Those Who Can't Teach Economics Run For President
Somewhere in heaven, baseball pioneer Curt Flood is smacking his forehead with his palm.
The reason for Flood’s exasperation? Comments from avowed socialist and Democratic Party presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. On the stump , the Vermont senator is using baseball to decry the inequalities that crop up in capitalism. “If we are a nation that can pay baseball players hundreds of millions of dollars, don't tell me we can't afford to pay teachers the salaries they deserve,” Sanders told a cheering crowd of followers. No doubt this is a crowd pleaser at Bernie rallies where he regularly rails against the free-market economy.
Conflating the money rich folk earn with the salaries of everyday folk is a standard canard in the class-warfare handbook of the progressive left. And while the re-ordering of the pay chain in western societies is a huge societal issue, it’s ill served by this type of financial illiteracy.
This baseball millionaire vs. ordinary guy meme has been around since the 1960s, which is apparently the last time Sanders had an original economic thought as he honeymooned in Brezhnev-era Moscow. In those days this comparison was used by team owners and their media lackeys to thwart Flood’s Supreme Court challenge against baseballs reserve clause, which effectively bound a player to his current team for life. “They want a fortune to play a kid’s game!” was the owners’ rallying cry.
Flood wanted players to be free agents when their contracts expired so they could enjoy an open market for their services at the peak of their abilities. While Flood lost his SCOTUS case in 1972 it did create a movement toward free agency in all the sports. The princelike compensation enjoyed by today’s stars— some make $50 M a year— may be the only part of Bernie’s bloviation that has an ounce of truth to it. Free markets did that.
The rest of the asinine analogy coming from a presidential candidate is especially bracing. The class warfare tripe has been regularly re-visited in the half century since Flood’s challenge. Dim sportswriters, angry fans and socialists alike employ it. In my career— which has often concentrated on the financial tug of war between owners and their employees— I’ve been forced to debate any number of Bernies who whip out this chestnut to score a cheap debate sensation.
For those who’ve missed my previous efforts in four books and at numerous media outlets, here’s why Sanders is a dunce who’d be a dunce preaching this even in Venezuela.
Athletes are free enterprisers. Teachers are civil servants. While baseball players are unionized and have collective agreements their compensation is governed by a free market in a very, very lucrative industry. Last year alone, MLB raked in about US$5 B from its media and digital rights. Somebody’s got to make that money, and the stars who fill the stands deservedly take a good slice of it. By comparison, public school teachers’ salaries are products of rigid pay hierarchies that typically reward length of service not skill. There is no free market in public-school systems.
2) Top athletes represent just the top one/one hundredth of a percent of all the people in the world who play the sport. Scarcity dictates their compensation. Teachers are part of an enormous cohort that rarely distinguishes between superstars and abject failures. Good or bad, there’s a teacher on every corner. Seniority is the most important factor governing their compensation.
3) A top athlete has a window of about a decade to exploit his/ her talent before age dictates their exit from the game. In most cases, the average major-league career in an elite sport is closer to four years of earning potential (you make less money than teachers in the minors). Teachers’ careers can go for up to five decades with lucrative pensions in retirement.
4) If a player is no longer producing at elite levels he must seek a teachers-level salary when his playing career ends in his 20s or 30s. If a teacher is no longer producing at an elite level he/ she is often protected by the union and can go years without working but still be compensated at the top end of the scale.
5) Baseball aspires to everyone having a chance to reach the top. Teachers unions aspire to making Democrats/ Liberals and wobbly socialists reach the top.
6) There’s no crying in baseball. According to Bitching Bernie, crying is endemic to teacher compensation.
Please clip this column and keep it in your wallet or purse for handy reference next time you’re at a meeting or a party where some tender-hearted coercion artist like Bernie Sanders tells you that we should pay teachers more than we pay baseball players. It’ll come in handy.
Because listening is not their strong suit, expect to have to remind them every generation of so. Their memories fade. Especially when they’ve been getting media approval for spreading lies.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the publisher of his website Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). He’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also a best-selling author whose new book Cap In Hand: How Salary Caps Are Killing Pro Sports And Why The Free Market Could Save Them brucedowbigginbooks.ca is now available.