Oscar Wilde's infamous definition of a cynic — someone who "knows the price of everything and the value of nothing" — springs to mind when thinking about two critical decisions by Jacinda Ardern's Government in the past fortnight.
When it comes to value, Ardern's Government would have made a far better bet on the taxpayers' behalf if it had invested $200 million cash upfront into funding outright Team New Zealand and the next America's Cup regatta rather than pouring nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars down the drain into what, when it really comes down to it, is a mere cycleway across Auckland's harbour.
This $785m bridge for walkers and cyclists to cross the Waitematā cannot in any respect even be described as a loss-leader to pave the way for future benefits. It's just a sump hole for taxpayer dollars and an extraordinarily expensive sop for a handful of vocal Auckland Central voters.
At the very least, $200m invested in the next regatta would have: secured the opportunity to leverage the existing harbourside assets built for the hosting of the 36th America's Cup — which did not get a strong run earlier this year due to the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic; showcased New Zealand as a vital yachting innovation hub; and leveraged that positioning to attract additional high-net worth technology investors to underwrite further investment into this country.
And there would still have been more than half a billion dollars left over to invest in something really valuable to the New Zealand economy, such as new environmental technologies to mitigate methane emissions on farms. This is just one example.
Attracting major investment into New Zealand is centre stage for this Government. But despite Ardern talking up Government intentions to invite more such investors into the country, there has been little to show for it so far.
Team New Zealand's rejection of the $100m "cash and kind" offer from the combined Government and Auckland Council was inevitable.
Both parties had obviously been forced into the odious position of taking part in a bidding war. One where other venues — such as Cork (Ireland), the Isle of Wight, China, Saudi Arabia, Valencia and Dubai — have all previously been mentioned as potential venues to host the next Cup.
None of these players has yet placed its bet openly while Team New Zealand, the Government and Auckland Council conducted their absurd bidding charade.
But a bidding war in which Team New Zealand was acting as the buyer, and had full control of the outcomes, was always going to be "lose-lose" for the Government and council given that Team NZ had already tested the market internationally before they even sat down with their opposing negotiators.
There is something quite odious about the fact that Team NZ boss Grant Dalton forced those official negotiators into a bidding war in the first place, given that Kiwi taxpayers and Auckland ratepayers had ponied up considerable cash to support the 2021 regatta underpinning the NZ team's success.
It does suggest that there had been a major breakdown in trust between the Government and Team NZ ahead of the talks.
At Fieldays on Wednesday, Ardern was forced into defending the Government's decision to bring the talks to a conclusion. She said the Government had to strike a balance.
They were in effect negotiating on behalf of the taxpayer and needed to identify the point at which there would not be value for New Zealanders.
Ardern acknowledged there was a general desire to see the next Cup raced here — "but New Zealanders know we are in a position at the moment where investment has to be justifiable".
This is arrant nonsense when it comes to the cycleway across Auckland harbour, as the Herald revealed yesterday when it reported that the initial cost-benefit assessment by Waka Kotahi is only 0.4 to 0.6. This means for every dollar spent on the bridge, there would effectively be a 40 to 60 cent loss.
In an environment where the Government has already gone long on official debt to underpin the NZ economy during the Covid pandemic, this might seem like mere chump change.
But $200m spent on showcasing New Zealand's prowess would have been a surefire bet.