Dilbert Is Right: Business (or government) travel is a waste of time

Scott Adams produced another hilarious cartoon of Dilbert on Monday. The strip’s manager announced that the travel budget had been frozen so the company can meet its income estimates in the quarter. Dilbert responded: “Is that because all business travel is a waste of time or because we no longer care about long-term profitability?”

In a way, Dilbert is correct when he points out that business travel is a waste of time: think about the time and money spent traveling to a meeting. These days, most communications can be done electronically through telephone conferencing, video chat screens and other modes of communications in order to conduct interviews, meetings, chats, etc.

It’s important to distinguish, though, that when it comes to travel budgets within businesses then it doesn’t really matter because it’s private money and they can handle their own models any way they see fit. However, when it comes to government then it’s a whole different ballgame.

Over the years, there have been numerous reports highlighting how politicians take advantage of their own taxpayer budgets and use it to go on lavish vacations all over the world – Paris, London, Sydney, Johannesburg and so on – and not really getting any work done at all.

Each time the United States President decides to travel by using Air Force One it’ll cost the taxpayers $179,750 per hour – President Barack Obama does travel quite a bit; remember when he cost U.S. taxpayers $1.6 million for a one-hour speech?

In Canada, former International Development Minister Bev Oda became an infamous Member of Parliament when it was reported that she refused to stay at a very expensive five-star London hotel because she wanted a more expensive establishment that cost $1,000 per day – not to mention her $16 glass of orange juice.

(It is estimated that Canadian politicians could save taxpayers $500 million per year if civil servants worked virtually instead of traveling to meetings nationally.)

Former Australian politicians will be able to live comfortably for the remainder of their days because they receive approximately $160,000 each year for the rest of their lives, free travel, an office and a driver.

These stories are quite rampant all over the world. Politicians use their citizens’ money to go to places that will likely not ever be traveled by its electorate.

There is an excuse, though: elected officials need to promote their country, state/province and city to other election officials face-to-face. Essentially, proponents of such travel say that in-person meetings are far more productive and beneficial than communicating through online video, emails or telephone calls.

Remote communications have become rather common in the private sector. Technology has allowed businesses to flourish and operate globally by allowing executives, managers and staff to communicate no matter where they are in the world at that time, whether they’re in Singapore, Mexico, New Zealand or Liechtenstein.

Of course, it’s likely to conclude that public officials (no matter where they’re from) are not going to agree to slash travel budgets because they get to enjoy the sights and sounds of Rome, Amsterdam, New York, Tokyo and Vancouver, while their constituents work at least four months of the year for them.

Indeed, if you ever want to trek around the world then run for public office. Think of all the post cards, souvenirs and selfies one could obtain by being in office at any level of government for a decade.

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