Aug. 21--You can fathom the essence of American politics by looking at the ebb and flow of wasted money. When people come to distrust the excesses of the very wealthy, they vote liberal. When they're dissatisfied with government, they lean toward the conservative. Yin and yang, back and forth, Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity.
I've spent much of my career covering one end of that dichotomy, the follies and inefficiencies of local government, from bond losses to keeping the lights blazing in empty buildings. Keeping track of how public money is spent is an essential job of a journalist.
For all those years, I've heard the refrain that private enterprise can do things far more efficiently than the government. That is often true. It's a reason why government contracts out certain services. It's the foundation of charter schools. It stands to reason that competition makes things cheaper.
Lately, however, I've been focused on another side of the equation: Just because an organization obeys capitalist rules doesn't mean that it avoids wasting money. In fact, private enterprise is guilty of some of the greater financial follies of our time.
I was reminded of that the other day by the news that
This particular barge, based in Portland, Maine, carried 63 shipping containers designed to resemble a four-story building. It was once seen as an "interactive space" where people could learn about technology. Some predicted it would be towed to New York City to serve as a magnet for urban hipsters, trumping those sleek Apple stores.
Now the shipping containers will be disassembled and scrapped. And the barge itself is headed to some undisclosed location. That interactive space? Forget we mentioned it. And don't pay attention to that second barge we have moored in Stockton.
All this comes as speculation intensifies that Google is rethinking its plans for selling Glass. A few months ago, Google co-founder Sergey Brin told a tech audience that he hoped to begin selling the device "by the end of the year, but I'm not sure." That falls short of ringing endorsement.
I have no idea how much Google has poured into this project, but I would bet it's a barge load. Even so, it's hardly likely to change its cash flow much. Google has more in common with the government than it would like to admit.
That has helped me formulate a corollary to everything I've learned about government waste. It goes like this: If you have a lot of money, you will be tempted to burn it.
Yes, I know: Things move so fast in the valley that changing direction can be a good thing, not a bad thing. The race goes to the agile as well as the strong. Google is wasting its shareholders' money, not yours. It can't raise your taxes to cover its mistakes.
But the saga of the barges makes me the tiniest bit more sympathetic to the latest government folly. In flushing money down the toilet, our local officials do not stand alone. They just got a ringing endorsement from the folks on the north side of Bayshore in Mountain View.
Contact Scott Herhold at 408-275-0917 or email@example.com. Twitter.com/scottherhold.