Thursday, October 1, 2009

Olympian Effort

When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) chose London as the site of the 2012 Summer Olympics, Tony Blair, who was then Britain's prime minister, was credited with swaying the IOC in London's favor, by appearing in person at the IOC meeting at which the decision was made.

It looks as though Blair created a precedent that other heads of state and heads of government are now bound to follow.

President Obama is on his way to Denmark, to make a pitch for his adopted home town of Chicago, which is bidding to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

I'm not a fan of government involvement in sports. Economists have shown that government subsidies for stadiums and arenas do not improve economic conditions for a community as a whole. They certainly benefit certain interests, most directly the owners and players, but also nearby innkeepers etc. And as is generally the case with such subsidies, a portion of them gets recycled as contributions to the politicians who vote in favor of the subsidies.

That's a classic example of the type of government behavior that we of a libertarian bent oppose.

I understand that there is a debate in Chicago as to whether, in the final analysis, taxpayers will be stuck with any of the bill. Were I a Windy City resident, I would be skeptical of claims to the contrary by proponents of that city's Olympic bid.

But let's just look at Obama's trip to Copenhagen, aside from any question of public subsidies in the event Chicago wins the bid.

To transport an American president to Copenhagen, even if only for a day trip, is a massive undertaking. Several planes, in addition to his personal 747 and backup, must accompany him on such a trip. Is there a national interest involved in this situation that justifies such a military mission? Not in my opinion.

Perhaps even more important is the question of whether the president should become involved in a commercial venture such as this. The notion of pure athletic ideals being at the heart of the Olympic enterprise, which was always suspect, is by now completely gone.

I find Obama's involvement to be wrong, in the same sense as George H.W. Bush's infamous trip to Japan, when he went to over to try to convince them to buy more American cars, and had his embarrassing bout of illness during dinner with that country's prime minister.

I don't believe that promoting specific commercial interests is an appropriate activity for a president.

UPDATE: It is now Friday, October 2, and Chicago was the first city to be eliminated in the IOC voting. When I wrote this post, I did not consider the question of whether a failure of the Chicago bid would have adverse consequences for President Obama. Such a trip by an American president is unprecedented, so I suppose we'll have to wait and see.

Generally, if a president makes a foreign trip and brings back nothing to show for it, that's considered a major embarrassment. This trip is not quite the same as a Russian or Chinese summit, or a Middle East negotiating trip, so it's not totally clear whether that same principle applies here. But I don't see any way in which this can be spun as a positive for Obama.

The argument in my original post would still have applied, had Chicago won the bid.

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