The Hazards of the Blip

Dismissing our economic failures as anomalies will doom us to repeat them

intellivision.jpg“Failure,” the las Vegas motivational economist Jeremy Aguero said recently, “is part of human advancement.”

He’s right, but there’s a corollary: Failure is part of human advancement—provided that he who fails can honestly examine the causes and consequences of his blunder, make corresponding adjustments and proceed as a wiser man.

Aguero hinted at such a process a couple of times in his speech at the Las Vegas Perspective on April 4. He noted that the people he surveyed for his report are concerned about the lack of jobs and our failing infrastructure. He also said they’re worried that they’ll be taxed.

But he didn’t clearly note the contradiction between these concerns. Indeed, one waited in vain at the event for someone to say, “The no-tax mentality got us where we are today. Maybe we should try something different.”

No one, in fact, pinpointed any way in which any local policy or approach might bear responsibility for Las Vegas’ economic crisis.

The recession, in fact, came off as a blip—a bad thing that happened and will soon, like a scary dream, be behind us. For Aguero, it was a stumble on an otherwise successful journey: He used the analogy of Mattel’s Intellivision in the evolution of video-game technology.

The apparent moral of the story was that we should all buck up and move on: These things happen, right? This kind of “blipism” is an ideology, an article of faith: If an event contradicts your view, simply rule the event an anomaly.

The problem with such blipism is that it undermines the important part of the failure-advancement equation: the need to learn from past mistakes—a need perfectly demonstrated by Intellivision. The console didn’t effectively incorporate user complaints in its innovations, and it nearly brought down Mattel.

On the surface, some local business leaders seem to grasp this.

Speaking at the Las Vegas Perspective about the casino/entertainment industry’s need to connect with customers from nontraditional demographics, Boyd Gaming CEO Keith Smith said, “We need to draw on lessons learned.”

But Smith also indulged in some blipism. The good news, he said, is we’re in recovery. The bad news? Americans have no disposable income to spend on luxuries, such as vacations to Las Vegas. Visitation to the city is up, but spending is not, Smith said: “We have to serve the same number of meals, but we make less revenue.” Boyd’s solution has been to invest in developments in other parts of the country. Not to worry, though—Las Vegas is coming back! Smith pointed to $6 billion in new Strip projects on the drawing board, from Caesars Entertainment’s Linq to Genting’s megaresort on the long-dormant site of Boyd’s spiked Echelon Project.

This is more than just a failure to take responsibility for mistakes made; it’s wishing for things to go back to the way they were, when construction was booming, and everyone was fat and happy.

What if, instead of picking up where we left off, we charted a different path? It’s time to move on, yes, but with a clear eye on where we’ve just been. Because we don’t want to go back there.

So, amid all the talk about how Las Vegas is back in the saddle, why not focus on some structural changes that ensure that it will be a good ride? Let’s start with something we can agree on: the need to invest in education. All of the speakers at the event advocated for improvement here. So let’s ask what went wrong, what caused it and how we can change what we’re doing for the better.

If our public and private leaders can crack that nut, today’s recovery will be more than a blip. It will be the foundation upon which we build something new and lasting.

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