Free agency season is upon us in the NFL. It’s the time of year when men with absurdly large bank accounts open up their wallets to sign players with not-quite-as-absurdly large bank accounts. And with that routine, we get the whining from people who call the players “overpaid.” Overpaid? Compared to what?
In case you hadn’t noticed, football is a business. Fans buy tickets (or they watch on TV, which creates a huge advertising market, which creates huge TV contracts). The owners take the money from the tickets and the TV deals, and they pay the players. (Yes, it’s slightly more complicated than that, but you get the picture.) The end result is that people (say, Calvin Johnson) can sign contracts for $132 million. (Of course, keep in mind that the numbers you always hear are really just splotches of ink on paper; NFL contracts aren’t guaranteed and Johnson could very well be cut sometime before his contract expires. Pay attention to the guaranteed number; in Johnson’s case, $60 million. Still pretty good, right.)
To the 99% of us, that sounds like an exorbitant amount of money. And it is. But does he deserve it? Of course he does. The simplest argument is that someone is paying him that money; therefore, he deserves it. His owner and general manager are perfectly happy to pay him that money (well, I’m sure they’d have liked to have given him less, but Calvin Johnson wasn’t holding a gun to their heads and demanding $132 million). Continue reading ‘complaining about overpaid athletes’
It’s April. That means spring, baseball, and the deadline for federal taxes. Usually, it’s April 15th, but this year, thanks to some quirks of the calendar, the deadline is the 18th. The local news channels always seem to have a reporter on location at a post office staying open for the convenience of the procrastinators.
Many people, however, are eager to get their taxes done long before the deadline. Why? Because they’re getting a refund. People get so excited when they get a refund. It’s as if this just happened:
But a tax refund isn’t some magic money out of nowhere. It’s money that you earned, then paid to the government. As you’ve probably realized when you’ve looked at your paycheck, the government withholds money from every paycheck you make. Then you fill out a bunch of forms (1040, etc.) and you either get a certain amount back or have to send the government more money. Continue reading ‘people who celebrate tax refunds’
America is counting down to a Super Bowl that will involve two of the NFL’s most storied franchises: the Steelers and the Packers. Both have trophy cases lined with league championships. Both can point to many Hall of Fame players who have suited up for them. Both have had a tremendous amount of fan support. But there’s one very big difference. The Steelers are owned (and essentially have been since their inception) by the Rooney family. The Packers? They’re owned by 112,158 people. They are the only major American sports franchise owned in such a manner. And it’s not like the shareholders are looking to get rich: the club is a non-profit entity, and if it is ever sold, the proceeds would have to go to local charities. Thanks to this structure, the team can’t hold the city hostage and threaten to move if they don’t get a fancy new stadium.
In case you don’t already realize how awesome this concept is, let’s go back to basics. What is the point of a business? To make money. What is the point of a sports team? To win. What is the point of a business that is a sports team? To make money and to win. But what happens when those two goals collide? Which one of them gets pushed by the wayside? Sure, some owners spend money lavishly, running their teams more to stroke their ego than to make money. Others are miserly, clinging to their investment and looking for every last penny.* The two goals—profit and winning—can come into conflict, and a team’s success is often determined by which of the two the owner would rather seek. Continue reading ‘that we don’t have more community-owned sports teams’
I was picking up some fast food for dinner a few nights ago. The total came out to $4.98 and I handed the cashier a $5. He gave me back three pennies. I was about to call his attention to his mistake, but I figured, “Why bother?” Who cares about one cent? Hell, I didn’t even care to have the three cents. Had there been a tip jar on the counter, I’d have dropped the three pennies in. Instead they went into my pocket. I think I left them in my car, but maybe I left them in my pants. Maybe they got washed. Maybe they’re on a windowsill in my house. I really don’t know. And I don’t care either. Why? Because pennies are so close to being worthless that for all practical purposes, that’s what they are. Worthless. The penny is a relic of a distant past; the sole reason for its continued existence is the zinc lobby.
The reasons to get rid of the penny are numerous. Perhaps the most glaringly obvious one is that it costs more than a cent to make a penny. 1.7 cents, in fact. (Thanks, Wikipedia.) In other worse, the government is just throwing away money. Furthermore, they then passed a law to make it illegal to melt down pennies for the cost of the zinc and copper. Sounds like a dumb law, right? There would be no need for it if the penny were made out of something else (steel, say) that costs less than one cent per penny. But Jarden Zinc Products, the company that makes the blanks the pennies are made out of, won’t have any of that. They hired lobbyists to fight a Congressman who tried to outlaw pennies. Continue reading ‘pennies’
Now, a good Catholic boy like me should have no objection to gambling. And for the most part, I don’t. (I mean, I do think casinos are pretty sleazy with the way they block any natural light and prey on old people, but it’s a free country, right?) After all, I grew up playing turkey bingo in the church gym and cherry bells at the church fair. But what If I told you that there’s a form of gambling where the house edge (which is usually a couple of percent at most if you’re at a casino) is 67.5%? You’d think it was an outrage, wouldn’t you? You’d never want to play a game like that, would you? But when you buy a Powerball ticket, that’s exactly what you’re doing.* It always baffles me when I hear about co-workers who get together and buy a bunch of tickets every week in the hopes that they’ll hit the big one. What the hell are they thinking? Obviously, they’re not very good at math.
Now, my point here is not to criticize the guy who goes into the convenience store maybe once or twice a year when the Powerball jackpot is $250 million. If you spend $2 a year on the lottery, you may be losing money—the odds are against you in virtually any** situation—but you’re never going to miss $2 a year. On the other hand, those millions of dollars would be really nice to have if you do luck out. SInce losing $2 a year is essentially equivalent to nothing, but winning a huge amount of money (even at odds of almost 200 million to 1) is really, really awesome, it’s not a bad deal (from a life perspective, not a strict financial perspective) if you play on very rare occasions. My point here is to criticize the people who spend $5 or $10 or $20 or more a week, every week, in the hopes of winning the big prize. Continue reading ‘state lotteries’
Living on the Gulf Coast I’m used to dealing with natural disasters. But this decidedly unnatural disaster we’re dealing with is quite bizarre. In some ways it’s like dealing with a hurricane—we even get a daily NOAA forecast—but it’s not like we have to board the windows and evacuate. We just move on with our daily lives and watch as what could become the worst environmental disaster in our nation’s history rages on some 60 or 70 miles from downtown New Orleans.
At this point I don’t really know how to feel. Should I pissed off at BP? Yeah. The government? Yeah. Maybe this is the work of a company cutting every corner it can, regardless of the risks. Maybe it was just a freak accident. (I think the former is more likely, but that’s besides the point I want to make). What I am pissed off about is the fact that for far too long we in Louisiana have run the risks and taken so much damage from the oil industry without being fairly compensated. For years Louisiana and the other states with offshore drilling got completely screwed out of oil royalties.* We got nothing.** States with inland oil and gas production? A 50/50 split between the state and the feds. What is wrong with this picture? Sure, there’s an argument to be made for giving the federal government some of the money; Americans have a right to enjoy all of our natural resources, not just the ones from the state they happen to live in. But we are the ones bearing the negative externalities while the federal government reaps the benefits. We are the ones who have had our wetlands ripped apart by subsidence and canals. We are the ones with Cancer Alley. And we run the risk of a spill like this. Continue reading ‘not getting a fair share of offshore oil royalties’
Those of y’all who know me know that I’m about as much a fan of capitalism as anyone. Big businesses, greed, profits, screwing the little guy—I’m all for it. But there’s one instance in which greedy corporations have managed to screw over poor consumers in ways that should be simply untenable. What am I talking about? College textbooks.
I’m actually even more bothered by the problem now that I’m a college instructor than I was as a student. I had TOPS stipends or grad school assistantships to pay for my textbooks; I got to keep the remainder, so I had an incentive to buy books for as little as possible, but the sting of spending $250 or more for a semester’s worth of books is greatly lessened when you’re getting help to pay for them. But as an instructor, I don’t want to force overpriced textbooks upon students who may or may not be able to easily afford the books.
Right now I’m teaching a mythology class. I had been a TA for a class a few years back and we used Morford and Lenardon’s Classical Mythology (8th edition). It was a good book, I was familiar with it, and it was my first time teaching a mythology class, so I went with it. Sure, I gritted my teeth a little bit at the fact that my students would have to pay $70 or so for it, but c’est la vie. I used it, it worked well, and I’d certainly recommend it if the cost isn’t a problem. Unfortunately, the cost is a problem. I’m teaching the same mythology class during the summer, and I was debating whether or not to use the textbook. I go to look it up on amazon and see that there’s now a ninth edition, which came out in February 2010. The eighth edition came out in 2007. There is not a snowball’s chance in hell that enough changed in the study of a field that goes back two thousand years to necessitate a new edition just three years after the preceding one. The sole reason is money. Continue reading ‘the textbook racket’