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What Some Call “Anti-Science” Is Just Anti-Authoritarianism

What Some Call "Anti-Science" Is Just Anti-Authoritarianism

Authored by Alex Washburne via The Brownstone Institute,

Sometimes it feels…



What Some Call "Anti-Science" Is Just Anti-Authoritarianism

Authored by Alex Washburne via The Brownstone Institute,

Sometimes it feels as if we’re living in a dizzying house of narrative mirrors and anyone sincerely interested in walking the true path through the world risks being unable to see the true path as they get trapped in our horrific hall of insincere reflections.

The truth of any given matter, the objective facts and consilient theories, seems to matter less than the ability of an idea or narrative to reflect back to people what they wish to see. Our marketplace of ideas incentivizes manufacturing narrative mirrors that provide epistemological narcissists an opportunity to view themselves in a favorable light and secure a foothold in media outlets that have devolved from curators of our frontal lobe to antagonists of our amygdala.

Speaking of epistemological narcissists and narrative mirrors, let’s talk about Peter Hotez and his narrative of a growing “Anti-Science” movement.

Peter Hotez self-identifies as a scientist and appears to spend most of his time running around predominately liberal media outlets, using his stature as “The Scientist” to misrepresent, demean, and cry “disinformation” on information, worldviews, and even scientific theories that differ from his own. Any scientist who disagrees with Dr. Hotez and his outrageous, inhuman, insensitive, and irrational proclamations is blocked and ridiculed. While truth may bounce off Hotez like bullets off of Thanos, it appears our disagreements have successfully penetrated the armor of Dr. Hotez’s ego and a new ego-defense is materializing. 

Now, Dr. Hotez claims that there is “an Anti-Science movement,” a cultural and political boogeyman that is out to undermine science and target scientists. I have little doubt he would love to snap his fingers and make what he views as “Anti-Science” people, beliefs, and institutions disappear in an act of anti-heroic benevolence for the world.

The whole notion of “Anti-Science,” however, is a narrative. It is not a physical object like “anti-matter” or “antigen” nor is it a process like “antibody maturation” nor an objective and diagnosable clinical condition like “antisocial personality disorder.” “Anti-Science” is nothing but an attempt to name a thing that Hotez sees, but he views our political world from a far-off silo and lives in a hall of mirrors of his own design. As a consequence of Hotez’ distance from the people and patterns he’s labeling “Anti-Science,” the thing he sees is not a thing that exists in our shared, objective universe.

To understand what Hotez sees, why he sees it, and why it’s not a thing in our universe, we have to provide, to the best of our ability, a minimal and objective set of historical facts that can reproduce what he sees. I hypothesize one can synthesize Hotez’ toxic worldview by following the 7-step recipe below:

  1. History of Scientists-Being-Right: Have serious scientific issues over which there is a legitimate consensus, like climate change or evolution, become politically divisive flashpoints.
  2. Socially and Politically Siloed Scientists: Slowly, imperceptibly, increase the political biases of the composition of scientists while having scientists spend more and more time in their social circle.
  3. A Scientific Emergency: Introduce an emergency that requires scientific interpretations to decide effective public policy (COVID-19 pandemic), resulting in an unprecedented surge in the political power and influence of scientists.
  4. Scientists with State Power: Have some scientists in unelected positions of power (e.g. Fauci and Collins) use the power of the State to silence critics and preferentially amplify the theories, papers, and implied policies they prefer.
  5. Uncritical Media: Have media with a long mutualistic history of using scientists to certify narratives and manufacture consent in exchange for providing scientists expanded narrative reach, and, through a mix of market forces and established social norms, have these media “trust the experts” and give them relatively uncritical coverage. 
  6. History of Disinformation: Record a true history of disinformation, especially concerning scientific issues like oil and gas companies sowing doubt about climate change (while privately acknowledging it’s true).
  7. Diversity of Belief and Freedom of Speech: Have all of the above occur in a society that safeguards civil liberties, allowing people to speak up, criticize those in power, and advocate for their own position in public fora.

If these seven criteria are met, I believe someone like Peter Hotez will be a nearly inevitable social consequence. The simple explanation is that the criteria above polarized scientists (1) without them knowing they are polarized (2), gave them an opportunity (3) to exercise somewhat unchecked State power (4), and gave them media power (5) to suppress dissent by calling it “disinformation” (6).

The first six steps of this recipe create an authoritarian ethos in scientists – Trust the Science, Follow the Science – and compel them to act on these politically ethnocentric and authoritarian impulses with few checks and balances except for popular discontent. Inevitably, the siloed and politically biased composition of scientists will result in policies that sow massive discontent (lockdowns, mask mandates, vaccine mandates). When we add the 7th ingredient of the recipe, people exposed to an authoritarian bunch of scientists brushing aside their humanity, their political rights, and their distinct value systems will express their discontent. The people expressing discontent will correctly identify the scientists as the people and groups of scientists as the syndicate that corrupted the public policy process through unfair, undemocratic, and intolerant tactics, and the people will speak their minds at these scientists – like Hotez – in public fora.

Scientific authoritarianism is not many Americans’ cup of tea.

The Hotez’s will need to be fermented in this social and media concoction of authoritarianism within grasp hindered by legitimate public criticism for some time. Eventually, they will need a narrative to brush away that public resistance so they will create an ego-defensive narrative that positions them as heroes, Scientists as Saviors (scientific saviorism). Hotez and others have somewhat of a manic pixie dream scientist view of themselves – the scientists who are apolitical heroes of infinite cultural latitude exist only in their imaginations to serve their fantasies of grandiosity and benevolence. They sincerely believe that if science says X is effective at reducing one disease then all of society ought to Follow the Science to adopt X, mandate X, do whatever it takes to make X ubiquitous and thank scientists for X. Of course, the tricky thing about society is that it is comprised of humans, a vast anthropological mosaic of beliefs and value systems, and there are other beliefs and value systems that believe we ought to do Y.

Science has become a central pillar of the Saviors’ self-identity and so they don’t distinguish between science (the objective and often messy process of fairly evaluating many competing ideas) and the authoritarian actions of scientists. As the Toxic Hotez nears completion from cooking in a vat of legitimate public criticism for their scientific ethnocentrism, they will conceive a global conspiracy targeting science and scientists, a monstrous “Anti-Science” that demands even more power and legal protection of scientists, even stronger measures to police disinformation. As they look at the restored image of Scientists as Saviors in this narrative mirror, they will descend even further into madness.

Indeed, it is madness because what Hotez views as “Anti-Science” does not exist, it is not a good reflection of reality but rather a story told from pride and ego-defense. Hotez, a set of scientists closely connected with the heads of the NIH, NIAID, and other global health science funders (none of them democratically elected), and even the funders themselves ate the forbidden fruit of authoritarianism. Many before Hotez have tasted authoritarianism, and the results are predictable. The Scientists who grabbed the reigns of society during the pandemic and steered it with insensitive ambition are experiencing not a novel monstrosity but an age-old and dignified human response called “Anti-Authoritarianism.”

Some – not all – scientists acted like authoritarians during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some – not all – scientists rallied around models from the most powerful and well-funded scientific groups at the start of the pandemic, even if their models were clearly wrong. When some scientists like John Ioannidis spoke up about the shortcomings of models that were guiding policy, the politically siloed scientists reacted with vitriol and social power that could crush careers in scientific institutions. The informal social control of scientists suppressed diverse views and resulted in science not shared.

So some – not all – scientists became very vocal in advocating for lockdowns despite the policy being inhumane and a clear violation of civil liberties, such as when fellow scientists Jay Bhattacharya, Martin Kulldorff, and Sunetra Gupta wrote the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD) arguing that lockdowns were likely to cause harm and that all-cause mortality and morbidity could be reduced by focusing our protection and helping those with high risk of severe outcomes receive the best preventative support and treatment we could muster. The GBD was an alternative policy proposal that was also grounded in science and it differed in its moral calculus and focus on all-cause mortality. The GBD was assisted by a group whose beliefs aligned with the policies and ideas therein – the American Institute for Economic Research. That group was said to be a libertarian think tank.

There was just two problems with the Great Barrington Declaration: it was supposedly aligned with a group whose political preferences are anathema to many liberal scientists and it conflicted with the policies preferred by major science funders. A difference of political opinion also grounded in science and reason shouldn’t be that big of a deal, but for some reason it was. Major science funders, most of all the head of NIAID Dr. Anthony Fauci and the head of NIH Francis Collins, strongly believed that a better policy was to contain the virus – not mitigate its impacts – and hold off infections until vaccines arrived. The cost-benefit analysis of Fauci et al. differed from the GBD in that it prioritized only COVID mortality; costs were ignored and benefits assumed. Science, however, can’t decide which policy is better. The choice of what we ought to do is a problem as old as humanity, it is ethics and politics, religion, and morality. Thankfully, that’s why our system of government has a constitution and system of laws that provide us procedures for choosing policies even when equally good people disagree.

Constitutions and procedures be damned.

Drs. Fauci and Collins, both unelected and consequently not able to be unseated in an election, demanded a “devastating take-down” of the Great Barrington Declaration. They used their positions of immense scientific power to prod and poke and goad scientists who depend on Fauci and Collins for funding into action, generating a flurry of articles and media appearances calling the Great Barrington Declaration “fringe” and thereby imposing even stronger informal social control on scientists than that displayed during Ioannidis’ chapter of this saga. If you agreed with the GBD, you too were considered “fringe,” you were considered a “far-right Trump-supporting Libertarian.” That shouldn’t be a dis-qualifier in a sane scientific society, but such an accusation carries significant career costs in our politically siloed body of scientists.

The anti-GBD rhetoric among some scientists with close ties to Fauci and Collins has continued to this day.

After lockdowns, there were mask mandates and vaccine mandates. If you spoke up against vaccine mandates, whether your reasoning was scientific, religious, or political-philosophical, many scientists believed your speech should be labelled “disinformation.” Scientists, with the immense narrative power granted to them during this emergency, succeeded in labelling a great deal of information as “disinformation,” including scientific information such as early findings that immunity to COVID – including vaccine-induced immunity – may wane.

So some – not all – scientists did indeed fight too hard in our democratic society and their insensitive need to have everything their way risked tearing the delicate fabric of our society. They tried to force policies on people that conflicted with people’s beliefs, values, or even constitutional rights. Many people are predictably not happy about that. People spoke up and advocated for their beliefs as they are free to do in our society.

Some scientists tried to push back harder by saying that masks, lockdowns, vaccine mandates, and school closures were what The Science demanded. People, including many scientists like myself, then focused their criticism at this small band of authoritarians calling themselves The Science and interfering with our country’s representative and more inclusive policy process.

As people revolted to these Scientists’ undemocratic policies, our elected officials took note. Our democratic republic of states was a checkerboard of policies where not everyone Followed the Science, exactly as our laboratory of democracy was intended to be, but many scientists share the political belief that states’ departures from One Policy was immoral and unscientific (one and the same, in the ethical doctrine of The Science) and that the federal government should decide most things. Incidentally, the federal government is also a hub of scientific power with science-led agencies like the CDC, NIH/NIAID, and so concentrating power in the federal government would benefit scientists whereas letting states chose policies would put the decisions about public health closer to the people and their local elected representatives..

There was tension between the people, our local representatives, our federal representatives, and the Scientists. There was litigation challenging scientists’ suppression of speech, including Missouri v. Biden where plaintiffs include GBD authors were claiming Drs. Fauci and Collins infringed upon their freedom of speech by censoring these scientists and their sincerely held scientific and science-policy beliefs. There were court cases about masks on a plane that challenged the federal government’s deference of public health policy authority to unelected scientists. There were arguments aplenty, and scientists like Drs. Fauci or Hotez who felt they were lionized during the pandemic, who underwent an apotheosis to scientific authoritarianism in their pursuit of scientific saviorism, are now being bombarded by criticism from people, counties, states, elected representatives, and even scientists.

To make matters worse, one of the most consequential conflicts of interest in human history lurked beneath the surface. The virus that triggered the emergency was most likely a laboratory accident from a laboratory that received funding from these same heads of health science funding, Drs. Fauci and Collins. In fact, Peter Hotez himself subcontracted work to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. It’s within the realm of possibility the NIAID money Hotez sent to Wuhan could’ve bought the exact pipette or restriction enzymes that caused the pandemic. That’s a conflict of interest when it comes to deciding policies to mitigate the harms of this likely research-related accident.

Even without knowing the virus emerged from a lab, the mere fear they could be responsible for a global pandemic causing millions of deaths could reasonably be sufficient to cause scientists like Fauci and Hotez to exert undue influence on science and public health policy. Fears of a lab origin could explain why lab origin theories were branded as “conspiracy theories” with support from Drs. Hotez, Fauci and other health-science funders and the scientists close to them (Andersen, Holmes, Garry, etc).

Fears of a lab origin could explain why this syndicate of scientists prioritized reducing COVID mortality through extreme measures like lockdowns instead of drawing on decades of public health science by acknowledging competing risks, encouraging participation from anthropologically diverse people whose policies are being decided, and managing the more conventional all-cause mortality and morbidity instead of implementing a myopic focus on COVID. 

The latter policy, incidentally, was that proposed by the GBD, none of whose authors were engaged in risky virological work in Wuhan and all of which had clear heads and sound arguments. Fears of a lab origin could plausibly lead scientists, concerned of their moral failings in possibly causing a pandemic, to desperately need a scientific saviorism success story like vaccines to balance the scales saving as many millions of lives as the millions of deaths they may have caused, leading them to label scientists’ divergent views on costs and benefits of vaccines as “disinformation.” The Wuhan COI could easily affect the observed irrational need to censor opposing views.

When we look at the pandemic history and our post-pandemic society from a more objective, less conflicted lens closer to the bodies of us innocent and diverse people Hotez labels “Anti-Science” from his siloed distance, we don’t see anything like “Anti-Science.” Instead, we see scientific authoritarianism and a predictable bipartisan anti-authoritarian response that even many scientists (including liberals like myself) support. Drs. Hotez and Fauci were authoritarians and now they are being challenged by the indomitable public that is reminding everyone who is in charge. As these authoritarians amongst us are being unseated from power, they create all manners of conspiracy theories and alternative narratives in a desperate effort to find purchase. If they can’t secure their newfound power, at least they may protect their reputations by casting their opponents as evil.

“Anti-Science” is thus not a real thing, nor is it sufficiently widely observed to warrant the dignity of being called a social construct. Anti-Science is an ego-defensive figment of Dr. Hotez’s authoritarian imagination, it is an effort to recenter The Science – the syndicate of scientists who attempted to center their own scientific paradigms and their own policy perspectives as if they were universally true and not merely political beliefs or value statements, possibly heavily conflicted ones – as deserving of power, sympathy, defense, and trust. Dr. Hotez is staring at the narrative mirrors the public uses to show him the monster he’s become, he is seeing a horrific – and true – reflection of scientists like him during the pandemic, and he is desperately trying to restore the image of himself from the current fallen general of an epistemological banana republic, back to the lionized Science and the Scientific Saviors we Followed. Hotez uses Anti-Science as an armor and an excuse to bypass a critical self-examination of the possible insensitivity and undemocratic behavior of he and his scientific savior colleagues during the pandemic.

The best way to assess whether a thing is objective or subjective is to ask different people if they see the same thing. That’s science. Of course, for things that hurt people like micro aggressions and the likes, it may help to ask the victims if it exists as they should experience the concentrated effects of the thing. I am a scientist, I was involved in both science and public policy during COVID, and yet I don’t see any horror of “Anti-Science” along my path in this narrative house of horrors.

Sure, I’ve seen disagreements in the public melee. I remember the history of disinformation on climate science, tobacco, and even Russian disinformation on all things, but that is not the thing Hotez describes and there isn’t generality other than institutions protecting their self-interests not because they are “Anti” anything but because they are “Pro” self and sometimes science reveals information that hurts a business’s bottom line. I’ve also seen companies act the same way when competitors enter the market, so past conflicts have nothing to do with science specifically. I’ve even been attacked, and even attacked for my science, but mostly I’ve been attacked by other scientists (including Hotez) who disliked the political implications of my findings. The Scientists who attacked me all form a relatively small, insular network of people closely connected with NIAID, NIH, or EcoHealth Alliance. While I was a researcher in the same wildlife virology community as EcoHealth Alliance, I didn’t conduct gain-of-function research, I didn’t subcontract work to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and I have maintained objectivity by critically evaluating the facts of the matter even where they inconveniently point to scientists’ mismanagement of risks. I’ve found flaws in Science papers and used my expertise to uncover evidence consistent with SARS-CoV-2 being a research product of EcoHealth Alliance’s pre-COVID research proposals.

I critically examined early case data, found evidence of large pools of unascertained cases consistent with a lower-severity pandemic and was told that my science risked “upsetting public health policy.” I argued otherwise, helped in part by my brilliant wife who has a PhD in public health policy. I argued that the only way sincere science and rigorous analyses could “upset public health policy” would be if public health policy were unscientific, if scientists were usurping the public’s seats in the policy process, centering Scientists, their belief systems, their value systems, and their institutions at the expense of decentering a larger, more diverse public. I found evidence that corroborated the Great Barrington Declaration’s cost-benefit analysis, and I shared that evidence privately with policymakers without grabbing the reigns and forcing them to choose any one policy.

As a scientist who maintained independence, who presented evidence without invading the deliberative jury or the policy process, I see scientists who became intolerant, petulant authoritarians; I don’t see “Anti-Science” as anything other than a reflection of Hotez grappling with the legitimate criticisms of his and his colleagues’ improper authoritarian scientific conduct before, during, and after the pandemic.

Far from being “anti-scientific,” the anti-authoritarianism unseating Hotez as one of the hallmarks of a true scientist and it is a hallmark of the people our republic. You don’t have to be an expert historian or anthropologist to recall that Americans went to war with the British because my ancestors despised authoritarians ruling without representation.

Throughout the pandemic, many members of the public have been better scientists than many prominent scientists. Members of the public and independent scientists have resisted convenient explanations when the data did not support them, such as the claim that lockdowns are indisputably wise policies when the public knew that lockdowns carried costs that were not being considered by scientists like Hotez on MSNBC.

Members of the public and independent scientists have rightfully questioned the efficacy of masks, and only years later are their hunches about the low efficacy or possible inefficacy of masks as a public health policy becoming known by scientists.

Members of the public and independent scientists questioned the safety and efficacy of vaccines, especially at reducing the risk of infection in the long term, and slowly, only after being labelled as “disinformation,” we are obtaining evidence of myocarditis, vaccine evasion in Provincetown, and more. Our citizenry has proven brilliant and remarkably agile, and predictably anti-authoritarian.

Hotez calls anyone – even scientists – assessing possible costs and estimating the true benefits of vaccines as “anti-vax.” It’s not “anti-vaccine” to err on the side of caution, to help doctors maintain their Hippocratic oath by ensuring benefits of a treatment or vaccine exceed the risks on a case-by-case basis (in science, we call this “individualized medicine”).

On the contrary, supporting systems that shake down and test hypotheses of vaccine safety and efficacy is one of the most pro-vaccine things we can do as it will inspire trust in vaccines that survive the gauntlet of scientific cross-examination. It is both pro-vax and pro-science to question the safety and efficacy of treatments, even those that have passed clinical trials, because that process of shaking down the answers gives us more confidence in the treatments we use and the science we’ve settled on. How many treatments have passed clinical trials only to be later discovered to have intolerable side effects? Would Hotez prefer “science” not uncover such later-discoverable complications?

Similarly, it is not “Anti-Science” to question the policies recommended by scientists or to investigate the possibility that scientists caused a pandemic. What Hotez calls “Anti-Science” is the core of science itself: an independence of mind, a diversity of perspectives, and an anti-authoritarian proclivity that conflicts with the interests of authoritarians masquerading as scientists. It is this independence and anti-authoritarianism that inspires confidence in science as well as democratic society, not the toxic ramblings of a scientific authoritarian as he’s unseated from power.

Republished from the author’s Substack

Alex Washburne is a mathematical biologist and the founder and chief scientist at Selva Analytics. He studies competition in ecological, epidemiological, and economic systems research, with research on covid epidemiology, the economic impacts of pandemic policy, and stock market response to epidemiological news.

Tyler Durden Thu, 10/19/2023 - 17:40

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Another beloved brewery files Chapter 11 bankruptcy

The beer industry has been devastated by covid, changing tastes, and maybe fallout from the Bud Light scandal.



Before the covid pandemic, craft beer was having a moment. Most cities had multiple breweries and taprooms with some having so many that people put together the brewery version of a pub crawl.

It was a period where beer snobbery ruled the day and it was not uncommon to hear bar patrons discuss the makeup of the beer the beer they were drinking. This boom period always seemed destined for failure, or at least a retraction as many markets seemed to have more craft breweries than they could support.

Related: Fast-food chain closes more stores after Chapter 11 bankruptcy

The pandemic, however, hastened that downfall. Many of these local and regional craft breweries counted on in-person sales to drive their business. 

And while many had local and regional distribution, selling through a third party comes with much lower margins. Direct sales drove their business and the pandemic forced many breweries to shut down their taprooms during the period where social distancing rules were in effect.

During those months the breweries still had rent and employees to pay while little money was coming in. That led to a number of popular beermakers including San Francisco's nationally-known Anchor Brewing as well as many regional favorites including Chicago’s Metropolitan Brewing, New Jersey’s Flying Fish, Denver’s Joyride Brewing, Tampa’s Zydeco Brew Werks, and Cleveland’s Terrestrial Brewing filing bankruptcy.

Some of these brands hope to survive, but others, including Anchor Brewing, fell into Chapter 7 liquidation. Now, another domino has fallen as a popular regional brewery has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Overall beer sales have fallen.

Image source: Shutterstock

Covid is not the only reason for brewery bankruptcies

While covid deserves some of the blame for brewery failures, it's not the only reason why so many have filed for bankruptcy protection. Overall beer sales have fallen driven by younger people embracing non-alcoholic cocktails, and the rise in popularity of non-beer alcoholic offerings,

Beer sales have fallen to their lowest levels since 1999 and some industry analysts

"Sales declined by more than 5% in the first nine months of the year, dragged down not only by the backlash and boycotts against Anheuser-Busch-owned Bud Light but the changing habits of younger drinkers," according to data from Beer Marketer’s Insights published by the New York Post.

Bud Light parent Anheuser Busch InBev (BUD) faced massive boycotts after it partnered with transgender social media influencer Dylan Mulvaney. It was a very small partnership but it led to a right-wing backlash spurred on by Kid Rock, who posted a video on social media where he chastised the company before shooting up cases of Bud Light with an automatic weapon.

Another brewery files Chapter 11 bankruptcy

Gizmo Brew Works, which does business under the name Roth Brewing Company LLC, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on March 8. In its filing, the company checked the box that indicates that its debts are less than $7.5 million and it chooses to proceed under Subchapter V of Chapter 11. 

"Both small business and subchapter V cases are treated differently than a traditional chapter 11 case primarily due to accelerated deadlines and the speed with which the plan is confirmed," explained. 

Roth Brewing/Gizmo Brew Works shared that it has 50-99 creditors and assets $100,000 and $500,000. The filing noted that the company does expect to have funds available for unsecured creditors. 

The popular brewery operates three taprooms and sells its beer to go at those locations.

"Join us at Gizmo Brew Works Craft Brewery and Taprooms located in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Find us for entertainment, live music, food trucks, beer specials, and most importantly, great-tasting craft beer by Gizmo Brew Works," the company shared on its website.

The company estimates that it has between $1 and $10 million in liabilities (a broad range as the bankruptcy form does not provide a space to be more specific).

Gizmo Brew Works/Roth Brewing did not share a reorganization or funding plan in its bankruptcy filing. An email request for comment sent through the company's contact page was not immediately returned.


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Students lose out as cities and states give billions in property tax breaks to businesses − draining school budgets and especially hurting the poorest students

An estimated 95% of US cities provide economic development tax incentives to woo corporate investors, taking billions away from schools.




Exxon Mobil Corp.'s campus in East Baton Rouge Parish, left, received millions in tax abatements to the detriment of local schools, right. Barry Lewis/Getty Images, Tjean314/Wikimedia

Built in 1910, James Elementary is a three-story brick school in Kansas City, Missouri’s historic Northeast neighborhood, with a bright blue front door framed by a sand-colored stone arch adorned with a gargoyle. As bustling students and teachers negotiate a maze of gray stairs with worn wooden handrails, Marjorie Mayes, the school’s principal, escorts a visitor across uneven blue tile floors on the ground floor to a classroom with exposed brick walls and pipes. Bubbling paint mars some walls, evidence of the water leaks spreading inside the aging building.

“It’s living history,” said Mayes during a mid-September tour of the building. “Not the kind of living history we want.”

The district would like to tackle the US$400 million in deferred maintenance needed to create a 21st century learning environment at its 35 schools – including James Elementary – but it can’t. It doesn’t have the money.

Property tax redirect

The lack of funds is a direct result of the property tax breaks that Kansas City lavishes on companies and developers that do business there. The program is supposed to bring in new jobs and business but instead has ended up draining civic coffers and starving schools. Between 2017 and 2023, the Kansas City school district lost $237.3 million through tax abatements.

Kansas City is hardly an anomaly. An estimated 95% of U.S. cities provide economic development tax incentives to woo corporate investors. The upshot is that billions have been diverted from large urban school districts and from a growing number of small suburban and rural districts. The impact is seen in districts as diverse as Chicago and Cleveland, Hillsboro, Oregon, and Storey County, Nevada.

The result? A 2021 review of 2,498 financial statements from school districts across 27 states revealed that, in 2019 alone, at least $2.4 billion was diverted to fund tax incentives. Yet that substantial figure still downplays the magnitude of the problem, because three-quarters of the 10,370 districts analyzed did not provide any information on tax abatement agreements.

Tax abatement programs have long been controversial, pitting states and communities against one another in beggar-thy-neighbor contests. Their economic value is also, at best, unclear: Studies show most companies would have made the same location decision without taxpayer subsidies. Meanwhile, schools make up the largest cost item in these communities, meaning they suffer most when companies are granted breaks in property taxes.

A three-month investigation by The Conversation and three scholars with expertise in economic development, tax laws and education policy shows that the cash drain from these programs is not equally shared by schools in the same communities. At the local level, tax abatements and exemptions often come at the cost of critical funding for school districts that disproportionately serve students from low-income households and who are racial minorities.

In Missouri, for example, in 2022 nearly $1,700 per student was redirected from Kansas City public and charter schools, while between $500 and $900 was redirected from wealthier, whiter Northland schools on the north side of the river in Kansas City and in the suburbs beyond. Other studies have found similar demographic trends elsewhere, including New York state, South Carolina and Columbus, Ohio.

The funding gaps produced by abated money often force schools to delay needed maintenance, increase class sizes, lay off teachers and support staff and even close outright. Schools also struggle to update or replace outdated technology, books and other educational resources. And, amid a nationwide teacher shortage, schools under financial pressures sometimes turn to inexperienced teachers who are not fully certified or rely too heavily on recruits from overseas who have been given special visa status.

Lost funding also prevents teachers and staff, who often feed, clothe and otherwise go above and beyond to help students in need, from earning a living wage. All told, tax abatements can end up harming a community’s value, with constant funding shortfalls creating a cycle of decline.

Incentives, payoffs and guarantees

Perversely, some of the largest beneficiaries of tax abatements are the politicians who publicly boast of handing out the breaks despite the harm to poorer communities. Incumbent governors have used the incentives as a means of taking credit for job creation, even when the jobs were coming anyway.

“We know that subsidies don’t work,” said Elizabeth Marcello, a doctoral lecturer at Hunter College who studies governmental planning and policy and the interactions between state and local governments. “But they are good political stories, and I think that’s why politicians love them so much.”

Academic research shows that economic development incentives are ineffective most of the time – and harm school systems.

While some voters may celebrate abatements, parents can recognize the disparities between school districts that are created by the tax breaks. Fairleigh Jackson pointed out that her daughter’s East Baton Rouge third grade class lacks access to playground equipment.

The class is attending school in a temporary building while their elementary school undergoes a two-year renovation.

The temporary site has some grass and a cement slab where kids can play, but no playground equipment, Jackson said. And parents needed to set up an Amazon wish list to purchase basic equipment such as balls, jump ropes and chalk for students to use. The district told parents there would be no playground equipment due to a lack of funds, then promised to install equipment, Jackson said, but months later, there is none.

Cement surface surrounded by a fence with grass beyond. There's no playground equipment..
The temporary site where Fairleigh Jackson’s daughter goes to school in East Baton Rouge Parish lacks playground equipment. Fairleigh Jackson, CC BY-ND

Jackson said it’s hard to complain when other schools in the district don’t even have needed security measures in place. “When I think about playground equipment, I think that’s a necessary piece of child development,” Jackson said. “Do we even advocate for something that should be a daily part of our kids’ experience when kids’ safety isn’t being funded?”

Meanwhile, the challenges facing administrators 500-odd miles away at Atlanta Public Schools are nothing if not formidable: The district is dealing with chronic absenteeism among half of its Black students, many students are experiencing homelessness, and it’s facing a teacher shortage.

At the same time, Atlanta is showering corporations with tax breaks. The city has two bodies that dole them out: the Development Authority of Fulton County, or DAFC, and Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development agency. The deals handed out by the two agencies have drained $103.8 million from schools from fiscal 2017 to 2022, according to Atlanta school system financial statements.

What exactly Atlanta and other cities and states are accomplishing with tax abatement programs is hard to discern. Fewer than a quarter of companies that receive breaks in the U.S. needed an incentive to invest, according to a 2018 study by the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, a nonprofit research organization.

This means that at least 75% of companies received tax abatements when they’re not needed – with communities paying a heavy price for economic development that sometimes provides little benefit.

In Kansas City, for example, there’s no guarantee that the businesses that do set up shop after receiving a tax abatement will remain there long term. That’s significant considering the historic border war between the Missouri and Kansas sides of Kansas City – a competition to be the most generous to the businesses, said Jason Roberts, president of the Kansas City Federation of Teachers and School-Related Personnel. Kansas City, Missouri, has a 1% income tax on people who work in the city, so it competes for as many workers as possible to secure that earnings tax, Roberts said.

Under city and state tax abatement programs, companies that used to be in Kansas City have since relocated. The AMC Theaters headquarters, for example, moved from the city’s downtown to Leawood, Kansas, about a decade ago, garnering some $40 million in Promoting Employment Across Kansas tax incentives.

Roberts said that when one side’s financial largesse runs out, companies often move across the state line – until both states decided in 2019 that enough was enough and declared a cease-fire.

But tax breaks for other businesses continue. “Our mission is to grow the economy of Kansas City, and application of tools such as tax exemptions are vital to achieving that mission, said Jon Stephens, president and CEO of Port KC, the Kansas City Port Authority. The incentives speed development, and providing them "has resulted in growth choosing KC versus other markets,” he added.

In Atlanta, those tax breaks are not going to projects in neighborhoods that need help attracting development. They have largely been handed out to projects that are in high demand areas of the city, said Julian Bene, who served on Invest Atlanta’s board from 2010 to 2018. In 2019, for instance, the Fulton County development authority approved a 10-year, $16 million tax abatement for a 410-foot-tall, 27,000-square-foot tower in Atlanta’s vibrant Midtown business district. The project included hotel space, retail space and office space that is now occupied by Google and Invesco.

In 2021, a developer in Atlanta pulled its request for an $8 million tax break to expand its new massive, mixed-use Ponce City Market development in the trendy Beltline neighborhood with an office tower and apartment building. Because of community pushback, the developer knew it likely did not have enough votes from the commission for approval, Bene said. After a second try for $5 million in lower taxes was also rejected, the developer went ahead and built the project anyway.

Invest Atlanta has also turned down projects in the past, Bene said. Oftentimes, after getting rejected, the developer goes back to the landowner and asks for a better price to buy the property to make their numbers work, because it was overvalued at the start.

Trouble in Philadelphia

On Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023, an environmental team was preparing Southwark School in Philadelphia for the winter cold. While checking an attic fan, members of the team saw loose dust on top of flooring that contained asbestos. The dust that certainly was blowing into the floors below could contain the cancer-causing agent. Within a day, Southwark was closed – the seventh Philadelphia school temporarily shuttered since the previous academic year because of possible asbestos contamination.

A 2019 inspection of the John L Kinsey school in Philadelphia found asbestos in plaster walls, floor tiles, radiator insulation and electrical panels. Asbestos is a major problem for Philadelphia’s public schools. The district needs $430 million to clean up the asbestos, lead, and other environmental hazards that place the health of students, teachers and staff at risk. And that is on top of an additional $2.4 billion to fix failing and damaged buildings.

Yet the money is not available. Matthew Stem, a former district official, testified in a 2023 lawsuit about financing of Pennsylvania schools that the environmental health risks cannot be addressed until an emergency like at Southwark because “existing funding sources are not sufficient to remediate those types of issues.”

Meanwhile, the city keeps doling out abatements, draining money that could have gone toward making Philadelphia schools safer. In the fiscal year ending June 2022, such tax breaks cost the school district $118 million – more than 25% of the total amount needed to remove the asbestos and other health dangers. These abatements take 31 years to break even, according to the city’s own scenario impact analyses.

Huge subsets of the community – primarily Black, Brown, poor or a combination – are being “drastically impacted” by the exemptions and funding shortfalls for the school district, said Kendra Brooks, a Philadelphia City Council member. Schools and students are affected by mold, asbestos and lead, and crumbling infrastructure, as well as teacher and staffing shortages – including support staff, social workers and psychologists.

More than half the district’s schools that lacked adequate air conditioning – 87 schools – had to go to half days during the first week of the 2023 school year because of extreme heat. Poor heating systems also leave the schools cold in the winter. And some schools are overcrowded, resulting in large class sizes, she said.

Front of a four-story brick school building with tall windows, some with air-conditioners
Horace Furness High School in Philadelphia, where hot summers have temporarily closed schools that lack air conditioning. Nick-philly/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

Teachers and researchers agree that a lack of adequate funding undermines educational opportunities and outcomes. That’s especially true for children living in poverty. A 2016 study found that a 10% increase in per-pupil spending each year for all 12 years of public schooling results in nearly one-third of a year of more education, 7.7% higher wages and a 3.2% reduction in annual incidence of adult poverty. The study estimated that a 21.7% increase could eliminate the high school graduation gap faced by children from low-income families.

More money for schools leads to more education resources for students and their teachers. The same researchers found that spending increases were associated with reductions in student-to-teacher ratios, increases in teacher salaries and longer school years. Other studies yielded similar results: School funding matters, especially for children already suffering the harms of poverty.

While tax abatements themselves are generally linked to rising property values, the benefits are not evenly distributed. In fact, any expansion of the tax base due to new property construction tends to be outside of the county granting the tax abatement. For families in school districts with the lost tax revenues, their neighbors’ good fortune likely comes as little solace. Meanwhile, a poorly funded education system is less likely to yield a skilled and competitive workforce, creating longer-term economic costs that make the region less attractive for businesses and residents.

“There’s a head-on collision here between private gain and the future quality of America’s workforce,” said Greg LeRoy, executive director at Good Jobs First, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group that’s critical of tax abatement and tracks the use of economic development subsidies.

Three-story school building with police officers out front and traffic lights in the foreground
Roxborough High School in Philadelphia. AP Photo/Matt Rourke

As funding dwindles and educational quality declines, additional families with means often opt for alternative educational avenues such as private schooling, home-schooling or moving to a different school district, further weakening the public school system.

Throughout the U.S., parents with the power to do so demand special arrangements, such as selective schools or high-track enclaves that hire experienced, fully prepared teachers. If demands aren’t met, they leave the district’s public schools for private schools or for the suburbs. Some parents even organize to splinter their more advantaged, and generally whiter, neighborhoods away from the larger urban school districts.

Those parental demands – known among scholars as “opportunity hoarding” – may seem unreasonable from the outside, but scarcity breeds very real fears about educational harms inflicted on one’s own children. Regardless of who’s to blame, the children who bear the heaviest burden of the nation’s concentrated poverty and racialized poverty again lose out.

Rethinking in Philadelphia and Riverhead

Americans also ask public schools to accomplish Herculean tasks that go far beyond the education basics, as many parents discovered at the onset of the pandemic when schools closed and their support for families largely disappeared.

A school serving students who endure housing and food insecurity must dedicate resources toward children’s basic needs and trauma. But districts serving more low-income students spend less per student on average, and almost half the states have regressive funding structures.

Facing dwindling resources for schools, several cities have begun to rethink their tax exemption programs.

The Philadelphia City Council recently passed a scale-back on a 10-year property tax abatement by decreasing the percentage of the subsidy over that time. But even with that change, millions will be lost to tax exemptions that could instead be invested in cash-depleted schools. “We could make major changes in our schools’ infrastructure, curriculum, staffing, staffing ratios, support staff, social workers, school psychologists – take your pick,” Brooks said.

Other cities looking to reform tax abatement programs are taking a different approach. In Riverhead, New York, on Long Island, developers or project owners can be granted exemptions on their property tax and allowed instead to shell out a far smaller “payment in lieu of taxes,” or PILOT. When the abatement ends, most commonly after 10 years, the businesses then will pay full property taxes.

At least, that’s the idea, but the system is far from perfect. Beneficiaries of the PILOT program have failed to pay on time, leaving the school board struggling to fill a budget hole. Also, the payments are not equal to the amount they would receive for property taxes, with millions of dollars in potential revenue over a decade being cut to as little as a few hundred thousand. On the back end, if a business that’s subsidized with tax breaks fails after 10 years, the projected benefits never emerge.

And when the time came to start paying taxes, developers have returned to the city’s Industrial Development Agency with hat in hand, asking for more tax breaks. A local for-profit aquarium, for example, was granted a 10-year PILOT program break by Riverhead in 1999; it has received so many extensions that it is not scheduled to start paying full taxes until 2031 – 22 years after originally planned.

Kansas City border politics

Like many cities, Kansas City has a long history of segregation, white flight and racial redlining, said Kathleen Pointer, senior policy strategist for Kansas City Public Schools.

James Elementary in Kansas City, Mo. Danielle McLean, CC BY-ND

Troost Avenue, where the Kansas City Public Schools administrative office is located, serves as the city’s historic racial dividing line, with wealthier white families living in the west and more economically disadvantaged people of color in the east. Most of the district’s schools are located east of Troost, not west.

Students on the west side “pretty much automatically funnel into the college preparatory middle school and high schools,” said The Federation of Teachers’ Roberts. Those schools are considered signature schools that are selective and are better taken care of than the typical neighborhood schools, he added.

The school district’s tax levy was set by voters in 1969 at 3.75%. But successive attempts over the next few decades to increase the levy at the ballot box failed. During a decadeslong desegregation lawsuit that was eventually resolved through a settlement agreement in the 1990s, a court raised the district’s levy rate to 4.96% without voter approval. The levy has remained at the same 4.96% rate since.

Meanwhile, Kansas City is still distributing 20-year tax abatements to companies and developers for projects. The district calculated that about 92% of the money that was abated within the school district’s boundaries was for projects within the whiter west side of the city, Pointer said.

“Unfortunately, we can’t pick or choose where developers build,” said Meredith Hoenes, director of communications for Port KC. “We aren’t planning and zoning. Developers typically have plans in place when they knock on our door.”

In Kansas City, several agencies administer tax incentives, allowing developers to shop around to different bodies to receive one. Pointer said he believes the Port Authority is popular because they don’t do a third-party financial analysis to prove that the developers need the amount that they say they do.

With 20-year abatements, a child will start pre-K and graduate high school before seeing the benefits of a property being fully on the tax rolls, Pointer said. Developers, meanwhile, routinely threaten to build somewhere else if they don’t get the incentive, she said.

In 2020, BlueScope Construction, a company that had received tax incentives for nearly 20 years and was about to roll off its abatement, asked for another 13 years and threatened to move to another state if it didn’t get it. At the time, the U.S. was grappling with a racial reckoning following the murder of George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer.

“That was a moment for Kansas City Public Schools where we really drew a line in the sand and talked about incentives as an equity issue,” Pointer said.

After the district raised the issue – tying the incentives to systemic racism – the City Council rejected BlueScope’s bid and, three years later, it’s still in Kansas City, fully on the tax rolls, she said. BlueScope did not return multiple requests for comment.

Recently, a multifamily housing project was approved for a 20-year tax abatement by the Port Authority of Kansas City at Country Club Plaza, an outdoor shopping center in an affluent part of the city. The housing project included no affordable units. “This project was approved without any independent financial analysis proving that it needed that subsidy,” Pointer said.

All told, the Kansas City Public Schools district faces several shortfalls beyond the $400 million in deferred maintenance, Superintendent Jennifer Collier said. There are staffing shortages at all positions: teachers, paraprofessionals and support staff. As in much of the U.S., the cost of housing is surging. New developments that are being built do not include affordable housing, or when they do, the units are still out of reach for teachers.

That’s making it harder for a district that already loses about 1 in 5 of its teachers each year to keep or recruit new ones, who earn an average of only $46,150 their first year on the job, Collier said.

East Baton Rouge and the industrial corridor

It’s impossible to miss the tanks, towers, pipes and industrial structures that incongruously line Baton Rouge’s Scenic Highway landscape. They’re part of Exxon Mobil Corp.’s campus, home of the oil giant’s refinery in addition to chemical and plastics plants.

Aerial view of industrial buildings along a river
Exxon Mobil Corp.’s Baton Rouge campus occupies 3.28 square miles. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

Sitting along the Mississippi River, the campus has been a staple of Louisiana’s capital for over 100 years. It’s where 6,000 employees and contractors who collectively earn over $400 million annually produce 522,000 barrels of crude oil per day when at full capacity, as well as the annual production and manufacture of 3 billion pounds of high-density polyethylene and polypropylene and 6.6 billion pounds of petrochemical products. The company posted a record-breaking $55.7 billion in profits in 2022 and $36 billion in 2023.

Across the street are empty fields and roads leading into neighborhoods that have been designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a low-income food desert. A mile drive down the street to Route 67 is a Dollar General, fast-food restaurants, and tiny, rundown food stores. A Hi Nabor Supermarket is 4 miles away.

East Baton Rouge Parish’s McKinley High School, a 12-minute drive from the refinery, serves a student body that is about 80% Black and 85% poor. The school, which boasts famous alums such as rapper Kevin Gates, former NBA player Tyrus Thomas and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Gardner C. Taylor, holds a special place in the community, but it has been beset by violence and tragedy lately. Its football team quarterback, who was killed days before graduation in 2017, was among at least four of McKinley’s students who have been shot or murdered over the past six years.

The experience is starkly different at some of the district’s more advantaged schools, including its magnet programs open to high-performing students.

Black-and-white outline of Louisiana showing the parishes, with one, near the bottom right, filled in red
East Baton Rouge Parish, marked in red, includes an Exxon Mobil Corp. campus and the city of Baton Rouge. David Benbennick/Wikimedia

Baton Rouge is a tale of two cities, with some of the worst outcomes in the state for education, income and mortality, and some of the best outcomes. “It was only separated by sometimes a few blocks,” said Edgar Cage, the lead organizer for the advocacy group Together Baton Rouge. Cage, who grew up in the city when it was segregated by Jim Crow laws, said the root cause of that disparity was racism.

“Underserved kids don’t have a path forward” in East Baton Rouge public schools, Cage said.

A 2019 report from the Urban League of Louisiana found that economically disadvantaged African American and Hispanic students are not provided equitable access to high-quality education opportunities. That has contributed to those students underperforming on standardized state assessments, such as the LEAP exam, being unprepared to advance to higher grades and being excluded from high-quality curricula and instruction, as well as the highest-performing schools and magnet schools.

“Baton Rouge is home to some of the highest performing schools in the state,” according to the report. “Yet the highest performing schools and schools that have selective admissions policies often exclude disadvantaged students and African American and Hispanic students.”

Dawn Collins, who served on the district’s school board from 2016 to 2022, said that with more funding, the district could provide more targeted interventions for students who were struggling academically or additional support to staff so they can better assist students with greater needs.

But for decades, Louisiana’s Industrial Ad Valorem Tax Exemption Program, or ITEP, allowed for 100% property tax exemptions for industrial manufacturing facilities, said Erin Hansen, the statewide policy analyst at Together Louisiana, a network of 250 religious and civic organizations across the state that advocates for grassroots issues, including tax fairness.

The ITEP program was created in the 1930s through a state constitutional amendment, allowing companies to bypass a public vote and get approval for the exemption through the governor-appointed Board of Commerce and Industry, Hansen said. For over 80 years, that board approved nearly all applications that it received, she said.

Since 2000, Louisiana has granted a total of $35 billion in corporate property tax breaks for 12,590 projects.

Louisiana’s executive order

A few efforts to reform the program over the years have largely failed. But in 2016, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed an executive order that slightly but importantly tweaked the system. On top of the state board vote, the order gave local taxing bodies – such as school boards, sheriffs and parish or city councils – the ability to vote on their own individual portions of the tax exemptions. And in 2019 the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board exercised its power to vote down an abatement.

Throughout the U.S., school boards’ power over the tax abatements that affect their budgets vary, and in some states, including Georgia, Kansas, Nevada, New Jersey and South Carolina, school boards lack any formal ability to vote or comment on tax abatement deals that affect them.

Edwards’ executive order also capped the maximum exemption at 80% and tightened the rules so routine capital investments and maintenance were no longer eligible, Hansen said. A requirement concerning job creation was also put in place.

Concerned residents and activists, led by Together Louisiana and sister group Together Baton Rouge, rallied around the new rules and pushed back against the billion-dollar corporation taking more tax money from the schools. In 2019, the campaign worked: the school board rejected a $2.9 million property tax break bid by Exxon Mobil.

After the decision, Exxon Mobil reportedly described the city as “unpredictable.”

However, members of the business community have continued to lobby for the tax breaks, and they have pushed back against further rejections. In fact, according to Hansen, loopholes were created during the rulemaking process around the governor’s executive order that allowed companies to weaken its effectiveness.

In total, 223 Exxon Mobil projects worth nearly $580 million in tax abatements have been granted in the state of Louisiana under the ITEP program since 2000.

“ITEP is needed to compete with other states – and, in ExxonMobil’s case, other countries,” according to Exxon Mobil spokesperson Lauren Kight.

She pointed out that Exxon Mobil is the largest property taxpayer for the EBR school system, paying more than $46 million in property taxes in EBR parish in 2022 and another $34 million in sales taxes.

A new ITEP contract won’t decrease this existing tax revenue, Kight added. “Losing out on future projects absolutely will.”

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board has continued to approve Exxon Mobil abatements, passing $46.9 million between 2020 and 2022. Between 2017 and 2023, the school district has lost $96.3 million.

Taxes are highest when industrial buildings are first built. Industrial property comes onto the tax rolls at 40% to 50% of its original value in Louisiana after the initial 10-year exemption, according to the Ascension Economic Development Corp.

Exxon Mobil received its latest tax exemption, $8.6 million over 10 years – an 80% break – in October 2023 for $250 million to install facilities at the Baton Rouge complex that purify isopropyl alcohol for microchip production and that create a new advanced recycling facility, allowing the company to address plastic waste. The project created zero new jobs.

The school board approved it by a 7-2 vote after a long and occasionally contentious board meeting.

“Does it make sense for Louisiana and other economically disadvantaged states to kind of compete with each other by providing tax incentives to mega corporations like Exxon Mobil?” said EBR School Board Vice President Patrick Martin, who voted for the abatement. “Probably, in a macro sense, it does not make a lot of sense. But it is the program that we have.”

Obviously, Exxon Mobil benefits, he said. “The company gets a benefit in reducing the property taxes that they would otherwise pay on their industrial activity that adds value to that property.” But the community benefits from the 20% of the property taxes that are not exempted, he said.

“I believe if we don’t pass it, over time the investments will not come and our district as a whole will have less money,” he added.

In 2022, a year when Exxon Mobil made a record $55.7 billion, the company asked for a 10-year, 80% property tax break from the cash-starved East Baton Rouge Parish school district. A lively debate ensued.

Meanwhile, the district’s budgetary woes are coming to a head. Bus drivers staged a sickout at the start of the school year, refusing to pick up students – in protest of low pay and not having buses equipped with air conditioning amid a heat wave. The district was forced to release students early, leaving kids stranded without a ride to school, before it acquiesced and provided the drivers and other staff one-time stipends and purchased new buses with air conditioning.

The district also agreed to reestablish transfer points as a temporary response to the shortages. But that transfer-point plan has historically resulted in students riding on the bus for hours and occasionally missing breakfast when the bus arrives late, according to Angela Reams-Brown, president of the East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers. The district plans to purchase or lease over 160 buses and solve its bus driver shortage next year, but the plan could lead to a budget crisis.

A teacher shortage looms as well, because the district is paying teachers below the regional average. At the school board meeting, Laverne Simoneaux, an ELL specialist at East Baton Rouge’s Woodlawn Elementary, said she was informed that her job was not guaranteed next year since she’s being paid through federal COVID-19 relief funds. By receiving tax exemptions, Exxon Mobil was taking money from her salary to deepen their pockets, she said.

A young student in the district told the school board that the money could provide better internet access or be used to hire someone to pick up the glass and barbed wire in the playground. But at least they have a playground – Hayden Crockett, a seventh grader at Sherwood Middle Academic Magnet School, noted that his sister’s elementary school lacked one.

“If it wasn’t in the budget to fund playground equipment, how can it also be in the budget to give one of the most powerful corporations in the world a tax break?” Crockett said. “The math just ain’t mathing.”

Christine Wen worked for the nonprofit organization Good Jobs First from June 2019 to May 2022 where she helped collect tax abatement data.

Nathan Jensen has received funding from the John and Laura Arnold Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. He is a Senior Fellow at the Niskanen Center.

Danielle McLean and Kevin Welner do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Spread & Containment

Revving up tourism: Formula One and other big events look set to drive growth in the hospitality industry

With big events drawing a growing share of of tourism dollars, F1 offers a potential glimpse of the travel industry’s future.




Sergio Perez of Oracle Red Bull Racing, right, and Charles Leclerc of the Scuderia Ferrari team compete in the Las Vegas Grand Prix on Nov. 19, 2023. Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu via Getty Images

In late 2023, I embarked on my first Formula One race experience, attending the first-ever Las Vegas Grand Prix. I had never been to an F1 race; my interest was sparked during the pandemic, largely through the Netflix series “Formula 1: Drive to Survive.”

But I wasn’t just attending as a fan. As the inaugural chair of the University of Florida’s department of tourism, hospitality and event management, I saw this as an opportunity. Big events and festivals represent a growing share of the tourism market – as an educator, I want to prepare future leaders to manage them.

And what better place to learn how to do that than in the stands of the Las Vegas Grand Prix?

A smiling professor is illuminated by bright lights in a nighttime photo taken at a Formula 1 event in Nevada.
The author at the Las Vegas Grand Prix. Katherine Fu

The future of tourism is in events and experiences

Tourism is fun, but it’s also big business: In the U.S. alone, it’s a US$2.6 trillion industry employing 15 million people. And with travelers increasingly planning their trips around events rather than places, both industry leaders and academics are paying attention.

Event tourism is also key to many cities’ economic development strategies – think Chicago and its annual Lollapalooza music festival, which has been hosted in Grant Park since 2005. In 2023, Lollapalooza generated an estimated $422 million for the local economy and drew record-breaking crowds to the city’s hotels.

That’s why when Formula One announced it would be making a 10-year commitment to host races in Las Vegas, the region’s tourism agency was eager to spread the news. The 2023 grand prix eventually generated $100 million in tax revenue, the head of that agency later announced.

Why Formula One?

Formula One offers a prime example of the economic importance of event tourism. In 2022, Formula One generated about $2.6 billion in total revenues, according to the latest full-year data from its parent company. That’s up 20% from 2021 and 27% from 2019, the last pre-COVID year. A record 5.7 million fans attended Formula One races in 2022, up 36% from 2019.

This surge in interest can be attributed to expanded broadcasting rights, sponsorship deals and a growing global fan base. And, of course, the in-person events make a lot of money – the cheapest tickets to the Las Vegas Grand Prix were $500.

Two brightly colored race cars are seen speeding down a track in a blur.
Turn 1 at the first Las Vegas Grand Prix. Rachel Fu, CC BY

That’s why I think of Formula One as more than just a pastime: It’s emblematic of a major shift in the tourism industry that offers substantial job opportunities. And it takes more than drivers and pit crews to make Formula One run – it takes a diverse range of professionals in fields such as event management, marketing, engineering and beyond.

This rapid industry growth indicates an opportune moment for universities to adapt their hospitality and business curricula and prepare students for careers in this profitable field.

How hospitality and business programs should prepare students

To align with the evolving landscape of mega-events like Formula One races, hospitality schools should, I believe, integrate specialized training in event management, luxury hospitality and international business. Courses focusing on large-scale event planning, VIP client management and cross-cultural communication are essential.

Another area for curriculum enhancement is sustainability and innovation in hospitality. Formula One, like many other companies, has increased its emphasis on environmental responsibility in recent years. While some critics have been skeptical of this push, I think it makes sense. After all, the event tourism industry both contributes to climate change and is threatened by it. So, programs may consider incorporating courses in sustainable event management, eco-friendly hospitality practices and innovations in sustainable event and tourism.

Additionally, business programs may consider emphasizing strategic marketing, brand management and digital media strategies for F1 and for the larger event-tourism space. As both continue to evolve, understanding how to leverage digital platforms, engage global audiences and create compelling brand narratives becomes increasingly important.

Beyond hospitality and business, other disciplines such as material sciences, engineering and data analytics can also integrate F1 into their curricula. Given the younger generation’s growing interest in motor sports, embedding F1 case studies and projects in these programs can enhance student engagement and provide practical applications of theoretical concepts.

Racing into the future: Formula One today and tomorrow

F1 has boosted its outreach to younger audiences in recent years and has also acted to strengthen its presence in the U.S., a market with major potential for the sport. The 2023 Las Vegas race was a strategic move in this direction. These decisions, along with the continued growth of the sport’s fan base and sponsorship deals, underscore F1’s economic significance and future potential.

Looking ahead in 2024, Formula One seems ripe for further expansion. New races, continued advancements in broadcasting technology and evolving sponsorship models are expected to drive revenue growth. And Season 6 of “Drive to Survive” will be released on Feb. 23, 2024. We already know that was effective marketing – after all, it inspired me to check out the Las Vegas Grand Prix.

I’m more sure than ever that big events like this will play a major role in the future of tourism – a message I’ll be imparting to my students. And in my free time, I’m planning to enhance my quality of life in 2024 by synchronizing my vacations with the F1 calendar. After all, nothing says “relaxing getaway” quite like the roar of engines and excitement of the racetrack.

Rachel J.C. Fu does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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