I’ve blamed stadium subsidies for a lot of ills over the years, but never the destruction of an entire nation’s historical heritage. And yet here we are:
In the midst of an economic downturn, officials had drastically slashed the museum’s funding, reducing the budget to just 10 percent of what it was in 2013. A private association resorted to crowdfunding maintenance projects, including the restoration of a termite-infested dinosaur display. Meanwhile, fire-retardant systems and nearby hydrants lay neglected.
And yet, over the same period, the Brazilian government spent billions in preparation for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics. The delays, pollution, and corruption that plagued the country’s preparation for the events were widely publicized. Six of the 12 stadiums constructed for the World Cup later faced investigation for financial irregularities and bribery.
No, there’s no direct connection between the billions of dollars Brazil spent on the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Rio Olympics and the fire that destroyed the country’s National Museum, leaving only photographs as a reminder of what was lost. (And this wasn’t the first Brazilian museum to burn down in recent years.) People can (and I’m sure will) argue that if Brazil hadn’t wasted its money on sports, it would have wasted it on something else other than sprinkler systems.
But much like with that bumper sticker about bombers and bake sales, it’s tough to ignore massive spending on something stupid and wasteful when basic needs are going unmet. As the writers of the above-linked article in The Bridge conclude, every spending decision is a tradeoff, and “just because some public spending is uninteresting doesn’t mean it’s not critical.”