Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Are you not entertained?

Re-arranging my belongings at home provided me with an opportunity to re-read some of my newspaper commentaries from years past.  I am pretty darn impressed with myself, I tell ya.  For one, even in my earliest commentaries, it is clear that I quickly learnt how to write, after a disastrous start in graduate school.  More importantly, I am pleased with myself for the consistency with which I have argued many of my positions.

In one of those commentaries, I argued that the local government should not be in the entertainment business.  I wrote this in the context of Bakersfield's plan to spend gazillions on an arena.  My point was that we do not have governments in order to entertain us, and that sports and arenas should be left to the market.  Of course, given how much people love, love being entertained--no wonder Trump made it to the top with his reality entertainment--and given how much I am always on the losing side, well, ...

This is not a new position since graduate school.  I was even more opposed to governments investing in entertainment back when I was a commie sympathizer.  I was an undergraduate student when India hosted the Asian Games.  Television was a new thing in our lives at that time; yet, I decided that I would boycott it.  I did not watch even one minute of those games on TV.  I could not, and still cannot, understand why the government would waste all that money on entertainment when there were far more urgent human problems everywhere in India.  The only difference is that back then I did not articulate an argument that entertainment should come out of private spending.

Next month, it will be the mother of all sports entertainment--the Olympics.  As I have done with the past events, I will boycott this too.

Those with money, who want to be entertained, have somehow managed to convince those without any money--who also like to be entertained--that investing gazillions of public money on all things sports is an economic investment with huge returns.  One awesome bullshit that happens over and over again only because the unthinking people like to be entertained 24x7!

Any unbiased observer will tell you the same thing: You may as well dig huge holes, fill them with all the money you have, and pour concrete over them!
Economists are notorious for being unable to agree on anything. So it's striking that on the finances of the Olympics, they almost all agree.
"Investing in the Olympics is not worth the investment," says Andy Zimbalist of Smith College.
"You build all these facilities that are perfect for the Olympics, that are not really as desirable once the circus leaves town," says Allen Sanderson of the University of Chicago.
"You end up with a very indebted city or host nation long after the confetti is cleaned up; someone has to pay the bills for it," says Bob von Rekowsky of Fidelity Investments.
We have known from the Roman days that the best way to continue to screw the country is by distracting the people with mass entertainment.  It is entertainment, not religion, that is the opium of the masses!

I sometimes want to scream that people are idiots.  Oops, did I say that? ;)  Spending is simply not worth it to the taxpayers:
Spending lavishly on a short-lived event is, economically speaking, a dubious long-term strategy. Stadiums, which cost a lot and produce minimal economic benefits, are a particularly lousy line of business. (This is why they are usually built by taxpayers rather than by corporations.)
Not difficult to understand.  Corporations would have spent the money if they knew they were going to make more money than what they invested.  They know a loser when they see stadiums, and they also see losers when they see taxpayers.  They, therefore, get the loser taxpayers to build those loser stadiums!

And then there are reports like this:
There’s just a month to go before the Summer Olympics begin in Rio de Janeiro. And the bad news keeps coming.
Or, this:
One Month Before The Olympic Games in Rio, Everything Is A Disaster
So, hey, enjoy this latest installment of taxpayer-funded debauchery, which will be from August 5th; I will be busy with my summer reading ;)



Mike Hoth said...

You're boycotting the Olympic Games? Didn't you read my thesis on how boycotting for political reasons never works, or was it so boring that you've already forgotten it?

Beyond that, I can agree that the Olympics are a tremendous waste of money for the host country, especially if they don't have the facilities in place already. Brazil found out the hard way that global sporting events aren't profitable with the World Cup. FIFA spent 2.2 billion US dollars on Brazil's world cup, but Brazil spent 14 billion. That event was held in 2014, and your chart shows quite well just how much it helped the local economy.

Ramesh said...

Don't blame the Olympics if you do not know how to conduct them.

Los Angeles 1984 , and Peter Ueberroth, showed how to do it and turn a profit. Since then Seoul 1988 made a profit. Atlanta 1996 made a profit. London 2012 didn't make a profit, but didn't make a huge loss either.

The problem comes when vanity and the need to show the size of your manhood overwhelms prudent economics. Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 were perfect examples of this disease. Rio 2016 is probably in the same boat. That is their problem; not a critique of the concept of Olympics.

Completely disagree that we shouldn't be holding Olympics and that the government should not play a part. I can use the same argument against public parks. Against opera halls. Against Literary festivals. In any case the moneys spent on these are tiny fractions of government budgets - stopping them wouldn't change a thing. If you really want to save money touch pensions and Medicare.

You did not watch Shivnath Singh win the 800 ? Bahadur Singh win the shot put ? TC Yohanan make the Beamonesque jump - Oh Lord ; save this poor soul :)

Anne in Salem said...

The moon must be full or the earth spinning off its axis - I agree more with Sriram than with Ramesh. City and state governments should not build stadia. Period. The owner of the team should build his own facilities.

The government should build parks and support literary festivals and holiday spectacles. Not opera houses for the same reason as not stadia. There is a difference in access and in percentage of population who benefit from the expense. An entire city can use a park and see health benefits therefrom. Only a privileged few can access a pro-sports stadium, and the main beneficiaries are the owners, not the public.

Brazil should not have the Olympics. They are not ready, and nothing is healthy. If I were an athlete, and this were my only shot at the Olympics, I'd have serious doubts about attending and competing. Brazil won't even be able to recoup costs via tourism because of all the stories about the filth and zika.

Sriram Khé said...

Mike, personal boycotts are always personal victories, unlike the political boycotts. My boycotts are successes every single time ;)

Ramesh, there are way too many problems with your take. Anne has dealt with on one of those: Olympics and various kinds of sports entertainment are not public goods and, therefore, there is no place for taxpayer money.
In addition, two other significant problems:
1. LA and Seoul are exceptions rather than the rule. LA benefited from making use of the infrastructure that was already in place from the first olympics. I wonder how much of that initial investment was private money, and how much was underwritten by taxpayers.
2. And this point is even more important than the rest: You are conveniently overlooking the opportunity costs involved. These are costs that I worried about back during the Asian Games--the money could have been spent on a gazillion other things that would have delivered phenomenally more returns regarding the human condition. I don't care how a private individual wastes money--that is a personal choice. But, we can't be this casual about taxpayer money all because people like to be entertained!

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