Saturday, October 3, 2009

How the Olympic bid reminds me of the health care debate.

The similarity struck me long ago but now that the bid has failed and failed miserably I think its worth considering more deeply how very much alike the two are.

Most obvious of course is that the opposition in both cases is rooted in personality politics with a deep antipathy toward the organizing politician and the supposed elitist class the the nay sayers imagine he works for. In both cases the opposition feels like something much larger is at stake which tends to increases the level of confirmation bias in their thinking and dissuades them from seriously considering any information which suggests that they may be wrong even though it is abundant. And in both cases the supposed alternatives the opposition suggests are woefully unrealistic and the overall view expressed is one of surprising skepticism and frankly a casual sort of spite that refuses to consider the full ramifications of failure.

The cherry on top here though is that, anecdotally at least, the people I've come across who opposed the Olympic bid are the same people who are politically very much in the tank for Obama and his policies. Evidently they don't hear Eric Cantor or Michelle Bachmann echoing through their own words. You can't coach irony......

Before I go on I should say that obviously I supported the bid very strongly but not because I wanted the Olympics necessarily. I support any event along these lines that has the capacity to be a long term economic engine for the city. I find it stunningly self evident that not only is it perfectly legitimate to use large triggering events like the Games to focus public policy on larger issues it is good governance as well.

But its the last two similarities that I think are the most pyrrhic for the opposition and the ones I want to focus on more closely.

I've heard it expressed often that money spent on the preparations for the Games would be put to far better use if it were just spent instead on non-Games related infrastructure. Its a struggle to respond to something so unbelievably fatuous but Im going to try.

Let me put it simply. That wont be happening. Now many in the anti Games crowd take that as some justification that this was a simple issue of stadiums over people, as if either could exist in a clean vacuum. I like to call this kind of thinking Hippie-Dippie. So why wont it be happening? Two reasons.

First of all human nature. Like it or not reality is such that people are far far far more likely to organize their energy and money around specific events, the bigger the better. Its why non profits hold events like galas and other seemingly frivolous things. They are focusers, points around which people can gather and identify with so while its nice to imagine that we will now simply take that same spirit that was put into the bid and turn it towards rebuilding the school down the street that isn't in any way reflective of reality. Its Hippie-Dippie. Now you can bitch about the shortcomings of our species or you can work within its limitations. Score one here for Team Bitch.

Secondly the economics simply are not there. At all. Heading into this year the city was facing a deficit of roughly $420 million and many against the bid have used that as a reason to oppose spending on the Olympics. Well okay... If the argument is that we're too broke to spend money on the Olympics, which would have the long term capacity to increase the tax base well beyond the point it would have been absent the Games, then how suddenly can we afford more deficit spending on infrastructure without both the short and long term influx of tax revenue from the Games and related spending? We can't. At all. Its like they're saying 0 + -420= 1 million. It is obvious, achingly obvious, that excepting some major external event there will be no massive capital expenditure in the city because in that context it only increases debt and subsequently raises your taxes. Its Dues ex machina economics minus the Dues.

So instead we get nothing at all which should strike you as very GOP-ey in its spite.

But suppose you take issue with my economics. It doesn't matter because it gets even worse the deeper you dig into this.

The most common complaint I've heard however is that Chicago simply isn't able to pull the games off, which makes my eyes want to roll out of my head when you consider the other international venues that have successfully hosted the games, but there it is. Now no one would deny the short comings the city has, crime corruption, poverty etc. But if your position is that these make the Olympics impossible then you aren't actually making an anti Olympic argument,
you're arguing that Chicago doesn't have the capacity to do anything, ever. Even the thing you

If corruption and cronyism make it impossible for the Games to benefit anyone but the most well connected then wont the same issues plague some Hippie-Dippie plan for subsequent capital improvements at the expense of the improvement? Of course it will. You can't make an argument of selective incompetence and expect to be taken seriously but this kind of incomplete thinking has turned a significant number of Chicagoans inward instead of outward. By constructing the false equation that Olympics=more problems while no Olympics=no problems Chicagoans have inexplicably chosen a deeply flawed status quo over the possibility of a better day. And they're happy about it.

And this kind of thing should bother the fuck out of everyone because this sort of cheap cynicism is likely to crowd any future efforts to improve our collective lots as well

I really don't want to make this a "love it or leave it" point but I think its fair to ask those of such little faith in the city what do you think the city CAN do? If the city can't handle the logistical run up to a two week event then how is it that you arrive at the decisions that this is a reasonable place to pursue your career, start a business, raise a family, own a home? The list goes on. And again I think these questions are more than fair because the thinking behind this particular point of opposition is so ill formed.

1 comment:

  1. I believe that Eric Cantor will seek the GOP nomination in 2012. Of course the religious bigots who now control that party will never give it to him because of his religion. Pigs will fly, the earth will fry and David Duke will become head of the NAACP before THAT ever happens. It begs the musical question: Why on earth is this knucklehead a Republican anyway?

    If you think about it for a moment or two, Eric Cantor would be the ideal Republican nominee in '12. The Semitic Ronald Reagan! He's good looking, he has a really nice speaking voice, perfect manners, a lovely wife, three well-behaved children - and all the substance of a hot air balloon. The guy is made to order, are you kidding me? And just think of the marketing possibilities for the GOP spin doctors:


    I can see it now.

    Tom Degan
    Goshen, NY