Maxwell’s Silver Hammer….or should I say, Toilet?

Maxwell’s Silver Hammer….or should I say, Toilet?

Maxwell’s Silver Hammer….or should I say, Toilet?

So, what is the cost of the proverbial Silver Hammer?

Well I know that when the Beatles wrote “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” the cost to everyone around Maxwell was huge if not downright dangerous.

This got me thinking as I saw a clip-on Global news that talked about an insane cost to put a toilet in Vancouver’s Coopers’ Park which might be the Cadillac of loos. The cost was $645,000. I thought, how is that even possible. Well the only thing I could come up with was that governments at all levels really don’t care how much something costs because it not the personal money of the people making these decisions. I mean REALLY…would you spend $645,000 of your own money to build a toilet? Of course not, its your money and you worked hard for it!!!!

If you look at history, ever since the Defense Department procurement scandals of the 1980s, the $600 hammer has been held up as an icon of Pentagon incompetence, but it is obviously alive and well here in Canada too. Immortalized in the “Hammer Awards” that Vice President Al Gore’s program was to reinvent what government gives out to waste-cutters, this absurdly overpriced piece of hardware has come to symbolize all that’s wrong with all government’s financial management.

One problem: “There never was a $600 hammer,” said Steven Kelman, public policy professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and a former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. It was, he said, “an accounting artifact.”

The military bought the hammer, Kelman explained, bundled into one bulk purchase of many different spare parts. But when the contractors allocated their engineering expenses among the individual spare parts on the list-a bookkeeping exercise that had no effect on the price the Pentagon paid overall-they simply treated every item the same. So, the hammer, originally $15, picked up the same amount of research and development overhead-$420-as each of the highly technical components, recalled retired procurement official LeRoy Haugh. (Later news stories inflated the $435 figure to $600.)

“The hammer got as much overhead as an engine,” Kelman continued, despite the fact that the hammer cost much less than $420 to develop, and the engine cost much more-“but nobody ever said, ‘What a great deal the government got on the engine!’ ”

Thus retold, the legend of the $600 hammer becomes a different kind of cautionary tale. It is no longer about simple, obvious waste. The new moral is that numbers, taken as self-explanatory truths by the public and the press, can in fact be the woefully distorted products of a broken accounting system or much worse.

The root of the problem is as old as governments themselves. Governmental accounting has always been primarily concerned with making sure money was spent as Congress directed, not with making sure it was spent wisely. Historically, explained the Pentagon’s deputy chief financial officer, Nelson Toye, DoD’s bookkeeping systems were designed to “be able to satisfy the Congress that we were good stewards of the funds entrusted to us: We didn’t overspend, we did spend it on what you asked us to, we didn’t spend money to buy things you told us we couldn’t buy.” In the past, Toye said, “there has not been a requirement for DoD or any federal agency in the USA or here in Canada to routinely collect the costs of its assets and report those costs.”

But a necessary change is under way, said Richard Eckhardt, deputy director of financial management for the Air Force Materiel Command, which does most of that service’s shopping. “We’ve been very good at putting budgets together and writing budget justifications,” he noted, “but in an era of declining budgets, we have to understand what our costs are.” That means government must borrow business techniques to track the true costs of its activities. Ya, well good luck with that because old habits are hard to break….especially if the people in charge really don’t care one way or the other.

So, back to the toilet. The Township of Esquimalt installed a toilet in Memorial Park in 2019 for $237,000, which included the concrete pad, plumbing and installation. How can it be possible then for the City of Vancouver to spend 3 times that a year later? Well, all you have to do is watch governments all around us to see how the spending of taxpayers’ money is ridiculously out of control. It is happening everywhere and all we have to do is look in our own back yard and you see it happening here to. Money blown on pet projects by people who are so disconnected with reality that it has hard working, tax paying people pulling their hair out. I know I am!!!!  When we built our new home, we put in Toto toilets that were $800 each and I thought that was expensive for a toilet. Now I am just thankful that we didn’t have to buy them from the City.

When does this nonsense stop? Well I guess we could vote people in that have a conscience or at least some business sense and responsibility. Do I think that is going to happen? Probably not based on the nonsense that we all watch daily.

From what I see, we all better start riding bicycles because soon all we will have are bike lanes to get around, but then I guess we could stop for a pee in a Cadillac Loo. Just wondering how many city counsellors ride a bike to work everyday.  Or better yet, if they had to dip into their pockets, would they be so zealous to do the things they do? I doubt it!!!  What do you think?

If you want to read about this idiocy click the link:

Hope you all have an awesome weekend and if you know someone looking to sell or buy, I always appreciate your referrals and will look after them with the utmost care and attention.

Brian McCullough, RE/MAX of Nanaimo

#1-5140 Metral Drive

Nanaimo, BC V9T 2K8

Office: (250) -751 – 1223


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