Sorry Bill Maher, the NFL is nothing like socialism 

I'm just going to warn you right now that I'm going to discuss Bill Maher. He's generally not worth discussing because to the extent he's a comedian, his humor -- and I employ that term very loosely -- is always used to mask some tedious lecture about wrong with conservatives.

Well, in this case I think Maher's latest lecture is emblematic enough of a wide swath of lazy arguments against conservatives and is especially revealing in its economic illiteracy to warrant mentioning. So here's Maher's latest rant, which is currently popping up at websites where liberals go to feel smug:

After some great Super Bowl humor, Maher got to the economics lesson, “It’s no surprise that some 100 million Americans will watch the Super Bowl next week. That’s 40 million more than go to church on Christmas, suck on that Jesus. It’s also 85 million more than watch the last game of the World Series, and in that is an economic lesson for America, because football is built on an economic model of fairness and opportunity, and baseball is built on a model where the rich always win, and the poor usually have no chance. The World Series is like the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. You have to be a rich bitch to just to play, whereas the Super Bowl is like Tila Tequila, anybody can get in.”

Maher continued, “Or to put it another way, football is more like the Democratic philosophy. Democrats don’t want to eliminate capitalism or competition, but they would like it if some kids didn’t have to go to a crummy school in a rotten neighborhood, while others get to go to a great school and their dad gets them into Harvard because when that happens achieving the American Dream becomes. It is easy for some and just a fantasy for others. That’s why the NFL literally shares the wealth. TV is their biggest source of revenue, and they put it all in a big commie pot and split it 32 ways, because they don’t want anyone falling too far behind. That’s why the team that wins the Super Bowl in the next draft picks last, or what the Republicans would call punishing success.”

He then explained why baseball exemplifies the Republican philosophy, “Baseball, baseball on the other hand is exactly like the Republicans, and I don’t just mean it’s incredibly boring. I mean their economic theory is every man for himself. The small market Pittsburgh Steelers go to the Super Bowl more than anybody, but the Pittsburgh Pirates? Levi Johnston has sperm that will not grow up and live long enough to see the Pirates in a World Series. Their payroll is $40 million. The Yankees is $206 million. The Pirates have about as much chance of getting to the playoffs, as a poor black teenager from Newark has of becoming the CEO of Haliburton. That’s why people stop going to Pirate games in May, because if you’re not in the game, you become indifferent to the fate of the game, and maybe even get bitter, that’s what’s happening to the middle class in America.”

Maher goes on to conclude, "So you kind of have to laugh that the same angry white males who hate Obama because he is redistributing wealth, just love football, a sport that succeeds because it does just that."

Suffice to say, anyone who finds this analogy illuminating either hasn't thought it through or has the brains God gave trout. The MLB and NFL are comparable to government in very few meaningful respects. Let us count the ways this is a terrible analogy:

--The NFL as an analogy for proving that evenly redistributing wealth works falls apart in a rather spectacular fashion when you start discussing player salaries, no?

--Sporting leagues are zero sum. Wealth creation is not. In the MLB and NFL, there are winners and losers every day or week until there's only one winner at the top. When someone creates wealth, it's not always at the expense of someone else. When a sucessful new technology is created or when a new business thrives, new jobs are created, productivity is increased, more taxes are paid and many people benefit.

--Wealth redistribution on the other hand is zero sum. The government takes in a finite amount of money each year and attempts to redistribute according to its often arbitrary definitions of "fairness." Unlike private sector wealth creation, government wealth redistribution generally creates inefficencies. In between the time taxes are collected and by the time the government gets around to redistributing them, the bureaucracy has hoovered up a healthy portion of the funds. They have less to give out than they started with.  How many jobs did that stimulus bill create again?

--Unlike the government, the NFL does not operate by threat of coercive force. Team owners generally agree that having a more competitive league maximizes eyeballs and profits. So they voluntarily agree to certain contractual terms that they think will make the most money for all the owners over the long haul. But again, because the NFL season is a essentially zero sum competition it's very easy to arrive at simple and transparent rules that everyone can agree help achieve competitiveness (and profits) for eveyone, e.g. everyone working with the same salary cap or giving teams with better records lower draft picks.

Wealth redistribution in government is done through a highly progressive tax code that is a hellbroth of confusing rules and loopholes that allow the dishonest, wealthy and influential to game the system. And those rules are created by politicians who get paid off by special interests. If you think the tax code is unfair to you -- and it probably is -- you can't choose to ignore the rules. Armed federal agents show up at your house with guns and haul you off to jail. The bigger and more progressive the taxes, the bigger the incentives to game the system, which is so complex there's no transparency.

--Does Bill Maher know anything about baseball? While it's true that the Yankees payroll does loom large, small market teams are hardly shut out of the World Series. In 2008, Tampa Bay made it to the big show, even though they didn't win. In 2003, the Florida Marlins even beat the Yankees massive payroll. Yes, people complain about the Yankees buying championships for some valid reasons, but that's because there's a much more finite supply of great players within the relatively narrow confines of professional baseball.

But again, the economy is hardly a finite, zero-sum game. Unlike the Yankees, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs haven't succeeded by taking products off the market and depriving others a chance to buy them -- they've gotten rich by creating new products and giving everyone a chance to benefit from them.

--Finally, I would point out that United States has the most progressive tax system of all the leading economies in the world. The result is that we're $14 trillion in debt. The evidence that more income redistribution would result more economic fairness and more prosperity is seriously wanting. As private enterprises, both the NFL and MLB still turn healthy profits.

So here's my new rule: Bill Maher should use his brain for once before he delivers another facile, too-clever-by-half rant. The ignorance he's exposing is his own.

 

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Mark Hemingway

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