Listen to the banter of some people, or read a few Facebook memes, and you’ll notice that some people are held to a much higher standard than others. While the rich are often celebrated for their excesses, the poor are chided for any perceived lapses in judgement which might lead to them to enjoying inappropriately excessive pleasures. The classic example is the disgust over some purchase of a luxury food, like shrimp or lobster, by someone using a government benefits card. Obviously someone is allowed to buy shrimp and lobster, just not “them”.
Struggling cities are treated in a very similar fashion. Despite being the engines upon which a local economy runs the drumbeat of criticism is relentless. In a recent article in the “Republican” any reader could have noticed that despite an unemployment rate which is slightly higher than some surrounding communities Springfield provides not only more workers to the local work force than any other city or town, but more workers than any other city or town has people. Add to that the fact that most of the region’s major employers in both the public and private sector are located within the city and you see that it is the city’s productivity which pays the lion’s share for everything in the region.
That economic productivity is then laundered in suburban bedroom communities by virtue of the wages earned by biggest takers from the city’s most successful enterprises making residence there instead of within Springfield’s borders. This leads to the perception that it is the city which lives off the largesse of the greater community with state funds, mostly from income taxes from incomes earned in the cities, being used to “prop up” the Springfield education budget for example. One look at the math in the Strongtowns concept of thesuburban Ponzi scheme however, and the reality is that traditionally designed sections of all the region’s cities create the excess off of which the ironically perceived “wealthier communities” exist.
With all of that in mind I turn to the casino issue, but not just the general idea of having a casino, but the way in which some of the losers in the political tug-of-war have responded. Of all the Springfield residents in my acquaintance the most virulently anti casino was a woman who I came to know through the friendship of our daughters. She is deeply religious, though part of a liberal tradition, and had always expressed a great love of community. She and her family lived in a very poor part of the city, her children attended public schools.
At one point in the casino debate she posted on social media that she would leave the city if the casino were built here and last week I saw that she and her whole family were carrying through on that promise. Moving to Connecticut of all places…which is where one goes if one wants to make a stand against the evils of gambling.
Another more recent acquaintance is a neighborhood resident, also a liberal religionist. As our conversation about the community developed it turned to the topic of MGM; as it would less than a block from a nearly 1 billion dollar development. He told me about an extensive article he was preparing for publication “somewhere” on how the casino will destroy the community. I stated in no uncertain terms that I understood his point of view and that, from a macroeconomic perspective, casinos are obviously not net generators of wealth for a community, but by the same token, every non-local corporate enterprise from Wal-mart to McDonalds exists to siphon wealth from local communities: it is the business model. The question with the MGM development is will it provide a platform for the city to leverage the investment in the casino to revitalize its immensely underutilized infrastructure and overall potential?
He was having none of it. I stated several times that I understood and respected his position and that, of course, if he really believes that the effort will fail then that’s really all that can be said but I also asked him if he would work to try to make the effort at revitalization successful. I made clear that I wasn’t talking about making the casino floor a “success”, but rather making the effort to use the development to revitalize the community a success. He froze. He froze like a deer in the headlights. He froze like religious people do after an atheist admits that there could be a god but asks them if they could admit that there might NOT be one.
And that in my opinion is not a coincidence. This “I’m gonna take my ball and go home” attitude is one that I’ve come to expect. Instead of working to ensure that whatever decision is made ends up being the right one like anyone who really cares about their community would do, they subordinate the actual people of their community to the code of morality of their invisible (mute) sky daddy. They can’t look at the situation on the ground, see that it is in need of improvement and deign to admit that the greater good might just be served by putting their preconceptions to the test.
If what we’re doing isn’t working, let’s change it. Maybe drug proscription, the criminalization of prostitution, and yes, limits on casino gaming aren’t part of the solution here. I don’t know if these things are harming the community, but I know we’ve been fighting wars on drugs and sex in this community for a while and it doesn’t seem to be helping and plenty of people can come up with a viable argument for just why that might be.
On the MGM front, I will be the first one to admit, I may have BEEN the first one to admit that the casino might make things worse. But the design of the MGM plan actually does potentially create exactly the environment the city needs to energize itself in a great many ways. It IS what we are doing, let’s say we all get behind it at this point and look for ways to make it work, instead of focusing on being right while the city continues to founder and fail?