Let’s make a deal
As the battle over who can spout the most without backing up any factual evidence and/or fail to understand an argument rages on screens across the Upper Midwest, I would like to throw my metaphorical hat into the ring of quick judgment and overreaction to talk about nasty companions and the least-cute couple in most of our lives: corporations and the state. Read on for evidence of why the Minnesota Vikings might soon cause an increase in Pop Tart suppers and only one picture of pretty people.
Now, before (/shortly after reading that paragraph) you say, “Yeah, it’s the corporations’ fault!” (implying every social problem lies at the foot of a person’s door in the form of “it”), I challenge you to be somewhat patient. This post won’t amount to more than 16 (original) paragraphs; I promise. (Oh, and I’m using the “state” here as a word describing a coercive group of individuals claiming exclusive rights to use force while preventing others from using those supposed rights, i.e., the guv’mint, not Minnesota or South Dakota, exclusively.)
And to further delay your arrival to a point, because I haven’t quite thought of how I want to begin (and because defining terms is fun [and helpful and fair]), I would like to introduce a few terms, thanks to Roderick Long:
left-conflationism: “the error of treating the evils of existing corporatist capitalism as though they constituted an objection to a freed market”
right-conflationism: “the error of treating the virtues of a freed market as though they constituted a justification of the evils of existing corporatist capitalism”
To sum: In general, we ain’t got a free market here in the U.S., so keep that in mind whenever the plastic heads on TV or your favorite go-to smarty pants says something against or for it. Left-conflationism says that those darn market processes and something about an invisible hand are making the rich richer and the poor poorer, and there oughta be a law. Right-conflationism says that GE (or GM, or Capital Records, or Walmart) is an awesome boss man, and they deserve the wealth they’ve got, because gosh-darnit, they earned it on the free market.
Both are intellectual errors, and both prevent thinkors’ mind-eyes from seeing the cause of much strife in our days: that handshake above. (See: on the left side of the picture, we have the state, conniving and mischievous-looking; in the middle, it’s a voter, who looks happy to be part of the pillaging; and on the right side, we have the fancy-hatted business person, who loves to strike deals and become better off with privileges.) Most often, to the detriment of even the most honest and earnest thinkor, the effects of that shake are completely unseen or difficult to identify, however, a thinkor needs to properly identify the cause before trying to solve a social problem. In other words, don’t conflate the evil of two buggers into one supposed perpetrator. Keep things separate, but understand when two bads come together, we’re left with an ungood superbad (as opposed to a good superbad, like the song or movie).
The ownership of the Minnesota Vikings wants a new stadium. (Incidentally, I want one, too, but my megaphone/wallet is smaller.) Team representatives recently met with county officials in St. Paul to discuss their options, smoke cigars and laugh at the folks from whom they’ll soon steal money. According to a Minnesota Public Radio story:
The Minnesota Vikings’ effort to get a new stadium appear to be picking up some momentum. Team executive Mark Wilf was in St. Paul Tuesday, meeting with officials about his team’s prospects for a replacement for the Metrodome.
“I wouldn’t interpret it as any kind of sign,” Wilf said. “I think the main message is going to come from the legislators, and we’re hopeful a bill will be coming and be produced quickly here, so we can get to a conclusion. Because, obviously, we need a home and we want to get to work on it.”
Before I rip on this argument, I’d like to somewhat prove my loyalty to the abstract, somehow-worthy concepts of sports teams and their awesomeness (see image to the right). Now we can begin.
Reasons given as to why people disinterested and fanatical alike must finance sports stadiums at metaphorical knife-point are a-plenty. Here are a few: 1. It will help the local economy (or the economy as a whole) by boosting area sales and business. 2. It would generate jobs. 3. The team needs a new home, because the old one is falling apart or isn’t up to league standards. 4. A new stadium would be really neat. 5. The team has given so much to the community; we ought to give back. 6. It wouldn’t cost each of us that much.
Reason 2 doesn’t hold up. Yes, stadium construction would provide jobs to some people, but every dollar spent on the stadium could have otherwise been spent toward the more efficient satisfaction of someone’s desires, so public financing really generates less jobs than would have been generating if the money would’ve been spent privately. Reason 3 says this to me: the old stadium was a crappy investment, why do it again -or- disinterested parties should not have to pay to keep game participants’ facilities competitive with other teams. Maybe Suzie Q really likes polo. Should some individuals steal some of her money to build a polo stadium comparable to others in the U.S. Polo League? Reason 4 is awesome, but doesn’t pan out when it comes to, well, reason. Number 5 is ridiculous. Reason 6 is a perfect example of socialized costs, privatized losses (sugar tariffs, anyone?) and doesn’t justify a new place for a team.
So that leaves us with ol’ number 1.
General economic benefits
Economists and writers have made arguments for and against the net economic benefit of stadiums (see: Mark Rosentraub, Dennis Coates and Brad R. Humphreys [pdf], Judith Grant Long) in recent years. Even if the publicly financed stadiums do on average provide a net benefit to cities, states or other statistical areas, the profit/loss feedback is not in place. Losses fall to non-calculating (non-economically interested) people, whether it is politicians or members of the public who have never voluntarily given the team a dime. Profits line the pockets of politically connected individuals. Ted Mondale, chair of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, an agency charged with overseeing Twin Cities-area sports developments, even said on MPR recently that the Vikings don’t find it feasible to pay for the stadium themselves. For an illustration of the opposite of this reasoning, see this comment on the website of Neil deMause (who has written on this topic extensively and appeared on MPR to talk about the Vikings’ proposals with Long and Mondale):
Mondale said it is not economically viable for the Vikings to build the a new stadium. He did not say that it is also not economically viable for the state to build it.
It’s always “economically viable” for a state to “invest” in a project. Costs are dispersed socially. From another recent MPR story:
Commissioner Tony Bennett, who represents the area, said he hopes a stadium will revive what was once a bustling industrial area in his district.
“It needs to be cleaned up. It needs to be developed. It’s become an eyesore,” he said. “And this may be just the thing that will kick it off the ground.”
Bennett says an important phrase in the quote’s last sentence, “… this may be …,” which illustrates the basic calculation problem present in any sort of public financing. Investments aren’t investments. Because public officials need not respond to any sort of profit/loss mechanism, their ability to forecast effects of their spending decisions are far different than any private individual or group of actors.
And from yet another MPR story, Bennett continues this line of non-reason:
“This property needs a jump start,” said Commissioner Tony Bennett, the idea’s chief proponent. He lives less than a mile from the site and represents the area.
If the property “needs a jump start,” private investors should pitch in and develop the area. Interested parties know whether or not the place needs a monetary kick. They should foot the bill.
Tell your “representatives” to say no to publicly financed stadiums, or, if you get the chance, vote against it yourself. (Or better yet, don’t vote.) Sure, a new Vikings stadium might help a few restaurant servers near the stadium or real estate developers near its new site. But, the ultimate costs of those dollars funneled into the project would never be seen. Because every publicly spent (stolen) dollar must remove one dollar from the voluntary portion of society, I claim that a new Vikings stadium would not be a net benefit to Minnesotans as a whole. I can reasonably surmise that a few people in the state are going to be worse off if this deal is done. The poorer one gets, the less money he or she has to spend on goods, like food. Thus, Pop Tarts for supper. (I’ll take brown sugar and cinnamon.)