Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Do the Packers Prove That Socialism Works?

Miguel Centellas, a political scientist at the University of Mississippi, has first dibs on the next big metaphor for the political left: the Green Bay Packers. 

He writes:
The Green Bay Packers are publicly owned by the City of Green Bay.  Thus, in contravention to the currently dominant ideology that the private sector can always do things better than the public sector, the Packer's victory in the Super Bowl yesterday was in part a victory of public officials outperforming their private competitors.
It's a clever and well made point.  But, it is wrong in at least two ways.

1. The Green Bay Packers are not owned by the City of Green Bay nor are they operated by "public officials."  The Green Bay Packers are owned by a corporation, albeit a nonprofit corporation.  According to the Wikipedia, roughly 112,000 stockholders own about 4.75 million shares in the Green Bay Football Corporation.  It is run by a board of directors that elects corporate officers who represent the team's collective owners to the League, etc.  I am certainly no corporate law expert, but I presume that officers of a nonprofit corporation have pretty similar fiduciary duties to their shareholders as those of a for-profit corporations.

All of this is to say that the City of Green Bay does not own the team.  The mayor of Green Bay is not ex officio its president, general manager, or head coach.  There are no "public officials" in the equation to outperform their "private counterparts."

I am open to claims that nonprofit management of a unique public resource or accommodation may be superior to for-profit management of the same resource or accommodation, but that is much different than saying that public management is superior to private management.

2. Even if the Packers were directly owned by the City of Green Bay, it would be very difficult to read the performance of the Packers as evidence of the raw power of public management.  The NFL is not a free market.  A socialist franchise would benefit from all of the collusive structures embedded in the NFL that promote parity among the teams in order to maximize the shared monopoly rents that the owners as a group can squeeze out of the public.  Tiny Green Bay, smaller than Bryan-College Station, gets the same cut of television revenue and pays players the same capped submarket wages as every other team in the League.  Essentially, the League subsidizes football in some places (Green Bay) at the expense of others (Chicago) because it maximizes the shared profits of the owners.  Absent this monopolistic behavior on the part of the League, football in Green Bay, publicly or privately held, would have withered a long time ago.  This may help the League as a whole put on a better show, but it's no free market.

Thanks to Kim Yi Dionne for pointing this one out.

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