The NFL, Economics and America

In our political culture these days, we’re used to screeching at one another over philosophy, and we focus very little on outcomes.  Ideology, rather than practice, has taken center stage in our political discourse, and we’re all the worse for it.  Enter the National Football League.  Last night, Sixty Minutes ran a piece on Roger Godell and the NFL.  At first, I was less than interested, as football kind of bores me.  But the more I watched the piece, the more it drew me in, not so much for the content itself, but what I learned about how the NFL operates fascinates me.

The NFL is basically a politically sanctioned monopoly that has certain legal features that are an anathema to unfettered capitalism.  And it works beautifully, and with breathtaking profits.  For example, there are such socialistic features as revenue sharing between the teams, an alternating system that allows weaker teams to get first dibs on stronger players, coordination between the teams that in other industries would be treated as collusion, and rule by fiat by its commissioner, Godell.  These aren’t intrusive, job-killing regulations, they actually help the league function effectively and with a hefty profit.

While we think of those features of being little better than communistic, the outcome is anything but.  As I mentioned earlier, it’s immensely profitable.  Ratings for games routinely top the charts, and as we come up on the Superbowl (Go Giants, I might add), it’s something that virtually all of us plan on watching.  In short, it’s highly successful, and even though it has some socialistic principles that govern it, it truly enhances the game, and another feature that we do associate with capitalism: competition.

The organization of the NFL, though socialistic, enhances competition greatly.  The league is all the more vibrant for it.  I think that in this day and age, we would all profit by thinking about this a bit more.  When you make it so that all teams have the chance to successfully compete, everyone wins.  We should take a lesson from this, and tone done the rhetoric in our discourse.  We could do a better job of equalizing opportunity without guaranteeing equality of outcome.  Meaning, instead of subsidizing certain industries, say finance or agriculture, we would do well to levelling the playing field of our economy, ensuring a more equal starting point for, say, the middle class.  In having more people start on more or less equal footing, we’d be doing good by doing well.  It’s democratic, and, in the end, it would foster that healthiest of capitalistic hallmarks, competition.

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