We examine the present in light of the past
so as to better understand the future.
John Maynard Keynes

* With apologies to Karl von Clausewitz

Say ‘no’ to Death Stars

Have you ever noticed how, in Star Wars films, the imperial stormtroopers have head-to-toe body armour; yet whenever Han or Luke or Princess Leia shoots one of them, they immediately fall down?

This occurred to me yet again the other day while watching Return of the Jedi. Those poor stormtroopers, I thought, talk about cannon fodder. Can’t the emperor even afford to give them proper body armour? Are things that bad?

Then I thought about the bigger picture. I realised that, among other things, the Empire had just finished paying for not one but two Death Stars. In order to finance those vast projects, it seems inevitable that cutbacks would have been made elsewhere.

(Incidentally, if you’re not a fan of Star Wars films, you might want to stop reading now. But then again, you probably already have.)

Looking up the figures, this seemed to make perfect sense. In 2012, American economists estimated that it would cost around $845 quadrillion to build a single Death Star, let alone two. Now, admittedly the Empire had a lot of different worlds and economies to draw resources from, but even so, that would have been a substantial drain. And while it is doubtless true that the $845 quadrillion did a lot to boost jobs, support a network of contractors and sub-contractors and generally pump prime the economies in the locations where each Death Star was built, I’m betting that the Empire had to suck money out of the rest of its defence budget to pay the bills.

And as usual, the first people to suffer were the poor bloody infantry. I’ll bet too that there are letters from stormtroopers to their families back home, complaining about the quality of their gear and saying that if things went on like this, it was only a matter of time until the rebels won.

Was it worth it? Hardly. The first Death Star blew up just one world. One. The second one couldn’t even manage that much.

The moral of this story is that big infrastructure projects which are supposed to give an economic boost hardly ever live up to expectations. And meanwhile, these projects are paid for by cuts in other areas that leave people vulnerable. Let’s learn the lesson the Empire failed to learn, and invest in societies and economies from the bottom up, not the top down.

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Adi Gaskell commented on
Management Consultancy

Pradee commented on
Oh, no, not another book on management!

Laurie commented on
Another one bites the dust - reflecting on my new book on management failures