“Then Harvey said yes Leningrad was wonderful, and how it was called the Venice of the North on account of how wonderful it was. The man at the other end said yes, and how did Mr. Dempsey like it, and I said it was wonderful but I hadn’t ever heard anyone call Venice the Leningrad of the South, and then there was a silence.”
The above quote comes from Billion-Dollar Brain, the fourth (and my favorite) of Len Deighton’s “Spy With No Name” novels. I think of it a lot, especially whenever the Boston Globe prattles on about how some absurd scheme will turn this region into “the next Silicon Valley” or elevate this benighted collection of shanties and hovels into a truly World Class City.
I would like to point out that I don’t actually read the Boston Globe. My wife buys the Sunday edition of that exercise in journalistic death spirals for the inserts and sales announcements. Over the course of the week following that, I strip off the unread sections so that my dog has a picture of Donald Trump or Charlie Baker to piss on while I’m off at work. On rare occasions, a article will catch my eye long enough to make me wonder if my actions constitute a form of animal cruelty.
For all of its unabashed boosterism, it’s clear that the Globe has no idea what being a World Class City actually entails. A true World Class City doesn’t constantly angst about that status, but wears it with a confidence bordering on arrogance. It is, after all, a center of the civilized universe. They may jostle among themselves for the titles of “global financial capital” or “cultural capital of the world,” but those are just battles of perception involving pre-existing assets.
They certainly don’t need Harold Hill’s great-great-grandkid with a urban planning degree rolling in to collect a fat consultancy fee for suggesting that an Olympic stadium/casino/Formula 1 race event will cure all economic ills and deep-seated feelings of inadequacy. It’s bad enough when a modestly well-off burg like Boston sips of that snake oil, but it’s even more painful when those pipe dreams are peddled to some stagnant Rust Belt town desperate for an economic quick fix.
Places that struggle to pay for basic infrastructure and public sector staffing will eagerly dig themselves into a public debt hole to build all manner of honey pots to attract the oh-so-coveted Young Entrepreneur Class (which is to say, a bunch of mostly doomed dreamers buoyed up by rafts of venture capital).
Is Boston any better because local leaders promised General Electric the moon, stars, and firstborn children to relocate a couple of hundred jobs here? Not as far as I can tell, though the revenue sacrificed through those appalling tax incentives would’ve been put to better use in fixing roads, improving public transportation, and funding education programs. The same goes to the tax credits generously doled out to film and TV productions — who in turn auction them off to huge corporations seeking to dodge paying their rightful due — for the sake of “prestige” and enabling some state rep to snap a selfie with Clint Eastwood.
But, hey, I can sit in traffic for an hour and nearly bust an axle on a pothole so I can “ooh” and “ahh” at a shot of the Tobin Bridge on big screen. Well, providing I have enough money to pay for a ticket after the Governor refuses to honor the terms of my union’s contract.