Thursday, December 21, 2006

Corporations are Bad, but Dynamic Capitalism is Good (?)

I watched part of a rather odd, but interesting, documentary on Las Vegas tonight on PBS: Las Vegas: An Unconventional History. The odd thing about what I saw (and, again, I only saw part of it) was that it wrapped-up its discussion of the days when the Mob ruled Vegas as glory years when "a man's word was kept" and the workers were taken care of, and people were more interested in service than making a buck. When the Mob's influence declined and died the corporations came in and brought a lust for profits, a heartless attitude toward the unionized workforce, and drove down quality in the sake of the bottom line. They had interviews of people saying things like, "Well, at least the Mod treated their employees well" and the like.

This in itself was pretty comical, given that the Mob used intimidation, extortion, and violence to make sure "everyone was having a good time" instead of returning profits for shareholders (horror of horrors that an industry based on wagering cash care about money). The show then took a wacky turn, however, when it discussed the "rebirth" of Vegas in the late 1980's and '90's when hotels like the Mirage opened and transformed the experience visitors to Vegas looked for. Instead of merely selling gambling, entrepreneurs like Steve Wynn marketed spectacle and extravagance with gambling being only one component of the wild thrill time visitors to Vegas (including this blogger) can now partake in. This included volcanoes, white tiger shows, Blue Men, and the like. The documentary played up this dynamic component of Vegas, giving the impression that it was something that the City should be proud of.

This was mere minutes of documentary time after the show reviled "corporations" from coming into the City and making it boring, destroying the "community" the Mob had nurtured since the days of Bugsy Siegel. What do they think people like Steve Wynn are running? Worker-run gambling co-ops? Do they not believe that Steve Wynn seeks to make a profit? The disconnect in the documentarians' minds was remarkable: there are businessmen doing dynamic and innovate things in Las Vegas, but that is surprising because it looked like the corporations (who, of course, are the same businessmen) were going to run Las Vegas into the ground.

I can never get over how some people cannot reconcile the maximization of profits with the secondary creative effects that grow out of that maximization. It's not like they haven't had a chance to read Adam Smith these last 230 years. It's the intentions over effects mindset all over again. This documentary was just extraodinarily blind in placing the disdain for the intent to profit right next to the effects that intent creates without realizing that one led to the other.

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