Opinion » Maxed Out

Maxed Out

Distinguishing between the black hole and the goal



By G.D. Maxwell

Mr. Mike Vance

c/o Muni Hall

Whistler (we’re part of the Olympics too) B.C.

Dear Mike:

Heard you’re headed back to Whistler to breathe life into the limp body of Tiny Town’s sustainability plan. ‘Bout time. I was beginning to think sustainability was the new finance portfolio, another Ichabod Crane so to speak.

Having steered the town of Mammoth through their contentious redevelopment process and cleaned up all those blighted areas with a minimum loss of life, you’re just the guy for the job, Mike. Who better than Whistler’s former director of planning to direct the planning, eh?

And is it ever in need of direction. Ever herd kittens, Mike? Or snakes? Or sacred cows?

While I think it’s important you have a chance to objectively assess the state of things, sustainabilitywise, for yourself, I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer you some unwanted advice. Especially since I’m sure everyone else who has either an opinion or a vested interest has already told you what a swell guy you are and how, certainly, you’ll steer things in the ‘right’ directions.

They – I’m never entirely sure who ‘they’ are but everybody, including me, seems to quote them a lot – say economics is the dismal science. Having slept through more than my share of economics classes, I’d have to say they’re wrong. Dismal, yes; science, at least as much as astrology. Let’s face it, Mike, if economics were a science things like the Laffler Curve and trickle-down theory would never have made it past even the most modest peer review.

But there are a few gems of wisdom to be mined from the dismal morass and one of the brightest is the concept of Sunk Cost. I’m sure you’re right on top of sunk cost but I’m equally sure someone else who slept through economics and who’s read this far is just busting a gut to find out what it’s all about.

Sunk cost works more in the airy-fairy realm of human psychology and emotion than economics but once it was tied to both dollars and sense, the economists claimed it for themselves. Distilled to its essence, it says this: Standing on its own, the fact you’ve just poured a couple of million bucks down a black hole isn’t good enough reason to pour a couple more million bucks down the same black hole.

It seems so simple, doesn’t it? But like all battles fought in the human psyche, it’s fraught with peril for those who ignore it. A good example we’re all familiar with took place under the reign of Clark the Untrustworthy, former premier of all British Columbians. Clarkie bet his political future on the fast ferries. Oh, there were lots of warning signs along the way, signs that said, "HEY STUPID, THIS PROJECT’S WAY OUT OF CONTROL!" But did Glen listen? No he did not. The fact he was finally brought down because he dealt from the bottom of the deck, so to speak, is irrelevant. The dough he shoveled down the fast ferry black hole would’ve done him in all by itself.