One of the depressing things about being a classical liberal in today’s world is that everywhere you turn, there a rent-seeker is and a politician to satisfy him/her. You can’t escape such news – even on the sports page! Whether it is the recent renewal of the farm bill (and the more massive, perhaps the more unnoticed it goes?!), Laura Bush and her librarians, or so many other examples noted here, it is enough to turn your stomach.
Many use the common pigs-at-a-trough metaphor to talk about rent-seekers being like animals that noisily trudge up to government in order to feast on the public’s hard-earned money. However, this isn’t quite accurate: pigs eat the scraps and ultimately provide value to the farmer who pays for all that slop. Rent-seekers are actually more like fire-ants who slowly devour an animal alive for their sustenance. Sure, the ants pay a minor cost in time and effort spent getting the meal – but it is the other animal who pays the biggest part of the bill and slowly dies in the process!
But back to the sports page. As the article cited above notes, 4,000 people recently rallied in support of new baskeball
palace arena in Seattle that will be funded with up to $200 million of public money. I read it as the story of multimillionaires trying to get over on the public to satisfy their ambition, personal pleasures, and bottom-line with a little help from those who have always loved when the emperor gives them games in the Colisseum paid out of state coffers. Of course, this is how the fire-ants/rent-seekers are depicted in the fawning media that sees government funding as a win-win deal. And no matter Hansen’s lofty (stated) goals – and one wonders about the unstated ones – he (and his rich friends) is trying to get the public to fund a personal interest that he happens to share with other basketball fans. Is this really what government was designed to do? Can this really be justified in any serious philosophical sense?
It can’t be done by way of economics/utilitarianism because the economic case against public funding of stadia deals is pretty solid. Here is how one review – among many – put it:
The large and growing peer-reviewed economics literature on the economic impacts of stadiums, arenas, sports franchises, and sport mega-events has consistently found no substantial evidence of increased jobs, incomes, or tax revenues for a community associated with any of these things.