By Mike Travis
P.T. Barnum is alleged to have said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Yet even he would be astounded by the way in which cities compete to host the Olympic Games. One of the latest suckers is my home city, Boston.
Why are the Olympics such a bad deal? Andrew Zimbalist, a professor at Smith College, explained why in Boston Would Be Lucky to Lose the Olympics Competition in Friday’s Wall Street Journal. Zimbalist is the author of Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup.
Zimbalist methodically takes apart each of the alleged benefits of hosting the Games. If a Boston Olympics is like others it will go far over budget. In the end, the Games will cost more than the Big Dig, and city and state taxpayers will be on the hook.
No doubt the organizers will put together a plan that, on paper, looks like a good deal for the citizens of the Commonwealth. That’s what they do in every host city. The odds of any of it coming to pass are near zero.
It’s easy to see why the construction industry is pushing so heavily for a Boston Olympics, but what’s in it for other industries, like the life sciences companies I serve? Nothing but trouble and disruption, first from years of construction, and later from the Games themselves, which would shut down much of the city while they are held.
Today things are pretty darn good in Boston. The skyline is studded with cranes, a site that was unimaginable six or seven years ago. The region has become the global center of the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, its hospitals and universities are globally renowned, and the economy is in great shape and getting better. Our leaders should be thinking about how to keep this boom going, not planning a blow-out party.
If the governor were to propose spending billions of dollars on infrastructure, or anything else for that matter, his plans would be scrutinized. It’s astounding that so many blithely accept the arguments of the Olympics boosters without so much as pulling out a calculator.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the Olympics and would love to attend. But please, let’s make it somewhere else – anywhere but Boston.