In previous posts, I’ve called attention to the bait and switch, whereby developers and public servants persuade our political representatives to go along with development proposals by offering what appears to be a huge public benefit for a small public investment. This is the bait. Once the politicians have been lured into a commitment, the switch takes place: The price to the public purse rises progressively, while the benefit is lowered.
Andrew Zimbalist, professor of economics at Smith College in Massachusetts, who has been researching the economics of sports for many years, has concluded that the bait and switch has become just business as usual in pushing national, regional and local governments into signing on to bids for Olympic Games. In a question-and-answer session with the European Urban Knowledge network, he was asked, “Why is it that the costs of hosting the Olympic Games often turn out to be much higher than initially planned?” He responded as follows:
“I think that what generally happens is that you have this coalition of economic actors that is pushing the city to embrace an application to host the Olympics. They know it is in their private interest for this city to host the Olympics. The best way to get the city on board is to say: ‘we can do all of this, we can host the Olympics, we can build all these facilities and it will only cost us 3 billion dollars.’ In this way it is more likely they will get their support than if they are forthright and say: ‘it is not going to cost 3 billion dollars but 10 billion dollars.’ It is much better for them to do designs of facilities that are minimalist the first time around. Then, after they have gotten public and political approval, they can come back and say: ‘let’s have these bells and whistles and make our designs maximalist.’ They will come back saying ‘we are competing against Rio de Janeiro and Moscow, we need to spend more money’. They could have anticipated that, but it is not in their interest to do so. Cities should know that.”
Indeed they should. For the full interview, click here.
I first uncovered the bait and switch in a research that was published in:
LEO, C. (1995). Global Change And Local Politics: Economic Decline and the Local Regime in Edmonton Journal of Urban Affairs, 17 (3), 277-299 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9906.1995.tb00348.x