Sunday, February 5, 2012

Super Bowl Socialism

On this day, Super Bowl Sunday, we will once again witness the gawdy mixture of sports, excess, patriotism, and military pride. The US military and the National Football League are two institutions in America that are deeply socialist in their structure: They are successful for that reason.

Take the US military: Everyone from a fresh recruit to the Joint Chiefs of Staff is on the public payroll; housing, food, travel benefits, a retirement plan. And they all have a government-provided and regulated health care I suspect few are willing to abandon for the capriciousness of the profits-first private sector. Moreover, the military is chock-a -block with regulations, rules, requirements, and a thick code of behavior.

It is worth noting that the US military is a dominating force in the world because the US government wanted it to be, not because the markets made it happen. Military preeminence is this nation's industrial policy and power, complete with the world's most sophisticated weapons. Our defense industry is number one because our government put resources into it and fostered private sector support. 

At the same time, most observers will happily tell you the US military is full of courageous, dedicated, devoted, proud, and hypercompetitive men and women. All this and modest pay as well.

This is a combination that free market advocates say cannot exist. Any institution so encumbered will surely stifle innovation, resourcefulness, and personal responsibility.

We see a similar result with professional sports. The NFL, for example, exemplifies bounded competition: a highly circumscribed set of rules and regulations which define and control every aspect of the game. That set of rules and regs is exactly why the game works; they are designed to enhance competition because they do not allow a richer or better situated team to dominate the game. And they minimize cheating, which bothers Americans more in sports than it does in Wall Street and government. Players, union members all, compete fiercely within the confines of the rules, and abide by a thick rulebook that regulates every aspect of play.

Again this contradicts the free market doctrine that insists regulations are inherently burdensome and constrict creativity, competition, and glorious individualism. With no sense of irony, sports fans glibly cheer on their favorite franchises that make clear they win through team effort and pound out selfishness, arrogance, and self-centered individualists more concerned about their stats and their image. There is no I in team, as they say. And no, it is not because of high pay; the pattern fits all sports, including high school, college, and amateur players with no real prospects for riches.
I see that Bill Maher got my memo. In the video below Maher also notes the socialist structure of the NFL, what he calls the irritable bowl syndrome  He does stress different points, however. Watch it and note how the socialized structure of the NFL provides such different results than does major league baseball.

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