ATEED is another awful acronym Auckland is going to get to know. It stands for Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development and it is the title of one of the agencies set up to serve the Super City. Unfortunately the words "event" and "economic" do not go together as easily as the title implies, but ATEED has made a sturdy attempt to argue otherwise in a newly issued, draft major events strategy.

Obviously an event is economic if it can charge for entry and attract a large enough attendance to cover its costs and provide a fair return for its organisers and sponsors. That means not just that it is economic for its investors, but for the economy. Activities that can cover their costs and generate a measurable financial return are the basis of every sustainable economy. Activities that cannot cover their costs for any reason are a cost to an economy, no matter how much other activity they generate.

If "spin-off" activity were a sound basis for an economy, imagine how much fun it would be? Public bodies would be advised to put every spare cent into major events - in fact they should borrow billions for them - and the country would get ever richer on a continuous itinerary of international tournaments, games, festivals and expos.

In fact just about everything anybody does generates spin-off activity. The Government could generate plenty by paying the unemployed to dig holes in the ground for no other purpose, but the economy would be poorer for it.

Yet we are constantly offered highly subjective financial assessments of the wider benefits of an event the public is asked to fund. In Government circles they are calling it now "stadium economics". Not that the Government is innocent of it; witness the Rugby World Cup.

None of this is said to suggest Auckland and the country should not fund major events. Economics is not the only measure of value in life. The task for ATEED and agencies like it is to develop other ways to decide what is worth doing. Its draft strategy makes an attempt, setting out a classification system based on whether the event is "productive" or "consumptive", is of international or local attraction, and its likely attendance.

Auckland needs, it says, "anchor events" which can distinguish the city, can be held regularly and have mass appeal. It defines those as capable of attracting at least 200,000 people, if it is a social "consumptive" event, or an immediate return of at least $5 million on regional investment if it is supposed to be "productive".

The city already has four annual events the agency classifies as economic: Fashion Week, the Auckland Marathon, the International Boat Show and the professional tennis tournaments. But these do not generate sufficient returns to meet the agency's measure of success. It names two consumptive events large enough to be anchor events: the Pasifika and Lantern festivals.

The agency makes a case that Auckland councils have spent too little on events. At $6 million a year, Auckland's outlay is much less per person than Sydney's, Melbourne's, Adelaide's or even Wellington's. ATEED is asking for a budget of $10 million this year and $18 million next year. It has not nominated what events it would boost with this money or what new ones it might launch.

It thinks the city lacks two types of event a "global city" should have in its programme: a gay and lesbian festival and a music festival. The mayor may have to release the agency from his "global" vision if Auckland is to concentrate on events that will make it distinctive.

But the attempt to devise consistent criteria for assaying the value of events is promising. It may spare us the spurious claims of those who usually put a figure on public fun.