No Sympathy for Marzano

Dear Opinion Editor:

Though this is the Christmas season, it’s beyond the call of Christian charity to offer very much sympathy to Mr. Marzano, who excoriated the criticisms of his project, Sirenusa, among other remarks as “inaccuracies.” No doubt he will find here still another set of “inaccuracies,” but upon which he may reflect in the spirit of the season.

Of Sirenusa’s effects, the unintended but predictable and measurable are far more critical to the well-being of St. John than those intended (and beneficial) effects listed by Mr. Marzano. The most immediate, visible and auditory effects of the construction are the noise and the dirt, predictable results of heavy construction.

These effects illustrate an important concept economists term “negative externalities.” Such effects are when the costs of an economic activity spill over and are borne by innocent bystanders. For example, when a car passes a pedestrian and splashes mud over her clothing, it is the pedestrian who bears the cost of cleaning the garment whilst the motorists, oblivious of the event or cost shifting, continues to his destination.

Closer to St. John, like some pre-historic beast, the droppings from cement mixers harden to create hazardous driving on the island’s narrow roads. The policy question is obvious: Who is responsible for restoring the roads and removing the offending concrete piles? The construction industry is quite willing to shift this cost elsewhere.

Similarly, some of the external costs imposed by Sirenusa have fallen on those nearby property owners whose customary renters have left for more tranquil sites, or who have had to offer off-season rates to compensate for the noise. It’s rather reckless for Mr. Marzano to claim that his project is not about money, because the wealth Sirenusa has caused to be lost has come from someone else’s pocket. Nowhere in his remarks does Mr. Marzano suggest compensating local property owners for their lost revenues, another example of cost shifting. Actually, this lost revenue will be merely a minor amount, not to the owners of course, when placed beside the aggregate effects to be experienced in St. John’s future.

For example, economic studies demonstrate that the per capita energy requirements for the wealthy are extremely high. The electric grid will have to ramp up to accommodate the demand for lighting, air conditioning, etc. that Sirenusa requires. Still another effect will be the increased congestion at the beaches.

One major economic result will be to drive up the cost of living on St. John. After all, someone willing and affluent enough to pay a Manhattan price per square foot for living space on St. John will hardly flinch at exorbitant prices for groceries, fuel or restaurant dining, to name but a few effects. Over time, St. John will become just another warm weather Aspen, a place out of reach of the middle class, and where the servants of the wealthy will travel long distances to work. When that occurs, St. John will have become an island, grated community.

It is the Bush tax cuts that have fueled the boom in the island’s construction activity. These cuts have disproportionately benefited the haves and even more so the “have mores,” to use a Bush/Cheney phrase.

Sirenusa offers yet another example fitting the paradigm of contemporary capitalism: profits are privatized while at the same time external costs are socialized, i.e., borne by the community at large and rarely compensated (except when mandated by law).

Mr. Marzano, like the executives of the tobacco industry, should seek to suppress his indignation when the victimized citizenry consider him to be, to him quite unjustly, as yet one more unindicted white collar miscreant.

John S. Zawacki
Professor emeritus, Boston University