meant Well, Government Project Disasters, by Prof David Myddelton.

We've not read it in detail yet, but Prof Myddelton has looked at six great disasters from the last 100 years:

    • The R.101 airship (1922 to 1930)

    • The groundnut scheme (1946 to 1954)

    • Nuclear power (1955 to 1978 to . . . )

    • Concorde (1956 to 1976 to 2003)

    • The Channel Tunnel (1964 to 1975, and 1985 to 1994 to 2007)

  • The Millennium Dome (1994 to 2000)

These will all be familiar to regular readers of BOM, but Myddelton goes into the nitty gritty of each one, looking at how on earth they ever got started, and what went wrong.

He also pulls together the cost figures, which he has adjusted to 2007 prices on the basis of RPI inflation. For future reference, this is what these disastrous projects cost taxpayers in 2007 money:

    • R101 - £100m: amazingly cheap, but then, it was made of old bedsheets and bits of prototype Meccano

    • Groundnuts- £1,150m: that's assuming the residual assets finally handed over to the Tanganyika Agricultural Corporation were worth £50m, otherwise the cost was £1,200m

    • Nuclear power- £32,000m: that's a "minimum figure", and represents the losses, not the total costs

    • Chunnel- £3,000m: the tunnel itself cost £9.3bn and was built with private money, but the Channel Tunnel Rail Link has had a £3bn taxpayer sub

  • Dome- £1,000m

Grand total- £46,850m. Or nearly two grand for every British household.

Doesn't sound enough? That's because Myddelton has adjusted to current day values using the RPI- ie prices only. Fair enough, but to get a more meaningful feel of what the extra tax burden of all those projects would mean in today's terms, we reckon it's more useful to adjust their costs for the rise in incomes.

Real GDP approximately doubled between the late forties and early seventies, and then doubled again up to now. Adjusting roughly for that, BOM's back of envelope says the burden is roughly equivalent to £120bn (with Concorde on £20bn). Which puts the burden per household at more like five grand.

Either way, Prof Myddelton's paper is well worth looking at. It's our new bedtime reading.

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