If you need a router for your home, you probably head over to Target or Best Buy and pick up an inexpensive one for $30-50. If you have special needs, you might select a fancy one and pay $100 or maybe $150 — at the most.
But that’s not what the state of West Virginia did when it got a $24 million federal “stimulus” grant to put routers into libraries, schools and health clinics. Instead of buying inexpensive routers — or even high-end commercial routers for about $500 — the state paid $22,600 for each router. Instead of buying equipment designed for small institutions, the state bought 1,064 routers designed for large institutions serving tens of thousands of computers.
What’s worse, various technology experts working for the state warned about the overkill before the purchase was made, but the state bureaucrats didn’t listen. The excuse? The state bureaucrat who made the decision said that putting the same expensive router into every school, library and other institution was done in the name of “equal opportunity.”
“We wanted to make sure a student in McDowell County had the same opportunities as a student in Kanawha County or anywhere else,” the official told the Charleston Gazette. “A student in a school of 200 students should have the same opportunity as a student in a school with 2,000 students.”
This is a gross misunderstanding of “equal opportunity.” It’s like buying a bus for 50 kids when there’s a need to transport two kids — just because another school needs to transport 50 kids.
Reporter Eric Eyre of the Charleston Gazette did a terrific story that I strongly suggest you read. It’s not that the story of the West Virginia routers is so unusual. It’s simply that it’s a peek into the mind of clueless bureaucrats who don’t even understand how little they know. When you have no incentive to save money and be responsible, you have no reason to care what you spend. It’s just “federal money” — and there are no consequences to wasting it.
The routers were made by Cisco, and the Gazette reporter called Cisco to pose as a buyer for schools and smaller institutions. He asked about the router that the state purchased, but the Cisco salesman told him that model was too expensive for what he needed and that a $487 model would be good enough. About the model that the state bought, the salesman said, “The 3945 is our router solution for campus and large enterprises, so this is overkill for your network.” (That’s one of the expensive routers in a small library on the right.)
Even though it’s clear the state bought far more than it needs, the bureaucrat who made the decision defends it as a matter of being prepared for the future. Anyone who understands technology understand the ignorance of his argument. Future needs will change as technology changes, but a library with four computers isn’t suddenly going to have tens of thousands of users. A school with 200 students is never going to need a system designed for tens of thousands of users. These expensive routers will be obsolete and out of service before the number of users substantially increases.
But the man making the decision doesn’t understand any of this. He doesn’t have to, because there are no consequences to spending money recklessly.
When your city or county or state comes to you and says it wants to increase your taxes because it’s broke, remember this story. This is the way the bureaucratic mind thinks. They’re spending money that isn’t theirs, so they have no incentive to make rational decisions about what to spend. They’re likely to spend lavishly on things that aren’t needed and cut corners in areas where it’s foolish in the long run.
When an entity has a monopoly — as governments have — there’s no incentive to be rational or reasonable. There are no consequences. This is the way coercive, monopolistic governments work. The sad truth, though, is that people might get angry about this purchase — or some similar purchase — but nothing will change. That’s because it’s a systemic problem. Coercive monopolies have no incentive to change. They’ll always consume more and more or your resources and deliver fewer and fewer results.
Some people will talk about the need for more accountability and responsibility. I’ll tell you instead that nothing short of ending the monopolistic state has any hope of changing this.