The EPL: A Parable of Globalized Capitalism

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Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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45 Responses

  1. Avatar James K
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    says:

    I think the degree of badness of income inequality depends on exactly what is happening to the distribution.

    Unlike many here I don’t see a collapse of the middle class in the data. Instead what I see is the top 1% or so running away, while everyone else either gets richer slowly or is stagnant (it’s a little hard to see which in the data, there are a lot of confounding factors).

    So for me the real problem isn’t so much income inequality as it is the fact that income growth relative to GDP is unaccountably sluggish. I have one idea (I’m putting together my thoughts for a post, but it relates to healthcare), but it seems to me that is the question we need to be asking. The fact there are a small group of people who are getting richer may or may not be relevant.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James K
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      says:

      income growth relative to GDP is unaccountably sluggish.

      The fact there are a small group of people who are getting richer may or may not be relevant.

      Add in that the wealthiest are getting exorbitantly wealthier while income growth remains sluggish and you get closer to coming up with an answer. That your theory cannot account for this ‘paradox’ seems to me a decisive point against your theory.Report

      • Avatar James K in reply to Stillwater
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        says:

        I don’t so much have a theory as bits of one, my problem is that income isn’t a zero-sum game, and it’s dangerous to treat it like it is.

        Take an example, over the past 200 years a block of Western countries (and a small number of others) have pulled sharply away from the rest of the world in terms of income, but in that instance I am as certain as I can be that it is not due to the Western countries stealing from the poor countries.

        That may well be a bad metaphor, the point is that I’m not sure and the mere fact that one group is getting riches does not means they are doing so at the expense of everyone else. I’m sure at least part of the top 1%’s income gain is the result of the superstar effect, which I consider an unproblematic reason for the rich to be getting richer. The question is how much of that income growth is due to that.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James K
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          says:

          That may well be a bad metaphor

          I agree. I think that the burden would be heavily tilted towards the person arguing that ‘theft’ wasn’t the cornerstone of two centuries of economic growth. Especially in the US.

          It would also depend on what we agree to call ‘theft’. 🙂Report

          • Avatar James K in reply to Stillwater
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            says:

            I’m not going to dispute that the US engaged in a lot of theft over the past 200 years, but I very much doubt it had a big effect on GDP (at least on a per-capita basis). The West has grown rich because of the Industrial Revolution, which is not something you can steal.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Stillwater
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        says:

        That your theory cannot account for this ‘paradox’ seems to me a decisive point against your theory.

        Its a question of normativity. i.e about what matters.

        It is also a question of logic. the mer fact that some people at the top have been able to grow very quickly while growth everywhere else has been sluggish does not mean that the rich did what they did at the expense of the worst off.

        Now, of course, I am going to grant that the rules of the game do not seem to be to the benefit of the worst off, but I bet that the rules that I think are screwed up are not the rules hat you think are screwed up and at the very least, the way in which I think the rules ae screwed up is different from the ways in which you think the rules are screwed up.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali
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          says:

          Murali, my only point is that if the theory can’t account for the facts – not some hypothetical! – then the theory is false.

          Maybe I had another point as well: that there is a theory which accounts for the facts but runs counter to neoliberalism.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Murali
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          says:

          My question remains the same, until some yutz decides to answer.
          How do you stop the cancer economy? Do you really consider Cancer to be a good business model?Report

  2. Avatar Ethan Gach
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    says:

    “respecting community norms”

    That’s the key, and to the degree that those traditional forms of self-regulation/community regulation through social pressure and cultural assumptions, globalization has had effects that communities can do little to redress.Report

  3. Avatar SKI
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    says:

    Don’t presume that all of the foreign owners would vote to end the regulation/promotion system. I believe that Aston Villa, owned by an American, already issued a statement strongly opposing the concept. My understanding is that it is more the Asian-based ownership groups that are agitating for this, particularly Blackburn.Report

  4. Avatar Jason Kuznicki
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    says:

    -Political power can always be purchased for the right price, whether by legal or illegal means (and usually the former).

    And so… we don’t even try to stamp out the problem? Granted, “make it illegal” isn’t going to solve the problem entirely, but then, nothing else does either.

    As to income inequality, it’s a real problem, but it’s one that I prefer to face with a larger amount of total wealth. Given the choices:

    (a) Everyone makes $20,000 per year, in total compensation, including whatever perks you want to throw in, and monetized political power too.

    (b) Everyone makes $30,000 per year, and one guy makes $1,000,000 (ditto).

    I’d pick (b). I am increasingly aware that not everyone agrees with this preference.

    But perversely, trying to instantiate “less total wealth, more equality” often leads to less total wealth and less equality. This is a consideration that ought to tilt people away from at least some policies designed to instantiate (a), but it doesn’t seem to have much effect in that direction. Good intentions trump bad outcomes.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      says:

      I’d pick b too. Now how do you propose we stop labeling Financials as a growth industry?

      … systemic problems are not always governmental in nature. Cancer is not a viable long term business strategy.Report

    • Avatar Plinko in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      says:

      Why do you think we have a and b choices? I would submit our actual U.S experience over the last decade are two are really not at all represented.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Plinko
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        says:

        I chose them because they represent an important abstract moral dilemma. I am not proposing that they are historically representative. Indeed, I all but denied that (a) is likely ever to arise. It isn’t.Report

        • Avatar Plinko in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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          says:

          The problem is I think everyone would choose b except perhaps the most cynical and bitter, so what are you illustrating?

          Change it to:
          A) 80% make $20,000 and the remaining 20 make $35,000.

          B) 20% make $16,000, 50% make $22,000 and 10% make $100,000

          Total wealth is surely increased, would most people pick B? A lot fewer might and it’s a more interesting question. Also, perhaps I’m undermining my point a bit that no one would choose a in your example, but short of a post-scarcity economy, how is that increased disposable income increase at the top not going to cause the real incomes of the rest to fall when they bid up consumption goods?Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      says:

      I don’t mean to suggest that there be no attempt to stamp out the problem. Instead, I’m suggesting that: 1. Under many circumstances, the fact that political power can be purchased for the right price need not be much, if any, of a problem; and 2. Those circumstances exist where those with the greatest amount of wealth/access to political power have an investment in the relevant community that goes beyond a need to maximize monetary profits.

      I assume you’re suggesting that the solution is to simply create less political power for those with access to it to abuse and aggregate to themselves. If that is what you’re suggesting, then I agree, by and large. But – and this is largely why I’ve become apathetic about politics – this is either a systemic change or a cultural one. Simply winning a legislative battle here or there that nominally decreases the power of the governing entities doesn’t address the core issue, and those victories will be fleeting and easily undone or, worse, will in fact exacerbate the problem under the guise of trying to fix it.

      You first have to get to the point where those with interests other than maximization of monetary profits have the political power to make the necessary systemic changes. In other words, seeking a political solution to the problem is a fool’s errand, because ultimately you are trying to gain the political power necessary to gain (or regain, as the case may be) political power.

      I think that there are/were measures that could be taken to prevent those with no interests beyond monetary profits from gaining power, but: 1. I find a lot of those measures as bad or worse than the disease, susceptible to the worst of human impulses, nativism/racism/etc. first and foremost among them; and 2. It’s largely too late to implement those measures anyhow – the cat is out of the bag, and the age of the closely held, large, politically powerful, but primarily regional business interest is basically over.

      Ultimately, the solution has to be cultural and apolitical. And one way or another, a cultural solution will occur and a new equilibrium reached. Although I think a solution is inevitable, I also only think it can happen in one of two ways: 1. Enough people in enough communities/states/countries start to place greater value on buying local, avoiding multinational corporations, etc. such that the multinationals cease to obtain enough benefits from doing business in those locales to warrant or enable the exercise of political power; or 2. We become so globalized that the “relevant local community” becomes, in most instances, the entire world, or at least a pretty good chunk of it, and wind up with a gigantic monoculture.

      I expect that it will mostly be the latter of these. I, like most people, would probably say that the former outcome is vastly preferable to the latter. But what we say we want and how we act have a tendency to diverge quite a bit.

      We love the idea of having separate and distinct cultures so much that we feel the need to go and visit those cultures, and buy things or cook foods we believe to be representative of those cultures. We love it so much that we then go out and tell our friends about those experiences and encourage them to do likewise (all in the name of supporting, of course). And, in the process, we succeed in building a little bit more of a monoculture. After all, what good is a world of diverse communities and cultures if few get to experience and know communities and cultures other than their own?Report

  5. Avatar Stillwater
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    says:

    I think what your getting at here is a broadly accurate critique of liberalization of capital movement across borders and cultures, one that is counterintuitive to advocates of neoliberalism and somewhat paradoxical in it’s conclusion: that the negative impacts of capital’s leverage is only constrained – at the end of the day! – by the very cultural norms neoliberal pro-capital policies are designed to eliminate.

    As I said, I think the narrow critique you offer above generalizes to all market activities in which capital flexibility is a putative goal. And it’s not so much that the critique is decisive against neoliberal policies which encourage/permit capital flexibility across borders and cultures as much as it highlights some of the negative consequences of those such policies which are often overlooked, explained away, denied or excused.

    Even you – a person taking a somewhat skeptical view of the consequences of capital flexibility and the economic principles entailed by embracing/permitting it – offer a rather thin defense of rising income and wealth inequality: that ‘at some point’ rising inequality will turn the other way. But the criticism some of us have been making for a long time is that the ‘race to the bottom’ shouldn’t be accepted without meeting a burden of justification which includes a broader spectrum of values than merely price and profit.

    A world in which Stan Kroenke can make a killing selling Arsenal sometime in the future is not necessarily a better world for the rest of us.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Stillwater
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      says:

      A question, because I’m entirely ignorant about these things: What are the laws governing soccer in the UK?

      Is it a legally protected monopoly exempted from antitrust, sort of like like baseball in the USA? As I understand it, baseball is virtually the only activity in the entire country that isn’t “interstate commerce” these days. That and beating women.

      Are the stadiums, parking, and other logistics all paid for by the taxpayers?

      Are there exclusive arrangements for TV and merchandizing rights — intellectual property, in other words?

      I’m betting on at least two out of three answers being “yes,” and the antitrust exemption may not even matter so much.

      If I’m right, then you’re all eagerly swallowing poison as food, and following it with poison as antidote.

      If you find the money in the sport odious, look to its source. The laws themselves are the problem, and doing away with them would be the answer — not keeping the corruption while making people jump through narrower hoops to benefit from it.Report

      • Avatar cfpete in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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        says:

        Hey Jason,
        No offense to Mr. Thompson, but I believe the entire premise of this post is sort of screwed up:

        And so, eventually, the rich will get richer, and everyone else will get poorer, only now with any hopes of joining the ranks of the rich permanently squashed.

        It seems to me this is already happening:

        Since the 1992 formation of the Premier League as the new top division in England, the following have never been relegated from the Premier League:

        Arsenal F.C., in top division continuously since 1919 (see above).
        Everton F.C., the next longest-serving top-flight members (1954)
        Liverpool F.C.
        Manchester United F.C.
        Tottenham Hotspur F.C.
        Aston Villa F.C.
        Chelsea F.C.
        Fulham F.C.
        Wigan Athletic F.C.
        Stoke City F.C.

        A major criticism of the Premier League has been the emergence of the so-called “Big Four” clubs. Since Blackburn Rovers lifted the trophy in 1994–95, only three clubs have won the Premier League title – Manchester United (ten of the club’s twelve titles), Arsenal and Chelsea (three times each). In addition, Manchester United have not finished outside the top three since the formation of the Premier League.

        The Premier League distributes a small portion of its television revenue to clubs that are relegated from the league in the form of “parachute payments”. Starting with the 2006–07 season, these payments are in the amount of £6.5 million over the club’s first two seasons in lower leagues, although this rose to £11.2 million per year for clubs relegated in 2007–2008. Designed to help teams adjust to the loss of television revenues (the average Premier League team receives £45 million while the average Football League Championship club receives £1 million)

        If applied to a sport in the U.S, say the MLB; this system would result in the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, and Dodgers trading the World Series trophy amongst themselves every year.

        The current EPL system most resembles, in my opinion, the much maligned BCS in college football.

        I agree that the EPL owners are trying to cement their dominance, but based upon relegated teams; it would seem that EPL owners are just trying to take away a bargaining chip from possible EPL team buyers.

        I apologize to Mr. Thompson for addressing this to you, but I am too old to argue with people I believe “are wrong on the internet.”

        You are the Think Tanker, so just giving you some relevant info on the subject.Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to cfpete
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          says:

          Man City is doing very well this season.Report

        • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to cfpete
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          says:

          I am,as a soccer fan, certainly well aware of the dominance of the Big Four over the last twenty years or so on the field. That dominance on the field is also irrelevant to my point. I make no claims here about whether relegation/promotion allow parity on the field – to the contrary, and as I’ve pointed out in other fora before, the promotion/relegation system ensures disparity at the highest level on the pitch. Of course, it’s nonetheless worth pointing out that Chelsea, Arsenal, and Man U are all currently under foreign majority ownership.

          Whether a relegation/promotion system is preferable from a fan’s perspective to a franchise system is entirely a matter of personal taste. But it is also entirely irrelevant to my point, especially since the tastes we are talking about here are the tastes of global soccer fans, who seem to prefer the relegation/promotion system.

          My point instead has to do with money, profitability, political leverage, and regard for norms in the relevant community.

          Are the rich of the EPL getting richer even without a franchise system, though? I have no doubt about it. But are they doing it while also permanently squashing the hopes of lesser clubs? Not at all. Man City (not Man U), while anything but an underdog story these days (it too is under foreign ownership) is currently sitting top of the table despite having been relegated within the last decade. IOW, they haven’t used their wealth to this point to change the rules that everyone must follow. It is at least theoretically possible for any club to join their ranks following those same rules. Eliminating the relegation system will eliminate even that possibility.Report

        • Avatar Fish in reply to cfpete
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          says:

          Wigan didn’t break into the top flight (the current EPL) until ’05; Stoke, until ’08; and Fulham, until ’01. The other seven have been there for all 20 Premier League seasons.Report

      • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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        says:

        My original answer to these questions got lost in the site crash, but here goes again:

        Is it a legally protected monopoly exempted from antitrust, sort of like like baseball in the USA?

        Not to my knowledge, and certainly not in a comparable sense to the anti-trust exemptions in the US. The clubs in the FA are more or less entirely independent entities, and the rules suggest that it is a strikingly easy task for just about anyone to form a club that can become a member of the FA. Contrast that to the US, where we have a franchise system with the franchises granted, in effect, local monopolies or duopolies.

        Are the stadiums, parking, and other logistics all paid for by the taxpayers?

        I don’t know enough to say “absolutely not,” but certainly it’s safe to say “rarely, for all intents and purposes.” Where club stadiums are publicly owned, they are basically leased at fair market value and shared amongst numerous tenants, often including multiple soccer clubs. Such stadiums don’t seem to be built for any specific teams so much as they are built in the hopes of attracting enough tenants to make the endeavor a reliable revenue stream. There was a big controversy recently over which club would get to purchase the Olympic Stadium after the Olympics next year (such stadium of course being publicly funded); a big chunk of the controversy stemmed from the fact that the leading prospective purchaser was planning to buy it by obtaining a Treasury loan guaranteed by the local government. In other words, there was a huge outcry over the notion that the team would be getting a low interest rate to purchase a stadium that has already been built for another purpose, and that if it defaulted on that loan, the taxpayers might have to foot the bill. As a result of this outcry, the sale was blocked and the club is going to have to lease the stadium. In the US, the kind of deal that caused the controversy would be deemed an exceedingly good deal for the taxpayers since as long as the team didn’t default, stadium would be paid for entirely with private funds.

        The fact is, with the relegation/promotion system, as opposed to a franchise system, a club has very little leverage over the local taxpayers since it guarantees that FA member clubs exist everywhere, with the level at which the club plays and its ability to succeed determined in large part (though not entirely) by the level of interest in the local fan base. Similarly, a newly formed club has no ability to entice the locale to build a new stadium since they will be jumping into an already-saturated market, but starting on the lowest possible level while other clubs in the area will assuredly be on higher levels.

        Are there exclusive arrangements for TV and merchandizing rights — intellectual property, in other words?

        Indubitably.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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        says:

        The laws themselves are the problem, and doing away with them would be the answer — not keeping the corruption while making people jump through narrower hoops to benefit from it.

        I think this begs the question against Mark’s OP, but also – and somewhat contentiously – I would submit that it isn’t consistent with the facts. The view you’re putting forward is that the root of the problem is excessive power of government, and that if we reduce/eliminate that power the bad effects of private power will be accordingly limited.

        But I think this is wrong. People with private power will try to achieve their goals in one of two ways: directly, through market dominance and the exercise of leverage over competitors; or indirectly via governmental policy. As Mark mentioned, community norms can act as a constraint on the exercise of leverage, but it’s one which breaks down when foreign capital – held by folks that don’t embrace the community norms – is allowed free movement.

        Either way, tho, private power possess disproportionate power other stake-holders in any particular political economic arena. And I think that was Mark’s point (at least as I read it): that private power will always (either in collusion with government or otherwise) hold more power to shape the world to fit their interests.

        Which leads to Mark’s further point: that current neoliberal policies are constructed so as to permit holders of private power even more latitude in shaping the world. So the problem of foreign owners of UK soccer teams has nothing (directly) to do with government and laws, and everything to do with a theory of political-economy in which private economic interests conflict with public goods.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Stillwater
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          says:

          I think this begs the question against Mark’s OP, but also – and somewhat contentiously – I would submit that it isn’t consistent with the facts.

          Very possibly it isn’t. I know relatively little about sports policy even in the United States, but what little I’ve seen has convinced me it’s a way for a select club of billionaires to milk mid-sized city governments. All for a hobby that makes yachting look like tiddlywinks.Report

        • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Stillwater
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          says:

          Stillwater:

          I think this is just about right, with a few important caveats/additions.

          1. “The view [Jason is] putting forward is that the root of the problem is excessive power of government, and that if we reduce/eliminate that power the bad effects of private power will be accordingly limited. But I think this is wrong. People with private power will try to achieve their goals in one of two ways: directly, through market dominance and the exercise of leverage over competitors; or indirectly via governmental policy.”

          I would submit that even if Jason’s formulation is correct, it doesn’t much help us as long as we define the State as being “an entity with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force in a geographically defined area.” The monopoly on the legitimate use of force means that, absent violent overthrow (a generally bad idea), government’s powers in practice are effectively absolute, constrained only by custom and, if there is a Constitution, its willingness to respect other institutions as coequal. Legislation that nominally reduces the power or size of government, while perhaps good for other reasons, does not reduce that actual power of government and thus does not remove the incentive or ability of unscrupulous, moneyed interests to control it for their advantage.

          I do think that absent government authority, the pursuit of market dominance by powerful private entities is non-problematic. As long as they’re not changing the rules of the game, their market dominance can be challenged and is non-permanent. This is irrelevant, though, because as a practical matter, government power is absolute. Unscrupulous moneyed interests thus can always change the rules of the game.

          2. “Either way, tho, private power possess disproportionate power other stake-holders in any particular political economic arena. And I think that was Mark’s point (at least as I read it): that private power will always (either in collusion with government or otherwise) hold more power to shape the world to fit their interests.”

          Yes. What’s more, I’d go so far as to say that private power can create government power, in no small part to protect that private power. IOW, an alternative hypothesis as to the origins of government is that it could have been created to protect the interests of those possessing the greatest private power. Indeed, part of the reason I found the topic of the EPL useful is that it is a wholly consensual and essentially private governing entity.

          3. “Which leads to Mark’s further point: that current neoliberal policies are constructed so as to permit holders of private power even more latitude in shaping the world.”

          I’m not sure I’d point the finger at neoliberal policies, at least not in any meaningful way. Technology has done as much as anything to make the world smaller. And it’s really difficult to make a case for social liberalism without making an argument for trade liberalization. The issue is, to me, far more cultural than political.

          4. “So the problem of foreign owners of UK soccer teams has nothing (directly) to do with government and laws, and everything to do with a theory of political-economy in which private economic interests conflict with public goods.”

          This.Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Stillwater
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      says:

      @Stillwater:

      Yes, yes and yes!Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Stillwater
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      says:

      Can’t he sell Nycetol instead? 😉 [thanks, you helped me get a joke.]Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Stillwater
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      says:

      @Stillwater: You’ve definitely got my point right, and I’m aware of the critiques with which it is consistent. Additionally, that “thin defense” of rising inequality of which you speak is intentionally so – when I say I am undecided on whether it is a bad thing or something that is irrelevant, I mean exactly that.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mark Thompson
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        says:

        Mark, sorry if you took offense to my phrasing and etc. The last time we talked about neoliberal trade policy you were a staunch advocate, that it was good stuff all the way down (or at least that’s how I understood your comments). So I may have been excessive in the above comment, yammering a bit where it wasn’t appropriate.Report

        • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Stillwater
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          says:

          I assure you, no offense taken. This is one of those occasions where my comment read completely the opposite of how I meant it to read. No doubt this is due to my commenting skillz being entirely out of practice.
          I was mostly trying – and failing miserably – to say something along the lines of “+1, with a clarification.”

          Recalling that exact past discussion, I figured it would be pretty reasonable of you to read “undecided” as “highly skeptical of claims that inequality is a problem in and of itself.” A few months ago, that’s probably exactly what I would have meant, too. So I figured I’d emphasize that my use of the word “undecided” this time around means “very conflicted” as opposed to “unconvinced by arguments that it matters, but willing to hear more.”

          As I think about it a bit more, and if I take what I’ve written in this post and comments thread seriously, I think I can go so far as to say that rising inequality under current circumstances can be treated as either a symptom of a potentially benign condition or a disease that is bad unto itself. Whether it is treated as one or the other depends on one’s time horizons.

          If you go with comparatively short time horizons (basically the next 10-30 years or so), then inequality is clearly a bad thing unto itself, because it means that political power will increasingly be concentrated in the hands of fewer people with fewer ties to the relevant community and less interest in anything other than profit maximization. That means instability, and stagnation or recession for the many.

          If you go with long time horizons (30+ years we’ll say), then it’s a necessary symptom of the transition to a fully global community. Of course, since the interim costs of that transition will be borne by the many, the politically and economically powerful few owe a moral obligation to the many to compensate them for those costs…Report

  6. Avatar scott
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    says:

    I have a hard time with a system in which the Pittsburgh Pirates (or Wigan) can never be relegated and Nottingham Forest (winner of 2 European Cups) or West Ham can never be promoted. If nothing else, the relegation threat makes games between lesser teams considerably more interesting than late-season tilts between (when they were really really bad) the Bengals and the Lions. I gave up on the NFL after 30+ years partly because it bored the pants off me aside from maybe one or two games a week involving either your home town team or the big teams. The NFL is a celebration of fat, dumb and happy mediocrity, and the Brits would be fools to emulate it. If their government wanted to expropriate their football teams away from American owners to avoid this folly, I’d totally be for it.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to scott
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      says:

      The NFL is structured to aim its franchises towards parity, towards the notion that on any given Sunday, your team has a reasonable shot at winning. If play seems mediocre (and I do not think it does) that is because it’s NFL teams playing against other NFL teams. As a business, it’s hard for me to swallow the claim that it is not a cleverly-designed system that produces substantial profits for its owners. As a cultural touchstone in the U.S.A., it’s pretty hard to beat.Report

  7. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    The question of exactly how much heavy lifting “culture” does when it comes to “why does such-and-such policy work here and not there?” is one that is insufficiently explored, it seems to me.

    The question of “what things are intertwined in culture?” is another question that doesn’t get addressed often enough for my comfort levels.Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      One of the things that’s kind of been at the back of my mind for the last few years, but which has very much moved to the front of my mind in recent months, helping to accelerate my trend towards overall political apathy, has been the realization that by and large culture drives politics and policy, not the other way around. Policy can suppress preexisting elements of culture or it can stall cultural change, but it can’t make new culture and it can’t really destroy the fabric of a culture, at least not directly.

      One thing I’ve read a good amount about in recent years is the way in which state adoption of Christianity as an official religion tended to just result in the previously non-Christian populace changing the names of the deities and demi-gods they worshipped while keeping their actual practices and rituals -their culture – more or less the same. In many ways, Christianity-as-policy required Christianity to adapt to the culture more than it required the culture to adapt to the policy.

      The threat to culture comes much more from the possibility of it becoming intertwined with other cultures to create a bigger, amalgamated culture. That bigger, amalgamated culture may well be a good thing once accomplished; once it’s achieved, certainly few participants in it will think it worse than the predecessor cultures. But the transition period tends to be pretty destabilizing and maybe downright nasty.Report

    • Avatar 62across in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      The question of exactly how much heavy lifting “culture” does when it comes to “why does such-and-such policy work here and not there?” is one that is insufficiently explored, it seems to me.

      I agree with this and also with Mark’s contention that culture drives policy more than the other way around. I’d add that policy that arises from cultural change has a staying power that doesn’t exist for policy intended to suppress or stall cultural trends.Report

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