Death Star vs Storm Trooper investment

Let us put aside the whole being evil and blowing up planets part of the Empire for now (although, admittedly that is a large part of their brand), and simply focus on the most efficient use of resources. Imagine you are Chief Imperial Budget Setter for the Empire.

Over Christmas I rewatched the Star Wars movies. And boy, do those Empire guys not learn the lesson about centralisation of resources. Three times they create an epic planet destroyer only to have it blown up by someone pressing the ‘Destroy Death Star’ shiny button. There has been some good work on the economics of the Death Star and Rebel Alliance. But what came to mind when I was watching the films was the legendary poor aim of all Storm Troopers. They even joke about it in the Mandalorian.

So, let’s imagine you are that Chief Budget setter. The Death Star would apparently cost $7.7 Octillion per day to run (think of all the energy for all those light bulbs and sliding doors). Apparently an octillion has 27 zeros (48 here in Britain), so it’s a big number. And that’s per day?! What do you get for this outlay? Well, if it doesn’t get blown up, you get a very powerful symbol of dominance, an effective planet destroyer and you also gain clarity – you know where the money goes and can channel resources that way. Let’s assume that they manage to build one that doesn’t have a disastrous flaw for a moment, and consider if that is the best use of resources?

How much would it cost to give storm troopers really good shooting training? It is reckoned there are about 1.1 Billion stormtroopers. So how much would it cost to train them all to a standard where they could reliably hit a barn door with a banjo? Well, it costs £130,000 to train a Royal Marine, who we can assume are pretty good at shooting. My calculations mean that would cost £13 trillion or about $18 trillion (maybe though you just need to give them better designed helmets). That is a lot of money, but considerably less than the running and construction costs of the Death Star.

Would it be a better spend of resources though? In the Star Wars story the answer would seem to be yes. The story would have been snuffed out right at the start by an accurate shot at any of our heroes. And while the Death Star carries more potent symbolism and is likely to drive fear into more people, it is also a one action solution. There may be problems for which “blow up the planet” is not the best solution. Well trained StormTroopers give you this flexibility.

So, yes, of course it’s a metaphor. In the online pivot there may be a temptation to reach for a Death Star type solution – centralised, technological solution. But a more effective solution may be the StormTrooper investment, ie developing staff skills and enthusiasm for online learning. But with fewer lasers.

4 Comments

  1. Nicely made point. You also missed out the problem of major overspends, delays and complete failure of large infrastructure projects. Not to mention the usual underestimates of how quickly the technology becomes outdated and the inevitable problems of ‘baking in’ pedagogic approaches which fail to allow for pedagocic innovation.

  2. I’d take this in a different direction but first https://www.reddit.com/r/EmpireDidNothingWrong.

    The problem with this metaphor to make your point is not that it is “just a metaphor” but that it is just the one metaphor. I’m writing a blog post called “Metaphors are like hamsters, they should always be kept in pairs” and my main point will be that metaphors are partial projections between two domains, they hide and obscure many possible mappings and their aptness is contextual.

    So a scrupulous metaphor-based inquiry should always examine two opposing metaphors. Because you could just as easily tell a story about a system where having a central control is much more efficient – eg. about the electrical grid. Or where people persisted despite set back after set back only to finally get it right.

    The aptness of any such metaphors has to be evaluated in context while hacking away at the mappings. Here’s an example https://metaphorhacker.net/2011/02/the-most-ridiculous-metaphor-of-education.

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