Volusia: Unintended Consequences

There lived an old farmer who had worked on his fields for many, many years.  One day, his horse bolted away.  His neighbors dropped in to commiserate with him.  “What awful luck,” they tut-tutted sympathetically, to which the farmer only replied, “We’ll see.”

 Next morning, to everyone’s surprise, the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How amazing is that!” they exclaimed in excitement. The old man replied, “We’ll see.”

 A day later, the farmer’s son tried to mount one of the wild horses.  He was thrown on the ground and broke his leg.  Once more, the neighbors came by to express their sympathies for this stroke of bad luck.  “We’ll see,” said the farmer politely.

 The next day, the village had some visitors – military officers who had come with the purpose of drafting young men into the army.  They passed over the farmer’s son, thanks to his broken leg. The neighbors patted the farmer on his back – how lucky he was to not have his son off to war!

 “We’ll see,” was all that the farmer said.

–Old Buddhist Parable

As a child, whenever I was troubled by something, my father would reassure me that things are rarely as good, or as bad, as we think they are.

He was right.

With age and experience, I try to avoid over-dramatizing the daily positives and negatives in life.

The exception to this rule is the latent machinations of government – and the interminable exaggerations of the speculative developers and resort town grifters who seek to benefit from the proliferation of tax funded ‘economic incentive’ scams and backdoor money shuffles here on the Fun Coast.

These intrigues are always more ominous than one can possibly imagine – despite the sugarcoating.

Regardless of the actual merits or potential drawbacks of any project – our “movers and shakers” sound like cheap snake oil salesmen hawking the “latest and greatest” elixir to cure years of blight and neglect.

New beachside motels are billed as the ne plus ultra – the grand panacea to all our problems.  They try to convince us that a new shopping complex will fundamentally change our lives at the molecular level, and that a proposed theme subdivision has the kinetic potential to alter the celestial orbit of the moon and stars.

Now, when this brand of sensationalized hogwash is spewed by a smiling economic development-type, or a shady developer’s shill (is there a difference?), we simply consider the source and take it for what it is.

Most of us, anyways.

The problem comes when our elected and appointed officials – you know, the people we put in positions of high power to safeguard our interests – become collectively mesmerized by the unvarnished bullshit of every huckster who creeps into town with the next/best get-rich-quick scheme.  Ostensibly smart people who get caught up in the hoopla du jour, then fan the flames of false optimism until it sweeps through the community like a cholera outbreak.

Unfortunately, our “leaders” lose precious credibility each time the “next big thing” falls flat – or makes little, if any, effective difference in solving the core issues we face.

But that doesn’t seem to faze them.

In my view, this infectious positivity about literally everything “new” is dangerous – especially when our media outlets buy-in to the hype.

It was refreshing to read Daytona Beach News-Journal Editor Pat Rice’s recent column entitled, “Wow, this one is a real ‘game changer.’    

 According to Mr. Rice, “Also in 2013, The News-Journal more than once printed stories that described the announced Hard Rock Hotel as a “game changer.” The Hard Rock fizzled. The optimism about that project among public officials when it was first announced is painful to read now.”

 “But it does lead to the only time I could find that we used “game changer” in a clever way.”

 “That occurred recently, in an excellent column by Mark Lane that was about outgoing Daytona Beach City Commissioner Pam Woods. Lane asked Woods what she had learned in her time on the commission, and she replied: “Whenever you hear somebody get up and say to you, ‘This is the project that’s going to change this town’ and ‘this is the game changer’ … Do. Not. Believe. Them.”

 Indeed.

 To their credit, the News-Journal has agreed to stop using the “game changer” cliché in future reporting on local economic development initiatives.

That’s smart thinking – and sound policy for a newspaper serving a community in transition.

I’m often accused of being an incessantly negative asshole – the glass is half-empty guy – on all matters related to Volusia County government.

Guilty as charged.

You see, I’ve never forgotten that the Law of Unintended Consequences holds that almost all human actions have at least one unintended consequence.

And that can make for an expensive learning process.

Marketing professionals – just like shady politicians – know that optimism bias can obscure sensitive issues and cause the masses to underestimate risks, become complacent and ignore the warning signs.

Sound familiar?

Look, residents of Volusia County are a positive and resilient people.  We are blessed to live in one the most beautiful natural settings on earth – and we are experiencing many wonderful transformations that will ultimately bring constructive changes to our quality of life.

For instance, substantive talks on the revitalization of the east ISB gateway are underway, and we now have the right people working hard on the long-term problem of chronic homelessness.

I think we have a lot to look forward to.

But my cynicism won’t let me forget that we are also repeat victims of a system that is inherently skewed to favor the wants of a few influential political insiders who use our public coffers as a personal piggybank.

I assure you, now is not the time to let down our guard.

Trust – but verify – and hold our elected and appointed officials responsible for protecting our collective interests during this time of dynamic change.  There will be obstacles – and not everyone who shows up in an expensive suit will have our best interests at heart.

It is important to keep these things in mind, despite the best efforts of those who use smoke-and-mirrors to deflect our attention as they seek to exploit our natural and economic resources for personal gain.

I may be crazy – but I’m not delusional – and neither are you.

Is unchecked western sprawl, anchored by a 7,000-home faux-beach community (“with a ‘no worries’ tropical vibe, offering an immersive brand experience”) west of I-95 the ‘game changer’ the Canadian developer claims?

Are more shopping options on the frontage road the ‘be-all, end-all’?

Is a multistory convention hotel the silver bullet that finally puts Daytona Beach back on the map?

We’ll see.

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