14 January 2009

Make-work projects

On the one hand traditional make-work projects may be in decline:

The knocks against infrastructure are that it is not as labour-intensive as it used to be, tends to employ many more men than women and, these days, requires skills in engineering, technology and architecture that are already in short supply, critics say.

"A lot of this ethos of infrastructure-equals-jobs comes from the 1930s when you put a lot of guys to work digging ditches and shovelling gravel. And we don't do that any more," said Dr. Jim McNiven, professor emeritus and former dean of management at Dalhousie University.

On the other hand, maybe someone has found a new kind of make-work:

Perhaps this is the Canadian way with expropriations. In 1970, another firebrand, Quebec premier René Lévesque, passed a law to take control of Asbestos Corp.

The province wound up owning a business that was soon overwhelmed by a wave of asbestos class-action lawsuits. On top of that, the company was entangled for more than a decade in lawsuits from investors claiming their investments had been savaged by the expropriation.

In countries with developed legal systems, the legacy of expropriation can be years of legal headaches.

That last line should be “years of billable hours” and at least part of that will flow to friends of the government who  - just by coincidence – happen to be lawyers.

There’s make-work and then there’s make work.