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Big party and a quiet London town

Now that the likes of yours truly are back from holiday to a post-Olympic London, I have been reading about the number of people who noted how quiet London (outside the Games areas) has been. Tranquil streets, empty restaurants, that sort of thing. It appears that the authorities, such as Transport For London, did a “good” job, in a way, in putting the fear of God into the domestic populace. Janet Daley writes:

“What I had not anticipated was that the spectacularly effective campaign of advance warnings and threats to London’s travelling public would cause so much of its working population to abandon the capital. Thus the evacuation of traditionally depressive, harassed, exhausted Londoners made way for the arrival of a lot of rather sweet, smiley people who turned the city into a very jolly and, momentarily, carefree place.”

I am very pleased the event has gone off well. Not least because there were not (unless it has been kept secret) any major security problems at the Games. Lots of sportsmen and women had a grand old time, the capital looked pretty good to outsiders, etc.

The last two weeks does certainly prove that if certain organisations want to convince Londoners that they should get out, they will. Holding the Games in August also helped. And the terrible summer weather leading up to the Games also encouraged a lot of us to hit the airports and railway stations. I may have missed some of the buzz of Olympic London, but the lovely countryside and weather in Southwestern France more than compensated for it.

There is, of course, the matter of the cost of all this. To borrow from Frederic Bastiat, the French economics and legal writer, we can all see the benefits of shiny new stadiums, swimming pools and cycle tracks. That is seen. What is not seen are the things and services that will not be supplied or made due to the taxes and other charges imposed to make the Olympics happen. There are no photos of entrepreneurs whose business plans might be stillborn from such costs, for example. I doubt whether Lord Coe or other Olympic grandees gave much thought to the opportunity costs of such events, or cared. And the insights of Bastiat apply to other “eye-catching” projects: space flights, high speed rail, big aircraft carriers, etc.

Anyway, I am not going to rain on the parade of what appears to have been a successful event. But being the Adam Smith libertarian that I am, it would be remiss not to remind fans of big sporting jamborees that these things have a cost, and the costs will be borne by those quite different, sometimes, from the beneficiaries.

3 comments to Big party and a quiet London town

  • Dave Walker

    From what I know, I gather there really were no significant security incidents associated with the Olympics – something for which our Police, Armed Forces and Security Services deserve a vote of thanks.

    I agree that the wider view of a semi-deserted London is thought-provoking. As someone who occasionally (rather than daily) has to slog into the capital on overpriced and overcrowded trains – usually standing room only, at rush hour – and superheated tube lines, I can appreciate what a breath of fresh air (literally) it must be, for the regular commuters to gain maybe 4 hours of their day back, and spend them in surroundings not approximating Purgatory (or in the Tube’s case, Hell – you descend into the bowels of the Earth, and it gets unbelievably hot).

    As a result, and given the measures various London-based companies will have put in place to enable many of their staff to telecommute during the last couple of weeks, I can see there being loud objections raised by said staff, to going back to the status quo. It’s entirely possible that one of the outcomes of the Olympics will involve some businesses realising that they don’t actually need to be in London any more, and would be better off relocating to some other part of the country…

  • JSC

    I recall the Salt Lake Winter Games being much the same for the 1st week — the town was dead, save only in the 2 blocks designated specifically for the Olympic stuff — City Hall and the Gallivan Center. All the extra light rail trains they’d brought in weren’t needed, the existing cars were nearly empty, etc.

    People realized they’d been sold a bill of goods and turned out in the 2nd week, though. It was a fascinating transformation to watch. And even with the crowds the 2nd week, it still wasn’t bad to get around either.

  • Alisa

    Heh. Isn’t one of the main selling points of the Olympics that they bring customers to local businesses? What’s the point of that if the local businessmen are leaving in droves? They must be stopped – for their own good!