Matt on the Olympics:
This article about Chicagoâ€™s bid to host the 2016 Olympics seems like as good a time as any to reiterate the idea that the International Olympic Committee should fix a permanent location for the Games. Presumably in Greece, but really just about anywhere would do.
Even though competition is always fierce for the hosting honors, the reality is that cities only very rarely manage to reap the financial windfall that Olympics-boosters advertise. But if you actually got to reuse a given facility across three or four or five Games before it needed serious repair/replacement then mounting the event would be much more economical. Besides which, a fixed location would be more in the spirit of the original Olympics which were non-rotating.
It’s true that the financial windfall of the games themselves often falls short of expectations, and it’s true that billions are often spent on fancy stadia that then get very little use after the action is over. But I don’t know that I agree with Matt entirely.
Political leaders often face signfiicant constraints in trying to get necessary policy changes put in place. I’m a strong believer in the idea that it’s very useful to those leaders to have external forces available to help commit them to getting things done. Why would national leaders allow themselves to be subject to WTO rulings, for instance? Well, because national leaders want what’s best for the national economy, which is open trade, but they face significant obstructions from domestic interest groups. By handing over some sovereignty to the WTO, the leader can then throw up his hands and say, sorry dudes, I tried to protect this industry, but we have to follow the WTO’s rules. The leader cedes some power to an outside force who can them “make” him do things he wants to do but can’t get done on his own.
I see the Olympics as being a little like this. The games often get cities to undertake massive infrastructure investments, many of which have been in limbo for decades. London’s program of transit expansion in advance of the 2012 games is well documented for instance. Now, London may lose money on the games themselves, and it may end up throwing some money away investing in soon-to-be underused natatoria, but the new transit capacity will be around forever, boosting the local economy. Hard to see how that expansion doesn’t easily pay for the games in just a few years.
I’d love the Washington area to win the Olympics. Maybe then we’d get our streetcar network and separate Blue Line, among other things.