Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The National Football League

I had to do it. I had to get sucked into this mess. I am a card-carrying global macroeconomist and here I am writing about the NFL. Does the NFL cause inflation or recessions? No, I think not. Does the NFL cause productivity or wages to rise? I doubt it. But here I am writing about it.

As one of my friends wrote me recently, why would anyone be interested in macro when there is all this other stuff to talk about? He told me that only the elites care about the usual macro policy issues. So, on to the NFL.

So what do I say? I thought long and hard and here is what I could come up with: The NFL is the canary in the mine shaft. The NFL is the beginning of a road that leads directly to chaos and eventually bloody revolution.

That’s a big statement, right? I just watched part of the Vietnam film on PBS, and it reminded me that we are not immune to violence and revolution in the USA. People my age participated in mistakes in Vietnam and were glad when the Cold War seemed to end. We also experienced the Civil Rights protests and were glad to see that situation improved. But it has been a while since all that transpired and it is not unbelievable that we have come full circle. It is quite possible that what we are seeing in the NFL is just the beginning of some very tough times ahead.

The end of the Cold War and the Civil Rights Revolution brought positive change. In the 1970s, one would have expected a great period of healing to follow – and maybe it did. It is one thing for whites and blacks and capitalists and communists to be ignorant of each other. It might follow that as we joined closer together, as in any marriage, many problems would be solved. But what we did not expect is that when we got to know each other a little better we would sometimes get on each other’s nerves. As we all became more equal, some got equal faster than others and some got less equal.

A half a century later we find that the world might be fairer than it was in 1960. But we also find as we become more familiar and equal, we have new and larger problems between capitalists and communists, blacks and whites, gays and heteros, JD and Scotch drinkers. (I had to get JD in somewhere!)

Conservatives can defend their records and describe how much minorities have gained in the last half-century. Liberals can point out the vast inequalities that remain. This is not an argument that can be resolved easily. Major progress on income distribution, job discrimination, crime, policing, immigration, national security and defense will not come easily. These are tough nuts to crack. Solutions won't reduce to ”my way or the highway.”

Reasoned approaches to our most difficult challenges are not to be had. And the NFL is the beautiful example of why. Our President said horrible things about our players and our players responded in kind. Is this stupid or what? We have proper forums to work through sensitive national issues. Why are those fleet of feet and marbled by muscle feeling the need to make their political desires known at NFL games? Why do actors do the same at award ceremonies? Why do college students wear masks and beat each other with sticks on campus?

I think this is because the answers to the questions are tougher than we are. We either want or don't want dramatic change. We want to be on the right side. We want to curse at those who disagree with us. But the truth is that the more we act in these ways, the less headway we make and the more entrenched our adversaries become.

That all this has come to the NFL shows how far we have come down a very bad road. Does it seem far-fetched that these behaviors will come to baseball? To college athletics? To Macy’s holiday parade? To a local music concert? To your next family gathering? It does not seem impossible that, in light of the lack of any real leadership in this country, we will keep playing out our demand for a better world outside of regular political/government frameworks. It also does not seem impossible that those who are the most frustrated will bring their impatience and hatred to situations that will give them notoriety. With all the sides hardening, it is not difficult to imagine even more violence in even more places.

Where is the national leader who will tell us that these behaviors are counter-productive and convince us of the following: First, our situation today in the USA is enviable compared to most places around the world. Second, we made a start to become the shining light on the hill. Third, some of the hardest challenges are ahead of us. And finally, we are good enough to meet those challenges.  Can you think of one politician today who could pass this muster?


  1. Larry, good post.

    Re your last question, I cannot think of one national leader capable of leading the nation out of this mess. Congress, despite abysmal popularity polls, continues to do what benefits each member instead of finding common ground for progress.

    Selfishness is at the heart of our problems, and has been associated with the demise of successful nation states historically. The more people get, the more they demand. Human beings have difficulty dealing with success dating back to Adam and Eve.

    Re noble causes: About the only thing I can say halfway positive about my many misbehaviors as an undergraduate student in the 60s is that my colleagues and I were at least honest about our motivation. We simply enjoyed raising hell and didn't wrap ourselves in some cause as many did (i.e., the Vietnam War). How many war protestors were actually worried about that war's horrors versus how many were really worried about dying? (BTW, those dodging military service via one means or another include two former presidents, one from each major party.) Today we have Neo-Nazis and the violent Antifas that attract those lacking personal success.

    Rarely evinced today are the Biblical admonitions about forgiving others and treating them as we would like to be treated. I recently read an article about a minority student at a Christian college who was invited to dinner at the home of the college president. There was a dried flower arrangement at the dinner table that contained, among other flora, stalks of cotton plants (I gathered absent the cotton balls). The student was incensed at the insensitivity of the college president to the fact that she was offended by stalks of cotton plants. The president said he previously had no clue about what flora constituted the arrangement. We all make mistakes, many unintentional. The unwillingness to overlook even the most obscure and unintentional offenses is becoming more and more pervasive.

    Entire segments of our population having little knowledge and understanding of history are obsessed with political correctness that obscures the truth and binds rational thought. IU's chancellor recently issued a lengthy explanation for why a mural in a classroom that depicts historical events contains a burning cross, the KKK having been an unfortunate fact in Indiana state history. She went on to say no offended students would be required to sit in that classroom. My wife and I attend a large and very diverse (which we enjoy) church when in Maryland. On the Sunday immediately following recent events in Charlottesville the lead pastor delivered a sermon likely prepared in advance of those events. He was subsequently chastised by some members of the congregation for not making statements condemning racial injustice during the sermon and felt compelled to issue a lengthy apology (paraphrased succinctly): "Gee, I was so focused on doing my day job that I forgot to take into consideration your sensitivities about events happening a couple hundred miles away."

    As long as we as a nation continue to persist more and more in demanding our selfish desires, insist that others pander to those desires, continuously place our welfare above that of others, and refuse to forgive even the slightest unintentional intrusions upon what we perceive as our rights (this includes our national leadership), things will grow progressively worse just as you say.


    p.s. I have long had my own issues with the NFL which I believe turned college football into a farm system wherein few players go to the professional ranks, and those few rarely graduate with degrees. It has propagated a false dream of fame and wealth for many young, gullible athletes. Some things I have read suggest that most of even the small successful minority squander their wealth within a few years with ill-considered lifestyles. Consequently, I neither attend NFL games nor watch them on TV.

  2. What is going on in the NFL today doesn't bother me half as much as the fact that an entity which rakes in around $9 billion/year in revenue is considered a non-profit for tax purposes. That sucks! As for the other thing, just stop playing/singing the national anthem before the games. Other than an NFL rule, there's no requirement to play it before, during, or after sporting events. Stop doing it and you pull the platform away for the players' protest. At GT, some local minister used to open the games with prayer. Nobody does that anymore because somebody was offended. If you're offended by the anthem, just stop playing it.

    On the other stuff, you're talking about leadership, and there's an obvious dearth in that commodity at the local, state, and federal government levels.... well, pretty much in all walks of life, nowadays. When you make politics all about power and getting rich, you remove the leadership qualification.

  3. A good and 'sobering' post Larry!
    Unable to add to the above erudition I offer the following poem by Rudyard Kipling:

    AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
    I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
    Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.
    We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
    That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
    But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
    So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.
    We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
    Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
    But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
    That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.
    With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
    They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
    They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
    So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.
    When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
    They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
    But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."
    On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
    (Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
    Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."
    In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
    By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
    But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."
    Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
    And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
    That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.
    As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
    There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
    That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
    And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;
    And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
    When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
    As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
    The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

  4. Kipling...my favorite poet. Among the many works the prolific former poet laureate penned (many of which I find pedestrian), "The Gods" is one of his best efforts. But my personal Kipling favorites are those that capture his experiences in distant lands, often in a politically incorrect manner reflecting the biases of the Empire. In describing the crimes of a particular Burmese rebel/bandit leader: "He crucified noble, he sacrificed mean, he filled old ladies with kerosene." Daresay only one who had been there and heard the tales firsthand from those who had lived them would craft such a vivid description.