Can governments build computers more cheaply than industry can?

Here's my nomination for writing displaying the most common-sense this week. It comes from the Canadian IT Business site. The writer noticed a recent item put out by India's human resource ministry claiming a ""breakthrough" solar-powered tablet computer that would cost only $35 in "early 2011."

It'll never happen, he says. The announcement has more to do with the kinds of news items that make headlines and little to do with the engineering skill of Indian developers. To quote,

"Indian politicians have discovered that announcing technological "breakthroughs" that leverage Indian engineering prowess to deliver computers to everybody helps get press and win votes. It's a cheap gimmick that works because of the gullibility of the media.

While the press pays attention to the Big Announcement, hardly any media outlets notices later when nothing ever comes of it. Why? Because a headline with "$35 tablet" in it brings traffic, eyeballs and readers, whereas a headline with "media duped again" brings only shame."

Turns out there is a history of announcements like this that come to nothing. The writer, Mike Elgan, gives several examples. Kudos to Mr. Elgan for pointing this out. Here is the item:

Discuss this Blog Entry 1

on Oct 22, 2015

In my experience (34 years at government facilities in Oak Ridge TN) government mainly accomplishes projects by writing checks to private industry. Most of the successful efforts didn't have to be cost effective or economically competitive. Government funding discourages efforts to stay competitive and often leads to boondoggles which are total losses, such as a $4B gas centrifuge enrichment plant based on a design that was not economically viable.

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