NYC Marathon Madness

by Benjamin Studebaker

The public has spoken, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has responded by cancelling the New York City Marathon amid a massive outcry. I, however, have a question, not merely for the mayor but for everyone whose reaction to the mayor’s previous announcement that the marathon would continue was one of visceral condemnation–why? What is the reason that the marathon needed to be cancelled? Who benefits from the cancellation? Not the runners, many of whom have spent a lot of money to come to the city only to find that the marathon has been cancelled. Not the New York economy, which takes in over $300 million each year as a result of the marathon. The people adversely effected by Hurricane Sandy, you say? How do they benefit? Everyone seems to assume that the cancellation is for the benefit of the victims, but I’m not seeing it. Don’t hang me just yet–I have reasons.

So, in an effort to understand all of the people who think it was clear and obvious that the marathon should have been cancelled, I looked around to see what their arguments were. On its Facebook page, The Week asked whether or not the decision to cancel the marathon was the right one. Here are the three most-liked answers to that question:

 He’s an idiot for not postponing it last Tuesday.

Yes, absolutely. It’s bad enough that half of Manhattan is carrying on as though nothing happened while everyone else sits in the cold & dark. The health & safety of residents takes priority over tourists. If those athletes still want a workout, they can help clear debris!

Absolutely. NYC needs to focus on its own. Priorities.

I see two possible threads here from which to extrapolate an argument:

  1. Priorities: Reconstruction should be prioritised over the marathon.
  2. Solidarity: People should not have fun while other people are miserable.

Let’s look at each claim.

The priorities argument rests on the fundamental assumption that New York is in a position of scarcity and cannot do both the marathon and reconstruction simultaneously without the effort to do the latter being detracted from. This assumption has been flatly denied by Bloomberg himself:

holding the race would not require diverting resources from the recovery effort

Unless Bloomberg is lying, the priorities claim can be dismissed. Bloomberg goes on to say that the reason he is cancelling the marathon is that there is a controversy over whether or not the marathon should be cancelled. In short, the race is being cancelled because a lot of people think it should be cancelled, but not because Bloomberg actually agrees with their argument, as we see here, again, from Bloomberg:

it is clear that it has become the source of controversy and division. The marathon has always brought our city together and inspired us with stories of courage and determination. We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it.

This amounts to an admission from Bloomberg that he caved to public pressure, as no other reason is given for the cancellation in his statement. From this we can conclude that Bloomberg is an unprincipled sycophant, but hey, what democratically elected politician isn’t? In any case, we still have to address the solidarity claim.

Historically, solidarity has been an effective protesting tool. If you’re in a restaurant and you see someone get tossed out for being black, and you decide to leave as well to demonstrate your solidarity with this person, it is politically effective in highlighting the injustice and demonstrating to the owner of the restaurant that his beliefs are harming his business. One recent example of political solidarity was the case of the chicken shop CEO who made homophobic statements–those who disagreed with his view boycotted his business in solidarity with the gay community’s sense of social persecution and condemnation, and those who agreed deliberately ate at his restaurant to compensate for the former group. In both of these cases, some people willingly submit to suffering in order to make a point of some kind–when you leave the restaurant or refuse to visit, you deny yourself the pleasure of that food.

However, in this case, there is no political statement to be made from the solidarity, no real gain of any kind. The runners and the businesses will miss out on a chance to be happy and make money and for what? So the disaster victims don’t have to know that there are other people out there in the world having a good time and making money while they suffer? By that logic, we shouldn’t have any fun while people are being blown to bits in Syria, starving to death in Ethiopia, of suffering any of the other myriad horrible tragedies that occur daily all over the world. How is this different? The fact that the victims are geographically closer to the fun and money? There are over 45,000 homeless people in New York City, but you don’t see New Yorkers putting life on hold for them.

Not only that, but the marathon brings in over $340 million into the New York economy. Is the economic recovery so strong and the unemployment rate so low that we can just throw away $340 million in economic stimulus because it might offend people who have somehow deduced from the expression “misery loves company” that misery demands and deserves it?

Thankfully, I’m not the only one who has noticed. One of the comments on that Facebook post from The Week pointed out that New York could really use the money, and as a result he was accused of being “a republican”. So now apparently having concern for the economy and for the Keynesian economic principle of stimulus makes someone a republican? Recognising that money has value and can help people is not a republican thing, it is a rational thing. Even Marxists recognise that money matters–why else would they insist upon its equal distribution? The reaction to this hurricane has been irrational and it has needlessly harmed people and businesses for no reason.

Should the city perhaps have offered to donate the economic proceeds to disaster relief? Perhaps that would have been a feel good answer all around, but unfortunately it’s too late now. The marathon has been cancelled, and everyone gets to suffer together. Just another day in a democracy…