What if the impending implosion of the Harmon is not simply the erasure of a very expensive mistake, but an exorcism? In the movies, after all, when you destroy the evil wizard’s horcrux, or whatever, the dark spell rises from the land and a golden age begins. The problem is, if CityCenter’s boondoggle represents the soul-sucking spirit of useless excess, and we kill off that spirit, what are we Las Vegans really left with? We need useless excess the way L.A. needs plastic surgery. It’s the original sin that makes us original. So it turns out that to kill the evil wizard is just to lop off another part of ourselves in order to save the central nervous system. And, boy, are we nervous.
Yes, it’s true that the latest batch of gaming revenue numbers is encouraging. The Southern Nevada Index of Leading Economic Indicators, which measures, in part, our demand for soul-sucking excess, is up a whole half of a percent since June. And we all know that we should measure our well-being by the way we felt in June. As any kid can tell you, it’s the funnest month.
But there really are promising signs, not the least of which is that many Americans woke up the morning after the “resolution” of the debt-ceiling debate, quietly smoked a cigarette, and realized they’d made an error in judgment: It turns out that in the midst of an epic recession—with 9 percent unemployment nationwide and 13.8 percent in Las Vegas—austerity measures aren’t the best idea! How could we have known this—except by reading any of the roughly 3,000 books (by Amazon’s count) on the Great Depression?
In any case, the stock market’s recent acrobatics demonstrated that the smart money is less concerned, in the short term, with the U.S. deficit than with the continual, demand-destroying, collapse of the American and European job markets. As Americans—and especially Nevadans—wake up from the long, boring deficit-hawk dream, we can once again turn our thoughts to rebuilding the economy: How can we encourage the growth of innovative new businesses, the very kind that die young and ingloriously without a hand up? How can we craft a stimulus that pushes us toward the future? How can we improve our infrastructure so that we can compete with China, which has not hesitated in its expansion of high-speed rail, among myriad other public projects? In Las Vegas, how do we ensure that our next boom won’t be just about casinos and stucco subdivisions?
After three years of recession, big ideas remain stubbornly on the march: High-speed rail is still in the game, though the Desert Xpress’ unfortunate Victorville terminus should be rethought. There’s talk of building the Ivanpah airport after all, with an emphasis on air freight, though the people who would be in charge on the project aren’t yet on board. And the indefatigable Chris Milam and the city of Henderson put their heads together on perhaps the most promising stadium plan yet. Some ideas will wither, others will blossom. But we have a responsibility to think creatively and audaciously—to study the unknown and to recognize that money well-spent is not waste, but investment.
A world came crashing down on Las Vegas. It’s time to build a better one.