Quick Thought on Government Waste

I have a full-length piece planned for this evening, but to tide you over until then, a quick comment on a news story I read over on the BBC. The Danish government have digitally recreated their entire country – cities and all – in the popular video game Minecraft. Now, compared to some countries in the European Union, the Danish economy isn’t doing too badly. They chose to keep their own currency, the Kroner, and they are owed about the same amount of money as they owe, meaning they don’t really have a substantial government debt. However, since the 2008 financial crisis, their government has had to borrow money from the central bank in order to sustain record welfare payouts.

For those of you who don’t know, Minecraft is a video game in which the player has to build a shelter, create a wide range of items, explore his surroundings, and essentially survive. It’s become quite popular with teachers for its educational potential – it involves a certain amount of basic mathematics, as well as logic puzzles, problem-solving, and even basic farming.

Even when an economy is particularly robust, what purpose does it serve to spend taxpayers’ money on a video game project? There may be some particularly happy Danish video gamers today, but really, was it worth it? Those of you who have read other pieces I’ve written about the European Union will know how greatly I dislike the way it wastes money on meaningless projects, but in this case, we can see that national governments are just as bad.

And it truly is meaningless – it’s a case of “we can do this, so let’s”. There is no discernible benefit to this digital recreation of Denmark. Will it somehow boost tourism? I find it highly unlikely that anyone would play this game and, having seen digital Denmark, decide to go and visit it for real. And besides, I would wager that a majority of Minecraft players are too young to be able to afford a holiday to Denmark even if they wanted to! So aside from it becoming a minor talking point in video gaming circles, they haven’t actually achieved anything. There’s no return on investment, and while I applaud the effort that clearly went into the project, it’s not the kind of thing a government has any business doing.

One of the reasons Minecraft became so popular is that in it the player has almost infinite scope for building and creating. A quick search on Google reveals literally thousands of user-created maps, recreating in detail everywhere from New York City to the fictional King’s Landing from Game of Thrones. But these are people who have spent their free time working on these projects for their own enjoyment. It simply is not the place of a government to spend its time, and presumably a significant amount of tax money, on a video game project. In case you’re thinking I’m somehow anti-video gaming, let me just say that I would equally oppose government intervention in cinema, opera, or any form of entertainment. It just shouldn’t be something to spend taxpayers’ money on. This is even more acute here in Europe, with so many major economic problems. At a time when there is great uncertainty, any nation lucky enough to be not in a total financial mess should be very carefully guarding its money, saving and investing it for the future, not squandering it on silly projects like this. Governments need to learn how to prioritise spending, so that money goes where it’s needed, and any surplus should be saved for the future. Unfortunately, almost all governments around the world seem to go on crazy spending sprees whenever they can, not caring how much they waste or what kind of longer-term damage such waste will do to their citizens. It’s one of the primary reasons why I dislike government.

You can see the official Danish government page (in Danish) on their Minecraft project here.

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