The bid's most visible opponents have spent years howling that the Olympics will breed graft and political corruption and bleed an already cash-strapped city dry. Chicago 2016's supporters, by contrast, have argued that the Olympics will improve the city's standing, create jobs, and boost local morale. The debate here wasn't best understood as an honest disagreement over what's best for Chicago. Rather, the rhetoric was indicative of a more fundamental clash: the eternal battle of jocks vs. nerds.I was never more proud of Winnipeg than when we let the Jets go rather than give in to NHL extortion. But the jocks won in Dunedin and got City Council to front up for a new stadium for the rugby world cup. They won so handily that the nerds had to pay court costs, which is kinda like finishing off the wedgie with a swirly.
For two years, wonks like Ben Joravsky of the Chicago Reader and Tom Tresser of No Games Chicago have denounced Chicago's Olympics gambit as poorly conceived and wasteful. These stalwarts of the city's nerd opposition have couched their arguments in numbers, rules, and historical precedent, hoping to persuade the Games' supporters through tireless skepticism.
Though the Chicago 2016 committee has produced a detailed plan for the IOC that lays out the logistics of paying for and hosting the Games, its message to Chicagoans has emphasized emotion. A recent Huffington Post article by bid chairman Ryan has no numbers. Rather than explain the committee's financial plan, Ryan simply calls it "strong" and cautions readers from throwing in with the naysayers who are too afraid of the scale of the Olympics to take them on. Translation: "Shut up, nerds. The Games are going to be awesome!"
The hard-to-refute fuzziness of concepts like "the world stage" and a city's "global profile" resonate with large segments of the public. They also drive nerds into a rage by giving them no data to refute. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that the two sides are talking past each other, appealing to their constituencies by speaking different languages.
We see this same jocks-vs.-nerds conflict play out every time a pro sports team threatens to skip town unless the taxpayers cough up money for a new stadium. The opposition to these arena grabs typically consists of good-government types who argue that the alleged economic impact of the new building is greatly inflated—and wouldn't that money be better spent on education? The jocks play to municipal pride and the desire for the beloved local team to stay in town. And usually, though not always, the stadium gets built.
I'm a fan of Caplan's Jock/Nerd theory of history and of progressive taxation.... In the long run, the nerds will win though.