Critics of capitalism often use professional athletes as an example of what’s wrong with the free market. Isn’t it a crime that baseball players get paid many multiples of what teachers get paid while teachers help our society so much more?
Bob Murphy, among others dispatches that argument well (a Bible has more societal value than “Grand Theft Auto”; is it a crime that we pay more for the former?). Ballplayers’ value is set by a combination of the scarcity of and demand for their skill, I’ve argued.
But I’m not so sure anymore. Considering how much government subsidizes baseball, maybe we all should be griping about baseball player salaries. Today the Miami Herald carries a good op-ed about the Florida Marlins:
Surprise! The Florida Marlins are among the most profitable teams in baseball.
Incredibly, these profits were amassed when the Marlins were negotiating the 30-year, $2.4 billion stadium deal with the county and city, using public taxes (including a $35 million county loan to the privately-owned Marlins), while allowing our befuddled mayors, managers and commissioners to believe the team was nearly destitute and would depart South Florida, leaving Miami without the status of a world class city.
The Marlins are far from unique here. It’s also not only in baseball that government serves to distribute money from regular folks to the politically powerful. A good place to find more examples is Ira Stoll’s blog, The Future of Capitalism, where “Reverse Robin Hood” is a theme.