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The NFL and Socialism

In an article that isn’t really about politics or economics, the sports page brings a little insight to both:

How many people had the moxie a few months ago to predict that not only would the Kansas City Chiefs win the AFC West but that the San Diego Chargers would also not even make the playoffs? Well, at least one group got that Chiefs thing right.

That’s part of what has made the National Football League the dominant sports enterprise in the country: The socialistic economics of the league gives fans in most cities hope at the beginning of each year that their team might have a shot. (source)


And that is why some forms of socialism (think Norway, not Cuba) are superior to true free-market capitalism (think Albania, not the United States). The fact is, if you’re born in a slum in the United States, chances are that you’ll die in a slum too. Meanwhile, for a Swedish baby, the economic or social class of his parents has very little influence upon where he’ll be as an adult.

If your dad is in the lowest economic quintile, there is a 42 percent chance that you’ll stay there. Meanwhile, if the same son is born to a Danish, Finnish, Swedish, or Norwegian dad, he has only a 25-30% chance of remaining at the bottom. Worse yet, a Nordic child has a slightly greater chance of moving from the bottom quintile to the top quintile. See Jäntti, M., B. Bratsberg, K. Røed, O. Raaum, R. Naylor E. Österbacka, A. Björklund, T. Eriksson. 2006. “American Exceptionalism in a New Light: A Comparison of Intergenerational Earnings Mobility in the Nordic Countries, the United Kingdom and the United States.”; Miles Corak, 2006. “Do Poor Children Become Poor Adults? Lessons from a Cross Country Comparison of Generational Earnings Mobility,” IZA Discussion Papers No. 1993, Bonn: Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) (concluding that Canada, Germany, and France have greater class mobility than the United States).

In other words, on any given Sunday, any NFL team can win. And in any given season, you never really know how the playoff picture will look. And any given child born in a more civilized country just might wind up doing awfully well.

In contrast, the San Diego Padres could win the World Series every year. But, if you laid your pre-season bet on anyone but the Red Sox or the Yankees, you’re probably throwing your money away. Meanwhile, despite the Patriots’ dominance of the past decade, you never really know if they’ll be playing in a game with roman numerals on it. Of course, their dominance is fairly attributable to the socialism within the team. The Patriots system pays Tom Brady pretty damn well, but he could probably make 30% more if he went to another team, meanwhile other players take less in order to bring in other talent under the salary cap — and thus producing three Superbowl wins since that became the system. Players who are willing to sacrifice for the collective good, like Teddy Bruschi, stick around. Those who simply chase the dollar (like Lawyer Milloy and Adam Vinatieri) wind up elsewhere.

Of course, the other side of the coin is that sometimes in a socialist system, losers can win. In the final week of the regular NFL season, the Seattle Seahawks will be 6-9, playing for the division title, might be the #4 seed in the NFC with a losing 7-9 record, and if things go their way in three games in a row, they’ll take home the Lombardi trophy.

I’m a social libertarian, but when it comes to economics, I favor a little bit of socialism… I stopped giving a shit about MLB when the Sox turned into Yankees North, but I don’t mind shelling out a couple of grand for NFL tickets.

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