I will start today’s cunningly incisive analysis with a quick review of the past dozen NFL championship teams. The Superbowl® winners in each year since 2000 were:
2000 St. Louis Rams
2001 Baltimore Ravens
2002 New England Patriots
2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2004 New England Patriots
2005 New England Patriots
2006 Pittsburgh Steelers
2007 Indianapolis Colts
2008 New York Giants
2009 Pittsburgh Steelers
2010 New Orleans Saints
2011 Green Bay Packers
What leaps out from this list is the fact that no team has managed to win more than two Superbowls in a row over the past twelve years. In fact, no team in Superbowl history has ever won more than two Superbowls in a row. In other words, in the NFL, those on top are commonly overthrown by aggressive up-and-comers.
What accounts for this pattern? Close regulation and official intervention on behalf of the underdogs. Every NFL game is regulated by a swarm of referees who make sure that dangerous behaviors like clipping are kept to a minimum -- as are roughing of the kicker, late hits on the quarterback, kicks to the groin and brass knucklings.
If the NFL were to loosen its rules and reduce the number of refs to one per game, if it were, in other words, to deregulate, many of these brutal tactics would become commonplace. Furthermore, if the NFL were to deregulate even more by dropping the system that allows weak teams to have first choice during recruiting season, we would soon see two or three winning teams getting so rich and powerful that they would become permanently entrenched at the top of the NFL. All other teams would be driven steadily down the totem pole, some finally disbanding as they lost games, fans and financing.
Competition in the NFL works because it is so closely regulated as to be downright socialistic. In other words, Tom Brady may call himself a Patriot, but he’s obviously a Communist!
OK, that may be an overstatement, but still...
If careful regulation and a helping hand for those at the bottom work so well for the NFL, why don’t we apply these principles to our economy at large? Because...conservatism.
Since around 1980 and the rise of conservatism, Americans have been propagandized by well funded right-wing institutions like the Heritage Foundation and Fox News to believe that “deregulation” makes us free, and that providing help for people in economic distress is socialistic and therefore evil.
What we have seen in the U.S. economy over the past 30 years is the opposite of what we’ve seen in the NFL. In America, since 1979, the top 1% of earners have tripled their earnings in relation to those of the middle class and the poor. This top 1% now "earns" about one quarter of all the new wealth in any given year.
During this same period, the average CEO has gone from earning 42 times what the average worker earns, to earning 531 times what the average worker earns.
If the NFL were like our weakly regulated economy, the Patriots and Steelers would gradually attract the largest fan base, the biggest incomes and the best and meanest players until no other teams could touch them.
Of course, the fat cats who control Fox and other right-wing organizations can be said to follow a kind of air-tight logic, if we assume that they care more about getting rich personally than they do about abstract notions like “fairness” and “competitiveness.”
This logic: If millions of Americans are homeless, jobless and desperate for work, wages will go down, and therefore the profits of people like Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes will go up. It’s quite logical. And benefiting from the desperation of their fellow citizens is what the more ruthless of America's wealthy conservatives call “earning an honest living.”
Even Americans who are not coldly conservative are inclined to buy into the idea that regulation is inherently bad. Alan Greenspan is famous for touting the anti-regulation philosophy of Ayn Rand during his long years as head of the Fed. Of course, when our recent financial crisis almost threw us into a new Depression (and would have except government intervened to prevent it), Greenspan admitted that his anti-regulation philosophy was wrong, wrong, wrong.
It is a shame he didn’t come to his senses earlier, but how could he, having been brought up in privilege and, over the past few decades, subjected to a conservative drumbeat of anti-regulatory propaganda.
PBS ran a fascinating piece on Frontline recently called The Warning in which Greenspan and his anti-regulation allies were shown to have stymied public servant Brooksley Born. Born was the head of an agency that attempted to regulate the sale of derivatives, a task she tried to take on because, being very smart, and a dedicated public (i.e., government) servant, she saw that the unregulated derivatives market threatened to wreck the American economy.
Greenspan -- backed up by Robert Ruben and Larry Summers -- refused to listen to Born’s warnings for a number of reasons, one of which was that she did not have a penis. But despite her non-penile handicap, Born proved to be smarter than Greenspan and Company, a point which was brought home when the derivatives market brought the economy down throwing millions of Americans out of their jobs and homes.
It was at this point that Mr. Greenspan said, in effect, “Oops. I was wrong about regulation being bad for the economy. Sorry.”
He now presumably nurses his wounded conscience with mint juleps in some Park Avenue luxury apartment or Stamford mansion.
America would be better off if we treated our economy the way the NFL treats its teams. I know that critics of this view might argue that we can’t make this comparison because NFL teams are made up of skilled and ambitious professionals who can be counted on to strive, while ordinary people are sometimes striving-averse.
I have two words for these critics: Shut the #*@! up.
OK, perhaps a more nuanced counter-argument is called for here. It is true that the national economy will never be as neat or as intensely competitive as is the NFL. But it is also true that a national economy that is closely regulated and that offers advantages to the disadvantaged (like the NFL does) would be a more just and more genuinely competitive society.
Of course such a competitive and relatively fair system would make it harder for people like Roger Ailes to stay on top and to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor. But, in my opinion, this is not reason enough to reject government regulations.
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