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Tackling Bill Maher’s “NFL Is Socialist” Rant

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Posted on January 31 2011 9:00 am
Walter Hudson is a political commentator and co-founder of Minnesota's North Star Tea Party Patriots, a statewide educational organization. He runs a blog entitled Fightin Words. He also contributes to True North, a hub of Minnesotan conservative commentary. Follow his work via Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Americans must realize that what makes the NFL so great is socialism. Such is the thesis of Bill Maher’s most recent “New Rule” on HBO’s Real Time, and a companion column in the Huffington Post.

I can only imagine the delight with which Maher concocted this clever-sounding notion and unleashed it upon the world. It’s quintessential Maher, the kind of rhetorical titty-twister he regards as legitimate intellectual combat. Of course, as is so often the case with Maher’s superficially sound arguments, this latest exercise in carnival cognition unravels upon cursory examination.

It’s no surprise that some 100 million Americans will watch the Super Bowl next week… Because football is built on an economic model of fairness and opportunity, and baseball is built on a model where the rich almost always win and the poor usually have no chance…

Or to put it another way, football is more like the Democratic philosophy. Democrats don’t want to eliminate capitalism or competition, but they’d like it if some kids didn’t have to go to a crummy school in a rotten neighborhood while others get to go to a great school and their Dad gets them into Harvard. Because when that happens “achieving the American dream” is easy for some, and just a fantasy for others.

That’s why the NFL runs itself in a way that would fit nicely on Glenn Beck’s chalkboard – they literally share the wealth, through salary caps and revenue sharing – TV is their biggest source of revenue, and they put all of it in a big commie pot and split it 32 ways. Because they don’t want anyone to fall too far behind. That’s why the team that wins the Super Bowl picks last in the next draft. Or what the Republicans would call “punishing success(…)”

So, you kind of have to laugh – the same angry white males who hate Obama because he’s “redistributing wealth” just love football, a sport that succeeds economically because it does exactly that…

Let’s start with what may seem a nitpick. The NFL could never be accurately described as socialist, because socialism is state control of the means of production, and the NFL is not a state. This is not a semantic quibble, nor a failure to recognize an analogy. Maher’s specific claim is that the NFL is socialist, and its socialism is why it works. Strictly speaking, if we care at all about the actual meaning of words, his claim is dead on arrival. But that’s the boring argument.

Maher fails to address the single most relevant factor in the NFL’s business model – motive. Why does the NFL share revenue between teams, make the Super Bowl champions pick last in the next draft, and otherwise take measures to ensure competitiveness throughout the league? It does so in order to craft an exciting product which it then takes to a free market to sell. The NFL’s business model is not in place to fulfill some ideological compulsion, to be “fair” for fairness’s sake. The NFL shares revenue to maximize profit!

The NFL is a business which operates within an economy, not an economy in and of itself. The reason its business model works is because it meets a discretionary demand in the market.

In order for people to indulge that discretionary demand, they must have discretionary income. In order to have discretionary income, they must produce something which carries enough value in the market to more than meet their basic needs.

If we conceded to run the U.S. economy in a socialist fashion, convinced the NFL business model translated to sound macroeconomic theory, we would quickly discover the flaw in Maher’s thinking. Unlike the NFL, the U.S. cannot sustain itself by drawing off a larger economy. We actually have to produce things to sustain ourselves, which is another way of saying we must maximize personal profit.

So, yes, you do kind of have to laugh at an embarrassingly feeble attempt to craft an argument for socialism out of what is ultimately a capitalistic endeavor. But hey, humor is what you want from a comedian, right?

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