During the past weeks, we have spent much time thinking about the financial viability of the proposed convention center, probably too much along the way. There has been much debate on whether the projections are accurate, and whether the market can sustain the burden we are bearing. Throughout the conversation proponents of the MCC project continue to remind us that the proposed funding package is consistent with how we funded our existing center, and that the project won’t be a burden on taxpayers since it is not being funded out of property taxes.
That is the argument I read yesterday from a prominent Nashville leader who I have respected for many years. He wrote:
Still, I would not be in favor of the new convention center, even with that history and market, if there was not a dedicated funding source. But of course there is! The expense is not coming out of property taxes but out of taxes on visitors.
It was his last sentence that pulled my out of a fog and led me to wonder if our funding plan this entire plan is not ethically challenged for it depends on our guests to pay the way for things that we are unwilling to pay for ourselves.
Imagine for a minute that you have invited a group of friends to your house to spend the weekend. “We’re going to have a great weekend,” you tell them. “We want you to come and experience our house . . . oh, but make sure you bring your checkbook along the way . . . because we want you write a check to pay our mortgage . . . and don’t forget the cash to pay for the food . . . and by the way we really want you to come because we can charge you additional fees to help pay for things we’ve purchased in the past. Y’all come on over, because it’s going to help us make ends meet so that we can hoard our money for ourselves.”
Yes, there is a sense that the entire tourist and “hospitality” industry is built on that model, what what does is mean when a city basically says that we want our visitors to build a building that we want in order to get them into the city to spend money to pay taxes to fund services that we refuse to fund on our own. Is there not an ethical disconnect in here somewhere along the way?
Hospitality in the biblical sense is always about sacrificing one’s needs in order to meet the needs of the guest. Biblical hospitality led to the valuing of the guest in the monastic tradition, so much so that the guest house was sometimes the first building constructed in these communities. This notion of sacrificial hospitality runs through all of the middle eastern based religions – Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and is found in eastern religious traditions as well. It says that the host has a responsibility for the care of the guest, and that the host should sacrifice in order to meet the guests need.
And yet, the entire proposal for the MCC has been built on the notion of hospitality without sacrifice. It has been a game of discovering ways we can take advantage of our guests so that we can get them in town and make more money off of them.
Yes, I suppose that is the way of business, but is it just? Is it ethical? Is it really hospitality?