Economics Everywhere Even in Sports
By David Henderson
Early February in even years not divisible by 4 is one of my favorite times. First, the AT&T golf tournament is here and, although I’m not a big fan of golf (cue Mark Twain), I get to see gorgeous views from the Goodyear blimp of an area less than 2 miles as the crow flies (and that crow does fly straight) from where I live.
Second, and this is the divisible by 4 part, the Winter Olympics are on. Last night, I watched two of my favorite events–curling, which is relatively new in the Olympics, and speed skating.
Now to the economics, first at the AT&T. Here’s a segment of a news story in this morning’s Monterey Herald:
But the one thing most people don’t know is that new volunteers are required to purchase the uniform for $185. Along with accommodations like getting a hotel room, transportation and food, a week’s work can cost as much as $1,000.
This is from Juan Reyes, “Crowd Control, in a polite manner,” and the article is about golf marshals, the people who tell you to be quiet when a golfer is hitting.
Notice that not only are the marshals not paid but also that they pay to be golf marshals. How did the sponsors decide not to pay the marshals but also to charge them? Presumably there were enough qualified volunteers that they could require the volunteers to pay for their uniform and for their own expenses. (Some of the marshals are from out of town.)
One of my favorite New York Times editorials ever is the famous “The Right Minimum Wage: $0.00,” January 14, 1987. By the way, I’m willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that the author of that NYT editorial was Peter Passell, an economist on the editorial board who earned his Ph.D. in economics at Yale in the early 1970s.
But something about the title has always bothered me: who’s to say that the right minimum wage is 0. Couldn’t it be negative? That is, wouldn’t it make sense in some circumstances for workers to pay to have the jobs. The AT&T example shows that the answer is yes. I can think of three reasons why people would pay to have jobs:
1. They get valuable training,
2. They get a lot of pleasure (the AT&T example),
3. They get a lot of prestige out of association with the employer (possibly the AT&T example.)
Can you think of others?
Now to the Olympics. Watching my fellow Canucks, John Morris and Kaitlyn Lawes, curl last night, I was curious about their backgrounds. So I googled and found out that both were born in Winnipeg (where I was an undergrad) and that Kaitlyn is a sales representative for Goldline Curling Supplies. I find that striking, so to speak. Why? Because it says something about the growth of wealth in Canada and northern United States, which is where almost all the curling in North America happens. Sales representative? There are enough curling supplies sold that this company needs a, and probably some, sales rep? Yes. It’s because people want, not just the curling rocks, which haven’t changed much, but also those special brooms and shoes. When the commentators were discussing the brooms and shoes last night, I turned to my wife and said: “You know what we used for brooms and shoes when I curled, briefly, in 1967? Brooms and shoes.” Not special ones: Ok, the brooms were a little special, but they were very similar to the one I use to sweep the floor of my garage. But Canadians and northern Americans are wealthy enough to buy this special equipment.
Then we watched speed skating, and one commentator did an excellent job of showing the kinds of skates the speed skaters use, noting that a leap in technology in the late 1990s–the blades rotate vertically every time the skater raises his foot–changed the game. This is a small change. But that’s the point. Some innovator figured it out and probably made some good money at it, and people were wealthy enough to buy it.
By the way, see here for a funny human moment: this is the kind of thing I love about the Olympics. Also, I’ve become quite fond of the American team involved.