When the Golden Gate Bridge opened on May 27, 1937, 200,000 pedestrians strolled and frolicked along its pavement, chomping on 50,000 hot dogs and other treats. In the 1930s it took four years to build this beautiful bridge – while battling fog, rough waters, and the Great Depression. It was completed under budget and ahead of schedule. When no one was willing to finance the bridge, A.P. Giannini, founder of the Bank of Italy, bought up all the bonds. That Bank of Italy grew up to become the Bank of America. It’s a great story, which I tell in New Ideas from Dead Ceos and Lasting Lessons from the Corner Office.
Now get this: Larry Summers and Rachel Lipson report that the Anderson Bridge, which does not appear on many postcards and is recognizable only to Harvard employees stuck in traffic, has been under re-construction for four years and is already 30% over budget, with“no end date in sight.” The Golden Gate spans 8,900 feet long; the Anderson Bridge stretches 232 feet. Usain Bolt could race across in a handful of seconds. A Girl Scout troop might take 30 seconds — if they stopped to sell cookies along the way. Summers and Lipson explain how bureaucrats from the Massachusetts Historical Commission, Department of Transportation, and Water Resources Authority all worked to thwart a sensible, timely re-construction. As I discuss in The Price of Prosperity, rich countries can afford many luxuries, some good and some bad. They can afford safer cars, but they can also afford to hire battalions of bureaucrats who can spend their time piling up roadblocks.
Trivia buffs might know that the Golden Gate refers, not to the bridge, but to the strait connecting San Francisco to the Pacific. The name predates the bridge, which is why Al Jolson could sing “Open up your Golden Gate!” in his 1921 hit, California, Here I Come! Maybe the Anderson Bridge needs a song to prod the bureaucrats along.