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Are Professional Athletes Economically Productive?

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'Objective value' may mean either a value objectively validated in accordance with a proper standard or objectively identified regardless of validation. But regardless of which you mean, it takes more than a 1 cent revenue to be productive.

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Based on the phrasing of the question, which lumps all professional athletes together, I would say yes, professional athletes can be economically productive, in an Objectivist sense, i.e. they could provide the material value of the spectacle of various types of athleticism (productive) in a manner that abides by the private property requirements of Capitalism (economically).

But if you were to apply the question to a specific group of athletes, that won't necessarily be true, primarily the 'economically' part of the equation. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if it were universally not true, at least here in the US, as all the instances I can speak to are non-Capitalist (NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA). It is worth noting that the professional sports I am unsure of also happen to be the ones that are more individualistic (tennis, Nascar, golf), so maybe there is hope...

To look at one specific case, professional athletes in the NFL, the basic economy tends to the following pattern: At best an Objectivist fan (productive Capitalist, so as not to question where he got his money from) buys a ticket to see his favorite team, some stadium merchandise while he is there and maybe some overpriced stadium beers, and then in fit of fanatical inspiration after the game orders some embroidered team swag from the online NFL shop and signs up for the Sunday Ticket package on satellite so he won't miss a minute more of the athletic, strategic and tactical phenomenon he enjoys, oh, so much. That money then gets distributed to the teams themselves in different ways, based on a thoroughly non-Objectivist rules framework attained through collective bargaining. It should be noted that this CBA was possible due to an anti-trust 'exemption' which amounts to little more than expedient political favoritism to a select group of crony-capitalists, to protect them from other capitalists, crony- and otherwise. The fan's stadium expenses go straight to the owner of the team, via concession stand fees, minus a percentage of the 'gate' which goes to the owner of the visiting team. His online expenses go to a revenue sharing pool, along with a cut of the television programming bill he now pays. This revenue pool is designed to support the lowest earning franchises at the expense of the higher earning franchises, despite whatever management gambles and foibles the one might care to perpetrate against the others. From this revenue pool, a percentage of it has been earmarked to go to a compensation pool, and some has been earmarked to finance an illegal bubble-financing arm of the NFL New York office which has the innocuous duty of financing new stadium construction, but which actually engages in a tactical, strategic and dare I say athletic securing of publicly held debt (local stadium taxes) that rivals their on-field product. These publicly funded stadiums are built on Keynesian principles and function as corporate bailouts and handouts. The money that found its way around the groping hands of the team owners and into the compensation pool is then divided up according to tenure in the league, based on veteran minimum salaries, regardless of personal production levels. A lucky few have the talent and opportunity to command their own price once their arbitrarily pegged rookie contracts run out...contracts which payout based on where the player ended up slotted in the annual draft process which guarantees that the worst of the franchises get first dibs. Any rookie who disagrees with this process has very little leverage with which to protect their blossoming career, and more than one has been ruined, almost preemptively in the process.

While not everyone of these factors is at play at all times (some stadiums have more or less public financing, for example) the principles behind them (crony-capitalism) are. Like I said, one can readily see that there is potential for some of the individual sports like golf or tennis to buck these trends, if one looked into it, but I would bet that in any case where large physical facilities (re. monuments) are in play, the dangers to a truly Capitalist economics are also present.

Can a conscientious Objectivist honestly, then, value the product as it is presented to them (as a weekend stadium experience, a double-header at the park, a house party during the Super Bowl?) If they partake of it in a thoughtful manner, I would say that, yes, they can. But that is another subject, entirely.

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"Are movie stars and TV personalities economically productive? "

Why do you doubt entertainment as productive? They give someone something they want. They meet a need. That need can be emotional or material. Entertainment is emotionally rewarding.

I find this interesting. I can't think of anything a movie star or TV personality has done that I need. I enjoy some of their work. But, perhaps some others really do have a need for it.

I remember a motivational tape I listened to back in 1990. The speaker said that you would get paid in direct proportion to your value to society, "...with the exception of pornography and prostitution." This post reminds me of that. And, I've struggled with the theory that you get paid in direction proportion to your value to society. I think there certainly is some truth to it - a lot of truth. But, I think the theory falls flat when you see a baseball player get paid $1/2B for playing baseball. Tiger Woods, pre-fire hydrant, had obtained about $1B in wealth. I don't think the rule applies there. I'm a fan of Tiger's and I think he's an amazing talent on the golf course. But, $1B? No.

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And, I've struggled with the theory that you get paid in direction proportion to your value to society. I think there certainly is some truth to it - a lot of truth. But, I think the theory falls flat when you see a baseball player get paid $1/2B for playing baseball. Tiger Woods, pre-fire hydrant, had obtained about $1B in wealth. I don't think the rule applies there. I'm a fan of Tiger's and I think he's an amazing talent on the golf course. But, $1B? No.

Value to society on society's terms, as expressed through the market, not what you or I feel makes sense.

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And, I've struggled with the theory that you get paid in direction proportion to your value to society. I think there certainly is some truth to it - a lot of truth. But, I think the theory falls flat when you see a baseball player get paid $1/2B for playing baseball. Tiger Woods, pre-fire hydrant, had obtained about $1B in wealth. I don't think the rule applies there. I'm a fan of Tiger's and I think he's an amazing talent on the golf course. But, $1B? No.

Value to society on society's terms, as expressed through the market, not what you or I feel makes sense.

Yes, thank you. You are correct. Many in society value pants that are too large and sag below their hips while I don't. I must be getting old...

And, I actually forget if Tiger crashed into a hydrant or tree. This was when his wife was "helping" him with a sand wedge.

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It's easy to reduce professional athletes to people that "just" hit a ball with a stick, or "just" ski down a mountain at 90mph, etc.

But to people that appreciate these activities, professional athletes represent hard earned excellence, ability at such a high level that, at times, one thinks they're looking at God's hand. I see nothing wrong with fans paying through the nose to experience that sort of thing first hand, for logo-packed clothing, memorabilia, etc. In fact, I think it's a good thing. (I don't mean to imply that every sports fan is motivated in this way, but witnessing excellence is part of what makes every fan tick.)

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Re the passage immediately above: There is a great joke I heard a Catholic priest tell. The short version is the pastor confronting a flood told 3 would be rescuers he'd pass on their help, that God would take care of him. He drowned and confronted God angrily about his faith and events. God said "Three times I sent my best people and you brushed it off!". The most spiritual occasions in my life have always run along those lines: I saw Horowitz, Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra perform Rachmaninov's Third in Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor Michigan (I could throw in a Steinway piano, too!). That was a deeply spiritual experience, echoing some of Ayn Rand's most brilliant lines: "this is when one should appreciate the meaning of being a man" (AS) If there is God, I was closest in His company in Ann Arbor; at Falling Water; reading The Fountainhead and so on.

I'm only paraphrasing Rand, I can't remember from what piece right now, but one of the greatest tragedies of human history is how the "irationalists" have highjacked the language and provence of spirituality. I am reading a book on the science of habits right now and the author says previously healed addicts fall off the wagon in the face of a major crisis because they don't have a belief in addition to their changed habits; AA has the greatest success with those who accept religion and "give their lives to God". By highjacking spirituality in the manner in which they have, religionists have deprived their fellow human beings of an important resource.

In my thesis on amateur road racing in Michigan I recount the scene in AS where Stadler goes to see the remains of the motor and delivers some of Rand's most moving lines. I end with the observation that the conduct of the sport as I've shown it in my work give us both minds and achievements to admire, something rational people crave.

Professional athletes are economically productive and for some of us, at least, in what I will say without reserve, the higher, better sense, the philosophy of economic productivity is richer than many think.

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To sort of clean up the above, I remarked in my thesis that sports exists, in part, to give us achievements to admire; they inspire us, encourage us and, speaking for myself, they comfort in that they remind us excellence is possible. Sometimes we have to look through human imperfection and occasionally human depravity; but then there are the Arnold Palmers and Ben Hogans and Juan manuel Fangios.

I my classes at Baker College I emphasize the distinction between the real economy of goods and services and the symbol economy of money, stocks, bonds etc. Obviously there are complex issues in holding and making this distinction at a certain level; but I have welfare and lower working class students and they speedily understand how the housing market could get perverted by bales of money not called into existence by productive forces.

I still work at how that distinction holds up in the cases of things like athletic performers, musicians and so forth. Hence my interest in people's remarks on whether professional athletes are economically productive.

I am inclined to think - not settled - that productive is a word that could be moved up a level of generality, so to speak; leverage is another. Either that or as Schumpeter says in CSD, economic is legitimatly used at a higher level of generality than the demand, supply, production and accounting for widgets.

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