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Policy Makers and Economic Analysis

2008 December 2
by Skip Sauer

The Bush administration has earned the reputation for ignoring policy advice from economists, for better or for worse. From the sound of this story, Bush’s crew have company across the pond, in England. In this case, the issue is whether there is an economic case for hosting the Olympics. Our own Stefan Szymanski can count himself among those whose studied opinion was solicited but ultimately ignored:

Ministers ignored evidence from their own experts who found scant social or economic justification for bidding for the 2012 Olympics, The Times has learnt.

A 250-page strategy document, signed off in December 2002 by Tony Blair as Prime Minister but selectively distributed, found little support for the claim that the Games would produce significant economic returns or more people playing sport.

The Game Plan document, whose findings are not widely known even in sport’s upper echelons, has emerged as Games chiefs meet today to agree funding cuts for Olympic sports such as basketball and hockey.

…Researched for nearly a year by ten experts, Game Plan was intended as a framework for sports policy for the next decade – in particular, whether Britain should bid for events such as the Olympics and the World Cup.

Instead it was quietly forgotten when it did not present a strong case for a bid. Civil servants watered down the findings but the final draft was still unhelpful to bid champions within the Government, an unnamed source told The Times.

“This was a robust report that showed why we should not bid for the Olympics but it was an inconvenient truth. Almost the moment the ink was dry, there was a volte-face,” said Stefan Szymanski, a professor at Cass Business School.

“The justification for bidding should have been based on evidence placed in the public domain. Instead key evidence was suppressed or ignored.”

The revelations raise the question of why ministers backed a bid citing reasons dismissed by their own experts.

Our politicians are disturbingly consistent on this point — ignoring the advice of the very experts whose opinions they solicit. What a strange old game!

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