Upon hearing about Chicago’s failure to secure the 2016 Olympics, a young friend asked if the Olympics would have been profitable. I said that they would have cost billions of taxpayer dollars and that Greece spent over $1 billion on security alone for the post-9/11 Athens contest (even the very successful pre-9/11 Sydney Olympics 2000 punched a $2 billion hole in Australians’ collective pocket (source)). There was no way to recover that in ticket sales, television rights, or temporary boosts to the economy. My friend then asked if the Olympics were guaranteed to lose money, how come any city would bid on them? My response was that bidding for the Olympics highlights the conflict between rulers and subjects, or “politicians” and “taxpayers” as we might refer to these groups in the U.S. The mayor of a U.S. city wants to get the Olympics so that he or she can be in the national and international spotlight for a few months, which might result in being able to obtain a more powerful job. The mayor has the ability to spend taxpayers’ money, and borrow billions more on their behalf through construction bonds, for personal advancement. The taxpayers would have a tough time organizing to stop the commitment to an Olympics.
The taxpayers of Chicago dodged a bullet this time, though no thanks to any of the politicians who supposedly represent their interests. If we assume a modest amount of inflation since the 2000 Olympics, a reasonable dose of Illinois corruption, most of the work being done by mob-controlled unions, and the American systems of dealing with vague security threats, it seems reasonable to assume that the Olympics would have cost at least $5 billion. That would be enough to finance a great engineering college, an online university serving tens of thousands of students, an electric car manufacturer, a bunch of high-tech businesses, a free wireless Internet covering the entire city, and still have a lot left over. Unless taxpayer dollars were truly unlimited, could anyone minding the long-term best interests of citizens choose to spend that money on a two-week spectacle?