Posts tagged ‘MLB’

The Media's Role in Promoting the Corporate State

I found this article in the Arizona Republic, our local rag, almost criminal.  As far as it goes, I think the facts are correct.  What is amazing is what it leaves out.  First, the article:

Glendale administrators propose cutting nearly a quarter of the city's employees, or 249 positions, if voters approve a ballot measure in November to repeal a sales-tax hike.

Repeal of the 0.7 percentage-point tax hike that took effect last month would mean the loss of $11 million this year and $25 million annually through 2017, according to city estimates.

The City Council had approved the temporary increase to shore up its deficit-ridden general fund after laying off 49 employees and cutting $10 million from departments at the start of this fiscal year....

Proposed cuts include shuttering two of the three city libraries, one of its two aquatic centers, the TV station and all city festivals, including Glendale Glitters.

The article continues with the usual panic about cuts in police and firefighters and libraries and parks,  etc. etc.  What the article does not mention except in passing in paragraph 12 is the reason for the tax increase and the budget problems in the first place.  Over heated opposition in the community, the City Council, which has enjoyed pretending to be big shot Donald Trumps over the last few years with taxpayer money, handed a private individual $25 million a year to keep the ice hockey team in town, an ice hockey team that has the lowest attendance in the league despite doing fairly well the last few years.  This is on top of years of other subsidies and the taxpayer-funded $300 million stadium.   The numbers line up exactly -- a new $25 million a year subsidy and a new $25 million a year tax, and the paper cannot even connect these dots, even when they were directly connected in real time (ie the tax was specifically justified to pay for the subsidy).

What the article entirely fails to mention is that, given no voice in these corporatist extravagances in Glendale (the tiny town of 250,000 has also subsidized an NFL franchise and a couple of MLB teams), the only way the citizens of this town have any way to exercise accountability is to vote down the tax that enables this corporate handout.  They were not allowed to vote on the deal itself.  This is not a bunch of wacky red-staters voting to decimate the parks departments, as the city and the paper would like you to believe, but a citizenship that is tired of the idiotic corporate cronyism in the Glendale city council and are looking for some way, any way, to enforce some accountability.

This is the media and the state in bed together promoting the larger state.  Glendale's problems are entirely self-imposed, spending huge amounts of tax money on subsidizing sports teams and real estate ventures.  When these all failed like so many Solyndras, they are trying to make this out to be a tax shortfall, when in fact it is spending idiocy.

The media always seems to participate as a cheerleader in this statism, but local papers have a special interest in promoting this sort of sports corporatism.  Just about the only thing that sells dead-tree newspapers any more is the sports section.  I would love to see what would happen to circulation rates if they cut the sports section.  So any state actions that add professional sports franchises or keeps them in town contribute directly to the newspapers' survival.

"Abnormal" Events -- Droughts and Perfect Games

Most folks, and I would include myself in this, have terrible intuitions about probabilities and in particular the frequency and patterns of occurance in the tail ends of the normal distribution, what we might call "abnormal" events.  This strikes me as a particularly relevant topic as the severity of the current drought and high temperatures in the US is being used as absolute evidence of catastrophic global warming.

I am not going to get into the global warming bits in this post (though a longer post is coming).  Suffice it to say that if it is hard to accurately directly measure shifts in the mean of climate patterns given all the natural variability and noise in the weather system, it is virtually impossible to infer shifts in the mean from individual occurances of unusual events.  Events in the tails of the normal distribution are infrequent, but not impossible or even unexpected over enough samples.

What got me to thinking about this was the third perfect game pitched this year in the MLB.  Until this year, only 20 perfect games had been pitched in over 130 years of history, meaning that one is expected every 7 years or so  (we would actually expect them more frequently today given that there are more teams and more games, but even correcting for this we might have an expected value of one every 3-4 years).  Yet three perfect games happened, without any evidence or even any theoretical basis for arguing that the mean is somehow shifting.  In rigorous statistical parlance, sometimes shit happens.  Were baseball more of a political issue, I have no doubt that writers from Paul Krugman on down would be writing about how three perfect games this year is such an unlikely statistical fluke that it can't be natural, and must have been caused by [fill in behavior of which author disapproves].  If only the Republican Congress had passed the second stimulus, we wouldn't be faced with all these perfect games....

Postscript:  We like to think that perfect games are the ultimate measure of a great pitcher.  This is half right.  In fact, we should expect entirely average pitchers to get perfect games every so often.  A perfect game is when the pitcher faces 27 hitters and none of them get on base.  So let's take the average hitter facing the average pitcher.  The league average on base percentage this year is about .320 or 32%.  This means that for each average batter, there is a 68% chance for the average pitcher in any given at bat to keep the batter off the base.  All the average pitcher has to do is roll these dice correctly 27 times in a row.

The odds against that are .68^27 or about one in 33,000.  But this means that once in every 33,000 pitcher starts  (there are two pitcher starts per game played in the MLB), the average pitcher should get a perfect game.  Since there are about 4,860 regular season starts per year (30 teams x 162 games) then average pitcher should get a perfect game every 7 years or so.  Through history, there have been about 364,000 starts in the MLB, so this would point to about 11 perfect games by average pitchers.  About half the actual total.

Now, there is a powerful statistical argument for demonstrating that great pitchers should be over-weighted in perfect games stats:  the probabilities are VERY sensitive to small changes in on-base percentage.  Let's assume a really good pitcher has an on-base percentage against him that is 30 points less than the league average, and a bad pitcher has one 30 points worse.   The better pitcher would then expect a perfect game every 10,000 starts, while the worse pitcher would expect a perfect game every 113,000 starts.  I can't find the stats on individual pitchers, but my guess is the spread between best and worst pitchers on on-base percentage against has more than a 60 point spread, since the team batting average against stats (not individual but team averages, which should be less variable) have a 60 point spread from best to worst. [update:  a reader points to this, which says there is actually a 125-point spread from best to worst.  That is a different in expected perfect games from one in 2,000 for Jared Weaver to one in 300,000 for Derek Lowe.  Thanks Jonathan]

Update:  There have been 278 no-hitters in MLB history, or 12 times the number of perfect games.  The odds of getting through 27 batters based on a .320 on-base percentage is one in 33,000.  The odds of getting through the same batters based on a .255 batting average (which is hits but not other ways on base, exactly parallel with the definition of no-hitter) the odds are just one in 2,830.  The difference between these odds is a ratio of 11.7 to one, nearly perfectly explaining the ratio of no-hitters to perfect games on pure stochastics.

New Outrage from the Corporate State

This is just nuts.

Across the United States more than 2,700 companies are collecting state income taxes from hundreds of thousands of workers – and are keeping the money with the states’ approval, says an eye-opening report published on Thursday.

The report from Good Jobs First, a nonprofit taxpayer watchdog organization funded by Ford, Surdna and other major foundations, identifies 16 states that let companies divert some or all of the state income taxes deducted from workers’ paychecks. None of the states requires notifying the workers, whose withholdings are treated as taxes they paid.

General Electric, Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors and AMC Theatres enjoy deals to keep state taxes deducted from their workers’ paychecks, the report shows. Foreign companies also enjoy such arrangements, including Electrolux, Nissan, Toyota and a host of Canadian, Japanese and European banks, Good Jobs First says.

Why do state governments do this? Public records show that large companies often pay little or no state income tax in states where they have large operations, as this column has documented. Some companies get discounts on property, sales and other taxes. So how to provide even more subsidies without writing a check? Simple. Let corporations keep the state income taxes deducted from their workers’ paychecks for up to 25 years.

Kentucky, where I have operated for over 10 years, seems to be the originator of this silliness.  I have always wondered why there is not an equal protection issue with such subsidies given to a chosen few companies but not to others.

I wrote years ago about such relocation subsidies being a prisoners dilemma game:

I hope you can see the parallel to subsidizing business relocations (replace prisoner with "governor" and confess with "subsidize").  In a libertarian world where politicians all just say no to subsidizing businesses, then businesses would end up reasonably evenly distributed across the country (due to labor markets, distribution requirements, etc.) and taxpayers would not be paying any subsidies.  However, because politicians fear that their community will lose if they don’t play the subsidy game like everyone else (the equivalent of staying silent while your partner is ratting you out in prison) what we end up with is still having businesses reasonably evenly distributed across the country, but with massive subsidies in place.

To see this clearer, lets take the example of Major League Baseball (MLB).  We all know that cities and states have been massively subsidizing new baseball stadiums for billionaire team owners.  Lets for a minute say this never happened – that somehow, the mayors of the 50 largest cities got together in 1960 and made a no-stadium-subsidy pledge.  First, would MLB still exist?  Sure!  Teams like the Giants have proven that baseball can work financially in a private park, and baseball thrived for years with private parks.  OK, would baseball be in the same cities?  Well, without subsidies, baseball would be in the largest cities, like New York and LA and Chicago, which is exactly where they are now.  The odd city here or there might be different, e.g. Tampa Bay might never have gotten a team, but that would in retrospect have been a good thing.

The net effect in baseball is the same as it is in every other industry:  Relocation subsidies, when everyone is playing the game, do nothing to substantially affect the location of jobs and businesses, but rather just transfer taxpayer money to business owners and workers.

Business Relocation Subsidies

I return to an old favorite topic of mine this week, government subsidies for business relocation, in my column at Forbes.com.  An excerpt:

To see this clearer, lets take the example of Major League Baseball (MLB).  We all know that cities and states have for years been massively subsidizing new baseball stadiums for billionaire team owners.  Let’s for a minute say this never happened – that somehow, the mayors of the 50 largest cities got together in 1960 and made a no-stadium-subsidy pledge.  Would baseball still exist?  Sure!  Teams like the Giants have proven that baseball can work financially in a private park, and baseball thrived for years with private parks.  But would baseball be in the same cities?  Well, without subsidies, baseball would likely be in the largest cities, like New York and LA and Chicago, which is exactly where they are now.  The odd city here or there might be different, e.g. Tampa Bay might never have gotten a team, but that might in retrospect have been a good thing.

The net effect in baseball is the same as it is in every other industry:  Relocation subsidies, when everyone is playing the game, do nothing to substantially affect the location of jobs and businesses, but rather just transfer taxpayer money to business owners and workers.

Paying Cash for Health Care

There just seems to be a tremendous mental block people have about paying cash for health care.  Megan McArdle is surprised at how strong this bias is in some of her readers.  I'm not, as I see it in my wife and friends all the time.

Several years ago we switched to a high-deductible catastrophic health care policy.  We save a TON of money with this policy, such that year in and year out, even with fairly high out of pocket expenditures, our total health care expenses have been lowered.

Generally, I go ahead and wash all of the charges through the policy so I get credit for them against the cumulative deductible.  But since we have never hit the number, I am increasingly less attached to this approach.  Particularly since a number of doctors and other providers are offering cash discounts now for bypassing insurance and paying cash.

Here is an example -- my son has had some elbow pain pitching lately, so seeing all the kids who are having to get Tommy John surgery before they are out of high school, we decided to make sure everything was OK.  We took him to a GP who specialized in sports medicine and works with a number of MLB pitchers as a team physician to the Brewers.   For cash, he charged me $50 and spent nearly 30 minutes with my son.  Then he sent us downstairs for some x-rays of his elbow, and the radiology group there, again for cash, charged us $35 total for three x-rays.  There are people who pay more for a pedicure.

Nothing is ever going to improve in health care costs until individuals take more responsibility for the cost-benefit tradeoffs of the services they receive.

Gun to the Head in Seattle

David Stern is putting a gun to the head of Seattle taxpayers:

NBA commissioner David Stern is putting the screws to Seattle
in his attempts to get the community to provide taxpayer subsidies that
are lucrative enough to keep the team from departing the "Emerald City"
to even greener fields in Oklahoma.

Stern blasts city officials
and the overwhelming majority of voters in the city for passing a law
requiring (gasp!) that any funds used to help build an arena earn the
same rate of return as a treasury bill. "That measure simply means
there is no way city money would ever be used on an arena project,"
Stern said. Effectively, Stern has just confirmed what sports
economists have known all along: taxpayer spending on sports
infrastructure is unlikely to provide significant returns on the
investment.

We went through the exact same thing here in Phoenix, with various outsiders and city politicians chiding the voters to voting down taxpayer funded palaces for the Cardinals and Coyotes  (eventually, they found a sucker in the local city of Glendale).  In the past, I have written about sports team and corporate relocations as a prisoners dilemma game.

To see this clearer, lets take the example of Major League Baseball
(MLB).  We all know that cities and states have been massively
subsidizing new baseball stadiums for billionaire team owners.  Lets
for a minute say this never happened - that somehow, the mayors of the
50 largest cities got together in 1960 and made a no-stadium-subsidy
pledge.  First, would MLB still exist?  Sure!  Teams like the Giants
have proven that baseball can work financially in a private park, and
baseball thrived for years with private parks.  OK, would baseball be
in the same cities?  Well, without subsidies, baseball would be in the
largest cities, like New York and LA and Chicago, which is exactly
where they are now.  The odd city here or there might be different,
e.g. Tampa Bay might never have gotten a team, but that would in
retrospect have been a good thing.

The net effect in baseball is the same as it is in every other
industry:  Relocation subsidies, when everyone is playing the game, do
nothing to substantially affect the location of jobs and businesses,
but rather just transfer taxpayer money to business owners and workers.

   

The Sports Economist writes about this move in the context of another economic game:

Indeed this is a classic example of the time inconsistency problem for
which Finn Kydland and Ed Prescott (my graduate school macro
professor!) won the Nobel Prize in 2004. Stern would like to threaten
Seattle with the permanent loss of their NBA team in order to secure
taxpayer concessions now. But should the team move, the NBA has every
reason to want to back off its previous threats and relocate a team
back into to the area due to the size, location, and income levels of
the city. Even having lost a team, Seattle will likely remain a better
candidate for a successful franchise than smaller and poorer cities
such as New Orleans or Memphis. Certainly Seattle should not fall for
Stern's bluster.

I Wish I Was in the Land of ... Subsidy

John Sugg at Reason has a review of corporate relocation subsidies down South, and the picture is not pretty:

Jurisdictions across the nation offer such inducements, which
include tax abatement, land acquisition, construction subsidies,
training subsidies, and outright cash grants. Nationally, relocation
incentives total about $50 billion a year, according to the WHR Group,
SIRVA, and other relo­cation consultants. (Such consultants often
collect as much as 30 percent of the grants they negotiate for the
businesses.)...

It's hard to get a precise total of the dollars
involved, but almost every major business relocation in the South is
accompanied by a cornucopia of publicly funded grants, despite ample
evidence that the subsidies have little impact on corporate site
selection. Other regions of the nation, especially ones experiencing
protracted economic downturns, are increasingly emulating the South.
The politicians involved rarely consider broader tax and regulatory
changes that would make their states more attractive to all businesses,
outside and homegrown....

Trendy businesses"”particularly technology firms"”have the greatest
leverage in demanding government subsidies. In February, for example,
biofuel manufacturer Range Fuels, based on lit­tle more than its word
that it could deliver a economically competitive product, was offered
$6 million in state cash, a 97-acre tract in central Georgia, and a set
of tax abatements. At best, the company will employ 70 people.

He's got tons of examples, so you should read it all, but this one sounded just like something out of Wisconsin in Atlas Shrugged:

One business that benefited from such subsidies was the Real Silk
Hosiery factory, which opened in Durant, Mississippi, in the late
1930s. Real Silk rented its factory from a state agency for $5 a year,
enjoyed tax incentives, and had public agencies train its employees and
even build their homes. The Durant plant was shuttered in the mid-'50s.
Like many other Southern industrial facilities abandoned by owners
seeking better deals elsewhere, it closed before the industrial revenue
bonds were paid off. Writing in Time in 1998, reporters Donald Bartlett
and James Steele noted that Mississippi "was the poorest state in the
nation when its corporate-welfare program began in 1936."¦62 years and
hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars in economic incentives
later, it remains dead last in per capita income."

In the past, I have observed that the "game" of competitive relocation subsidies between local authorities is very similar to a prisoner's dilemma game.  In the prisoner's dilemma, two prisoners are given a choice: To confess and rat out their partner or to stay silent.  If both stay silent, they get 10 years each in jail.  If one rats out the other, but the other stays silent, the talker gets 5 years and the silent one gets 30 years.  If they both talk, then they both get 20 years.  In this game, each person has the incentive to talk, since for any set of actions of their partner, they are better off talking than not talking.  The irony is that when they both inevitably talk, they end up worse off than if they had stayed silent.

I see the relocation subsidy game as very similar, replacing "state official" for prisoner and "subsidize" for "talk."  Quoting from myself:

In a libertarian world where politicians all just say no to
subsidizing businesses, then businesses would end up reasonably evenly
distributed across the country (due to labor markets, distribution
requirements, etc.) and taxpayers would not be paying any subsidies.
However, because politicians fear that their community will lose if
they don't play the subsidy game like everyone else (the equivalent of
staying silent while your partner is ratting you out in prison) what we
end up with is still having businesses reasonably evenly distributed
across the country, but with massive subsidies in place.

To see this clearer, lets take the example of Major League Baseball
(MLB).  We all know that cities and states have been massively
subsidizing new baseball stadiums for billionaire team owners.  Lets
for a minute say this never happened - that somehow, the mayors of the
50 largest cities got together in 1960 and made a no-stadium-subsidy
pledge.  First, would MLB still exist?  Sure!  Teams like the Giants
have proven that baseball can work financially in a private park, and
baseball thrived for years with private parks.  OK, would baseball be
in the same cities?  Well, without subsidies, baseball would be in the
largest cities, like New York and LA and Chicago, which is exactly
where they are now.  The odd city here or there might be different,
e.g. Tampa Bay might never have gotten a team, but that would in
retrospect have been a good thing.

The net effect in baseball is the same as it is in every other
industry:  Relocation subsidies, when everyone is playing the game, do
nothing to substantially affect the location of jobs and businesses,
but rather just transfer taxpayer money to business owners and workers.

I conclude with this from Sugg's piece:

Holladay, who has headed state economic development agencies in
Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina, remembers a conversation with
Zell Miller, then governor of Georgia, at a National Governors
Conference in the '90s. "The topic of subsidies came up," he recalls.
"Zell asked me, "˜Is there any way to end this foolishness?' I answered,
"˜The only way I know is to not elect any more governors.'"‰"

More Useless Government Information Gathering

Apparently I am required by law to fill out an "annual accommodation report" from the US Census.  Just what I needed.  The IRS, state sales tax authorities, and the Department of Commerce all gather this same information, but for some reason the Census Bureau needs me to repackage it for them  ("estimate time only 34 minutes -- thanks alot").  In fact, they need the data so bad that I am required by law to respond to their request. 

Here is the weird part.  First they ask for revenues including both lodging revenues and sales of merchandise, all as one single number.  Then, they ask for "operating expenses" in which they want me to exclude the cost of any merchandise sold.  What is the point of gathering a revenue number that includes merchandise sales but a cost number that excludes the cost of goods purchased for resale?  Bizarre.  My only guess is that this is so they can stack industries up without double counting, but that makes no sense either.  If this were the case, they would ask me to eliminate all product purchases (e.g. toilet paper for the bathrooms, cleaning supplies).  Also, wouldn't they in that case also ask me to leave out services purchased from other companies?

Postscript: The form has this notice:  "Your report to the Census Bureau is confidential by law.  It may be seen only by persons sworn to uphold the confidentiality of Census Bureau information and may be used only for statistical purposes.  The law also provides that copies retained in your files are immune from legal process."

Does anyone above the age of eight really believe this?  Ask major league baseball players what they think about promises of confidentiality and immunity from legal process.  (emphasis added)

With Barry Bonds still in their sights,
federal investigators probing steroids in sports can now use the
names and urine samples of about 100 Major League Baseball players
who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, following a
ruling Wednesday from a federal appeals court.

The 2-1 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
overturned three lower court decisions and could help authorities
pinpoint the source of steroids in baseball. It could also bolster
the perjury case against the star outfielder, who is under
investigation for telling a grand jury he never knowingly used
performance-enhancing drugs.

Investigators seized computer files containing the test results
in 2004 during raids of labs involved in MLB's testing program. The
samples were collected at baseball's direction the previous year as
part of a survey to gauge the prevalence of steroid use. Players
and owners agreed in their labor contract that the results would be
confidential, and each player was assigned a code number to be
matched with his nam
e.

Small Government in Seattle?

Well, probably not.  But Seattle voters did take the great step of banning public subsidies for pro sports teams, which usually take the form of sweetheart stadium deals.  Of course, this being Seattle, the proposition's promoters were motivated less by libertarianism than by the desire to spend more government money on other things.  But since public funding of stadium's is a personal pet peeve, I will give them one cheer.

A while back I compared the escalating public subsidies of pro sports teams to a prisoner's dilemma problem:

To see this clearer, lets take the example of Major League Baseball
(MLB).  We all know that cities and states have been massively
subsidizing new baseball stadiums for billionaire team owners.  Lets
for a minute say this never happened - that somehow, the mayors of the
50 largest cities got together in 1960 and made a no-stadium-subsidy
pledge.  First, would MLB still exist?  Sure!  Teams like the Giants
have proven that baseball can work financially in a private park, and
baseball thrived for years with private parks.  OK, would baseball be
in the same cities?  Well, without subsidies, baseball would be in the
largest cities, like New York and LA and Chicago, which is exactly
where they are now.  The odd city here or there might be different,
e.g. Tampa Bay might never have gotten a team, but that would in
retrospect have been a good thing.

The net effect in baseball is the same as it is in every other
industry:  Relocation subsidies, when everyone is playing the game, do
nothing to substantially affect the location of jobs and businesses,
but rather just transfer taxpayer money to business owners and workers.

This subsidy game reminds me of the line at the end of the movie Wargames

A strange game.  The only winning move is not to play.

Emergent Order and Barry Bond's Records

Warning:  This post wanders all over the place, from baseball to gasoline prices to star naming to Internet search engines and back to baseball.

Today I was listening to sports-talk radio for a while, and the topic of conversation was "Should major league baseball nullify (or asterisk) Barry Bond's home run records because he is strongly suspected to have taken steroids."  Now personally, I don't believe anyone has broken Roger Marris's single season home run record who was not taking steroids.  How much that bothers me depends on what day of the week you ask me, but my answer to the record book question never varies:  no, the MLB doesn't have to do a thing.  Here's why, though get ready for a digression.

Perhaps the toughest libertarian-capitalist concept for most people to grasp, even tougher than the idea that wealth is not zero-sum, is that of emergent or bottom-up order.  Capitalism is all about order emerging bottom-up:  Market prices emerge without any one person setting them from above;  supply matches demand without any central body coordinating production.  For many people, this process is some sort of black magic not to be trusted -- just observe Congress and their silly proposals on gasoline prices, reminding us of savages who don't understand how nature works performing elaborate rituals to make the crops grow.

In fact, this whole issue of emergent order vs. grand design is actually a point of incredible inconsistency in American politics.  Observe certain liberals, strong secularists who reject the concepts of God and intelligent design in favor of evolution and bottom-up emergent order in the natural world, but then in turn reject emergent order in human relations and economics in favor of top-down not-so-intelligent design as run by the federal government.  You have only to remember back to Katrina to see the public demand for, followed by the spectacular failure of, top down relief approaches.

The other day I had an argument with a friend about one of those commercial star registries -- you have probably heard the commercial-- pay $X and have a star named after someone you love.  My friend was appalled.  He said - "do you know that they have no authority to name those stars.  Don't people know its not official.  They just put your name in a book somewhere - but its not the official book in Switzerland (or wherever the hell he said it was)."  My reaction was -- so what?  Who had the right to call the other one "official"?  The standard star naming by scientists is accepted because it is useful.  But that doesn't mean I can't come up with my own naming system.  Let's see, I think I am going to rename the Orion constellation as "Warren".  Yes that's much better.  Now, its unlikely anyone else will find a useful reason to adopt this same convention.... The fact is that the star names we use represent a consensus that has emerged over time.  In many cases, constellations and stars had competing names (e.g. Big Bear vs. Big Dipper) that still have not been fully reconciled. 

Or here is an example that might work better for modern Internet users.  The Internet does have an official central body that sets addressing conventions.  They set up the rules by which I can lease the rights to www.coyoteblog.com and the 12-digit IP address that is attached to it.  This is the "official" way to address the web.

But early on, as web sites proliferated, entrepreneurs attempted to impose their own order on the Internet, sort-of the equivalent of suggesting an entirely new set of names for stars.  Yahoo and AOL both developed huge hierarchical directories, effectively imposing a nested-tree addressing system over the Internet's flat addresses.  And for a while, these approaches prospered, as users found these to be a more useful way to organize the Internet.  Then, along came search engines, like Altavista and then Google, and yet a new organizational paradigm was proposed, in effect a third different set of names for the Internet constellations.  Again, users found this keyword and link-popularity approach superior to hierarchical trees, and search engines have prospered while the old directories have languished. 

The point is, no one gave Google a license or top-down authority to reorganize the Internet.  They just did it, like thousands of others tried at the time.  Of these thousands of different approaches, no single smart man picked Google as the approach that everyone should use.  Rather, individuals tried all these different approaches, and over time a consensus emerged that Google was the most useful.

Which -- and I know you thought I forgot -- brings us back to Barry Bond's records.  Individual baseball records don't actually have any meaning to the game of baseball itself -- baseball is played for team wins and losses and ultimately for team championships.  So while individual hits and home runs may have mattered in getting to a champion, the fact that Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs in a year has no real meaning within the context of declaring a team as champion.  It has meaning only in the way that fans react to it. 

One proof of this is the fact that people focus so much on the single-season home run record.  Is this record more inherently valuable than say, the single season triple record?  Triples are actually harder to hit, so you might argue that the triple record is more interesting.  No one from official MLB offices ever declared the single season home run record to be among the most important.  But over time, a fan consensus has emerged that people are far more intrigued by the home run record, so most everyone can name Barry Bonds at 73 home runs but only a geek would know Chief Wilson at 36 triples.

I contend that Barry Bond's 73 home run record  (and his lifetime home run record, if he ever gets that) will take care of themselves without any action from the league office.  Over time, fans will decide for themselves if Bond's 73 is better than Marris's 61.  Today, for example, most discussion of pitching records excludes the period before 1915 or so, which people refer to as the "dead ball" era.  Someday, fan consensus will emerge that they are OK with steroid-driven records (as they have become comfortable with Gaylord Perry's records despite his use of the illegal spitball) or else they are not OK and batting stats from the past decade will be excluded as the "juiced player era".

Business Relocations and the Prisoners Dilemna

As I have written before, one of the favorite past-times of local and state politicians is to hand out grants, subsidies, and tax breaks for businesses to relocate to their district.  Billions and billions of dollars are given out every year to everyone from movie producers to sports teams to Wal-marts in order to "bring jobs" to the local community.

Economists have argued for years that these subsidies are a total waste (more on this below) but the Club for Growth links a great article demonstrating that they are not only a waste, they also are downright fraudulent.

Gov. George Pataki's administration gives millions of dollars every year to
businesses that promise to hire more people or retain jobs. It's a promise that
is often broken.

Almost half of those companies helped by New York taxpayers fell short of the
job targets that are part of their deals with the state, records show.

In fact, a quarter of the businesses took taxpayers' money and loans, then
cut jobs.

The article is quite detailed, but here is one example:

Take the case of Ingram Micro, a global computer-parts wholesaler with a
distribution center near Buffalo.

In 1999, it accepted $675,000 in taxpayers' money and promised to add 542
workers. Instead, it cut its workforce by nearly 400.

The state demanded a penalty of $176,985, but an Ingram spokesman said it has
not paid and is negotiating with the state.

Last month, Ingram Micro announced it will lay off another 120 Buffalo
workers and send the work overseas.

OOPS!  One is driven to ask the obvious question - why are these subsidy programs so popular?  I can think of at least three explanations.

The first explanation is political.  These subsidy programs tend to satisfy important bases from both political parties, thereby ensuring their bipartisan support.  Democrats like the idea of spending government money to create jobs, while Republicans like tax breaks and supporting business.  This explanation is unsatisfying.

The second explanation probably hits closer to the mark, and it is the cynical-political explanation that politicians like buying votes with other people's money.  When they campaign for re-election, politicians like to have a couple of "scalps" they can wave around to show the voters that they are doing something (a consistent history of sober fiscal responsibility seems to be unappealing, I guess).  Being able to say "I brought Microsoft to the town of West Nowheresville" or better yet "I brought 1000 jobs to this community" are political favorites of both parties (Here is what New Yorkers are really paying for - the ability of George Pataki to post on his web site a press release saying "Bedding Company to Create 240 New Jobs in New Baltimore").   These are priceless campaign slogans that didn't cost the politician a dime, since they were funded by taxpayers.

The third explanation comes from economics and is the most interesting.  If you shed any notion of morality or ethics (e.g. that one has no right to give one person's money to another just to make their re-election more likely) then politicians who are approached by a company looking for a handout for business relocation faces what is called the prisoner's dilemma.  Many of you may know what that is, but for those who don't, here is a quick explanation, via the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Tanya and Cinque have been arrested for robbing the Hibernia Savings
Bank and placed in separate isolation cells. Both care much more about
their personal freedom than about the welfare of their accomplice. A
clever prosecutor makes the following offer to each. "You may choose
to confess or remain silent. If you confess and your accomplice
remains silent I will drop all charges against you and use your
testimony to ensure that your accomplice does serious time. Likewise,
if your accomplice confesses while you remain silent, they will go
free while you do the time. If you both confess I get two convictions,
but I'll see to it that you both get early parole.  If you both remain
silent, I'll have to settle for token sentences on firearms possession
charges. If you wish to confess, you must leave a note with the jailer
before my return tomorrow morning."

The "dilemma" faced by the prisoners here is that, whatever the other
does, each is better off confessing than remaining silent. But the
outcome obtained when both confess is worse for each than the outcome
they would have obtained had both remained silent.

I hope you can see the parallel to subsidizing business relocations (replace prisoner with "governor" and confess with "subsidize").  In a libertarian world where politicians all just say no to subsidizing businesses, then businesses would end up reasonably evenly distributed across the country (due to labor markets, distribution requirements, etc.) and taxpayers would not be paying any subsidies.  However, because politicians fear that their community will lose if they don't play the subsidy game like everyone else (the equivalent of staying silent while your partner is ratting you out in prison) what we end up with is still having businesses reasonably evenly distributed across the country, but with massive subsidies in place.

To see this clearer, lets take the example of Major League Baseball (MLB).  We all know that cities and states have been massively subsidizing new baseball stadiums for billionaire team owners.  Lets for a minute say this never happened - that somehow, the mayors of the 50 largest cities got together in 1960 and made a no-stadium-subsidy pledge.  First, would MLB still exist?  Sure!  Teams like the Giants have proven that baseball can work financially in a private park, and baseball thrived for years with private parks.  OK, would baseball be in the same cities?  Well, without subsidies, baseball would be in the largest cities, like New York and LA and Chicago, which is exactly where they are now.  The odd city here or there might be different, e.g. Tampa Bay might never have gotten a team, but that would in retrospect have been a good thing.

The net effect in baseball is the same as it is in every other industry:  Relocation subsidies, when everyone is playing the game, do nothing to substantially affect the location of jobs and businesses, but rather just transfer taxpayer money to business owners and workers.

This subsidy game reminds me of the line at the end of the movie Wargames

A strange game.  The only winning move is not to play.

Postscript:  As a libertarian, I have gone through phases on targeted tax breaks.
There have been times in my life when I have supported tax breaks of
any kind to any person for any reason, by the logic that any reduction
in taxation is a good thing.  I know there are many libertarians that
take this position.  Over time, I have changed my mind.  First,
targeted tax breaks seldom in practice reduce the overall tax burden -
they tend to be made up somewhere else.  Second, these tax breaks tend
to be gross examples of the kind of government coercive technocratic
meddling in commerce and individual decision-making
that I despise.
Almost always, they are trying to get individuals to do something they
would not otherwise do, so in practice they tend to be distorting and
carry all kinds of unintended consequences (as well as being
philosophically repugnant).

Update 9/29/05:  We are suddenly getting a bunch of visitors from Econ.Aplia.com, which I presume is related to a university assignment or blog post somewhere.  Can someone email me in at the email in the right bar if folks are coming here from a particular site or university.  Just curious.

Update 9/30/05:  Thanks to a couple of emailers, the cat (err, bulldog?) is out of the bag and I know that Yalies are in the house.  Welcome.  I don't know if they teach free-markets any more in college, but your welcome to look around and take a walk on the libertarian dark side.  Good luck with economics, even if you did pick the wrong school.  --Coyote, Princeton '84, Harvard MBA '89

Update Again:  By the way, I discuss here the odd issue of why I and so many people misspell "dilemma" as "dilemna", as I did in this post.