Fifty billion dollars is a lot of money. It represents close to half the budget of the State of Israel for the current fiscal year. It also represents the amount the Russian government is spending to host the Winter Olympics.
In the case of Israel, the money is used for education, health care, research and development, arts and culture, welfare, defence and a host of other activities. In the case of the Olympics, the money is being spent on unfinished hotels, shared washrooms, banning political protest, dangerous ski slopes, killing dogs, displacing locals, enriching corrupt officials and President Vladimir Putin’s legacy.
The pawns in all this are the athletes, most of whom are far removed from the politics of the Olympics and are focused on competing in the sports they love best.
These games will be the most expensive yet, a full $7 billion or so more than China spent to host the 2008 Olympics. Is anyone surprised that these countries – defenders of the governments of Iran and Syria and with millions of people living in primitive conditions – have so much spare money for sports extravaganzas?
While the Olympics may be at the top of the wasted money heap, many others are trying hard to compete. For what purpose is the City of Toronto spending $2.5 billon to host the Pan Am Games? Surely not to provide Torontonians with the services they need most.
Our society deserves a gold medal for its ability to separate the moral from the legal. Hundreds of millions celebrated what I can only describe as a secular yom tov on Super Bowl Sunday (what a lousy game!), observing the many “rituals” that accompany the game. This in a league that agreed to pay close to $1 billion to former players suffering from the effects of legalized assault. I lost interest in hockey years ago when enforcers became crucial to teams’ success – ironically it’s only Olympic hockey, with its ban on fighting and focus on skill, that piques my interest.
Of course “legalized corruption” is all around us. It takes great talent and effort to spend $45,000 to attend a funeral. But somehow the premier of Alberta managed to find such a fare – all so she could get home a few hours early. Too many business “leaders” collect huge bonuses for their ability to stay within the law, even as they prey on the naive.
These are not new problems, and I would even argue that society today, at least in the west, is much less corrupt than in pre-democratic times. There is, at least in theory, equality before the law, and no one is above the law. The economic success of the west, to a large degree, is a result of the ability to trust others to be honest.
Other than continuing to stress the importance of living a life where proper ethics is our highest value, I’m not sure what the proper response should be. But there is a lot that can be done with $50 billion. Just ask Warren Buffet, who has pledged to give away more than $50 billion to charity. His gold medal shines the brightest.
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