Category Archives: Events and Conventions

Hear Me Talk About Government-Granted Privilege

Date: This Thursday, September 27.

Time: 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM

Location: Lehrman Auditorium, Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Ave, NE, Washington DC, 20002-4999

You can register for the event here (if you can’t be there in person, you may watch on line).

My thanks to the Heritage Foundation and to Ambassador Terry Miller, in particular. It should be a fun discussion.

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Update: A previous version of this post erroneously said that the event was at 12:00 rather than at 11:00.

Last Day to Apply for a FEE Seminar

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Foundation for Economic Education’s college seminar series. And today marks your last chance to apply!

Every year, FEE brings together bright students eager to learn about and debate economics, philosophy, history and public policy. FEE’s line-up this summer includes four seminars in Atlanta and one in Irvington, New York. The topics include Austrian Economics, History, Current Events, Communicating Liberty, and Advanced Austrian Economics.

I’ll be giving two talks at the Current Events seminar June 18-23 in Atlanta. I’m especially excited to learn from the fellow faculty, including Lawrence Reed, Melissa Yeoh, Sandy Ikeda, Doug Bandow, Sheldon Richman, and Jerry Dwyer (from whom I hope to learn about learning about sailing).

Debt Debate at Cato

This Thursday at 6:30 PM at the Cato Institute, I’ll be discussing the national debt and its impact on the “millennial generation.”  My
co-discussants are Megan McArdle of the Atlantic and Matt Yglesias of the Center for American ProgressDan Mitchell of Cato will moderate.

It should be a fun discussion and I plan to learn a great deal from the others.  Here is the teaser from Cato:

How will mounting deficits impact today’s young people in the years to come? Some argue that government spending is necessary to ensure the future by providing school loans, unemployment insurance, infrastructure investments, and other social provisions. Others hold that government spending cripples the future due to massive welfare commitments, misaligned economic incentives, and polluted market signals.

Here is the address:

The Cato Institute
1000 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001

If you can’t make it in person, you can watch it on line.  Did I mention it was non-priced?

Local Governments Taxing Online Travel Services?

A new study from the Tax Foundation looks at how local governments are attempting to change the way they calculate hotel occupancy taxes, from the amount paid to the hotel to the amount paid by the consumer to online travel services like Expedia and Priceline:

Local governments’ efforts to collect discriminatory taxes from online travel services amount to a revenue grab from out-of-staters and ultimately harm interstate commerce, according to a new Tax Foundation report.

City officials in 22 states have, with limited success, sought to reinterpret hotel occupancy taxes to apply to amounts paid by consumers for online travel booking services (such as Expedia, Orbitz and Priceline).

“Hotel taxes are attractive to local politicians because they are a way to shift the tax burden to ‘outsiders,'” said Joseph Henchman, the Tax Foundation’s Tax Counsel and Director of State Projects, who authored the report. “But because every U.S. city has a hotel tax, we’re all somebody else’s ‘outsider.’ And that means everyone is paying high hotel taxes everywhere.” Continue reading

Summer Games: The New Economic Stimulus?

The Chicago Tribune reports that Mayor Daley and the City Council have given unanimous support to fund any expense overruns should Chicago win its bid to host the 2016 Olympic games. This decision gives the city a fighting chance to be selected to host the games, keeping it in the running with Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, and Tokyo, all of which have secured similar financial guarantees.

Afterward, aldermen and Mayor Richard Daley gave themselves a standing ovation. The vote reauthorizes Daley to sign the Olympics host city contract in advance of the Oct. 2 vote in Copenhagen by the International Olympics Committee on which of four finalist cities gets the Summer Games in seven years.

This decision by the city’s leadership may not represent the desires of Chicago citizens who, a Tribune poll shows, have dwindling support for the city to host the games, largely because of concerns about taxpayer liability.

After the vote, many of the aldermen gave quotes to the press:

Ald. Ray Suarez (31st) said he initially “had some reservations.” But Suarez said he now feels the Olympics would bring jobs, housing and a new global reputation to Chicago.

“It will make Chicago a world-class city,” he said.

Of course, Chicago residents and leaders may have many reasons for wanting to host the 2016 Games, but it is uncertain that the event would be an economic boon to the city.  A study conducted to analyze the potential economic effects of the 2012 London Olympics found that historically while some host cities have benefited economically, others have suffered losses as tax dollars used to fund the games are not always recouped during the course of the event.

Adam Blake of the University of Nottingham Business School found that the event was likely to benefit London in 2012 and that increased growth is likely to last until 2016, but that in the years before and after this bracket the results are less certain.

Short-lived, costly events such as the Olympics often result in the construction of facilities that will have limited use after the games are over.  For example, the Bird’s Nest that became symbolic of the 2008 Beijing Olympics is today underutilized, making revenue today only from tourists who wish to see where the athletes competed.

A USA Today reporter speculates:

In other countries, the Bird’s Nest might be revealed as a white elephant — an expensive possession with little commercial value. But in China, the government and state-controlled media are unlikely to advertise the fact and citizens will never know the real cost.

Ex ante, we do not know if the 2016 games would benefit or harm Chicago in the long run, but looking to past cases gives reason to question whether or not host cities benefit in the long run.  Perhaps a more reliable policy to promote economic growth and tourism in the city would be to lower its notoriously high taxes. The Economist recently found that Chicago has the greatest tax burden for tourists of any American city.  The cities’ leadership would be wise to consider how this tax climate would impact potential visitors’ decisions to attend the games before speculating that increased tourism would certainly benefit residents.

Xanadu Doomed, or just Delayed?

XanaduThis year was to mark the year that Xanadu, a 2 million square foot entertainment/shopping complex, was to open in the New Jersey Meadowlands. Promising an indoor ski slope, tunnel-diving, movie complex, and warehouse-sized shops, the project has few cheerleaders.

Bergen county residents call it “structural graffitti” with its proposed Pepsi Globe Ferris wheel blocking the Manhattan skyline.  Senate President Richard Codey says it’s “yucky-looking,” and the FAA wonders if the Ferris wheel will interfere with air traffic control.

Then there’s the timing: a Disney-meets-Vegas inspired retail center in the midst of a recession?

What’s worrying however is that it won’t matter. “The largest retail and entertainment complex in the United States” partially owes its existence to subsidies, bonds, and taxpayer-financed site remediation.  Can taxpayer life-support be far behind?

Xanadu is a hybrid: last decade’s euphoric consumerism kept alive by misplaced government bets.

The vision belongs to partially to the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, a state agency that oversees New Jersey’s tracks and stadiums. The Meadowlands has been a government target for economic redevelopment for decades. Xanadu is the most recent attempt to fill unused parking lots next to the stadium. The vision also belonged to a real estate developer, the Mills Corporation, which has since backed out.

While not directly subsidized,the $2 billion center is being built on state-owned land, and nearly $80 million is being spent on transportation. Site remediation has cost $2 million. The NJSEA received a $160 million 15-year lease from the private developer Xanadu Meadowlands.

Today, the main players are in financial difficulties. Real Capital Analytics put the project on its “Troubled Assets List.” The NJSEA is in the red. Years of using surplus track betting revenues to finance stadiums, convention centers, and the authority’s penchant for issuing bonds have come to a screeching halt.

Now scheduled to open some time next summer, as Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club notes, “We’ve given millions in incentives, tax breaks and transportation on a project that was pushed through because of political connections — not because we needed it.”

Consumer preferences will reveal how much it is loved or loathed next summer, in theory. Unless the state decides it is “too big to fail.”

Here’s a report from the Star-Ledger on Xanadu:

Ledger Live: Meadowlands Xanadu – A boon or boondoggle?

Point Pleasant Beach to Mayor: “No New Taxes, or Police Furloughs.”

Residents in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey have resorted to a seldom-used method to protest their mayor’s proposal to raise taxes: they want him recalled from office. The recall petition containing 1,250 signatures was approved this week, giving Mayor Vincent Barella until July 22 to mount a challenge to the motion being placed on the ballot in November.

point-pleasant-beachThe movement to recall Mayor Barella began in the fall, after he asked the state government permission to levy local special options taxes on beach badges, paid parking lots, and alcohol — and more controversially, proposed parking fees on all neighborhood streets — to meet the $11.5 $1.5 million gap in the borough’s budget.

Republican state representatives don’t  like the idea. “We don’t support raising taxes, and [Barrella] doesn’t accept that response,” said state Sen. Andrew R. Ciesla (R-Ocean), referring to the all-Republican northern Ocean County delegation to the legislature. “He believes that it is appropriate to raise taxes in order to cure the financial ills of the borough on the backs of nonresidents and residents alike.”

And the Mayor’s Democratic rivals who initiated the petition also disapprove, claiming he has other options. Said one petitioner, “We have eight too many cops…. Manasquan has 6,500 people with 18 cops. We have 26 cops for 5,300 people.”

Residents’ motives seem clear — “No New Taxes!” — but the solutions aren’t as easy. Continue reading

The Super Bowl as Economic Remedy

It seems obvious that when a city is chosen to host a major event — political convention, Super Bowl, Olympics — this provides a natural economic boost to the city’s economy. If any city is deserving of such a boost it is New Orleans, which will be hosting the 2013 Super Bowl for the first time since Hurricane Katrina. (It will be the 10th time the city has been the site of the championship.)

And like many governments that find themselves chosen for a major sporting event, the Louisiana legislature is deciding if it should spend $85 million in Superdome upgrades. However, the boost is largely symbolic: while New Orleanians may feel a sense of pride over the selection, and the stadium will get another make over, economic gains are very likely to be fleeting and possibly negative.

Much academic work has been done assessing the impact of sporting events on regional economies. The findings generally show little lasting impact on host cities. Robert Baade finds the primary beneficiaries of taxpayer subsidies for stadiums are team owners, and players, not local residents.

That has not stopped cities from competing for the honor. 

University of Maryland economist Dennis Coates, writing in The American, finds since 1990 Major League Baseball has opened 19 new stadiums, the NFL opened 17, and the NBA over 20. These projects are highly subsidized on the federal, state and local levels, with the public bearing as much as 63 percent of the cost.  Coates and fellow economist Brad Humphreys find in an analysis of  of wages between 1969 and the 1990s in metro areas where these stadiums reside is that incomes actually decreased.

Why? Consumer spending on sports replaces consumption of other kinds of entertainment, and the spending patrons undertake has a relatively small multiplier effect in real the local economy. Athletes get the income boost. And to top it off, increased local subsidies to the franchise redirect tax revenues from other use, making the local economy less efficient.

While local and state governments might like to think otherwise, being chosen as a host city may be as much an economic drain as a publicity boon.

Do Inaugurations boost the D.C. Economy?

According to a recent working paper, there is no noticeable impact of presidential inaugurations on the DC economy.

Why? Explanations include the substitution effect: people spending in the DC economy are just shifting their consumption from someplace else.  And “crowding out”: lots of visitors to a city mean other events and activities don’t take place (e.g., others decide to avoid the city due to crowding and traffic congestion).

The authors cite other mega-events – political conventions, the Olympics  – as also generating less economic impact than anticipated. This makes me wonder if the competition to host mega-events is a cousin of the edifice complex.  Host it, and they will stay.