Posts tagged with: basketball

Blog author: aknot
posted by on Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Much has been made of income inequality in the United States this election season. Income inequality exists in the United States, more so than almost any other developed nation. Around sixty years ago, America’s Gini coefficient–the best measure of income equality, where zero represents the least inequality and one the most–was .37. Today, it is .45.

These numbers are startling, especially for a country that so proudly proclaims all men to be “created equal.” But, as Matthew Schoenfeld points out in The Wall Street Journal, income equality is a far cry from the equality the Framers preached in the Declaration of Independence.

Schoenfeld’s article, titled “Air Jordan and the 1%”, transposes the issue of income inequality from the public policy arena to the basketball court. For many people in and around public policy, a rising Gini coeffecient is enough to call for economic redistribution. Of course, this narrow reasoning doesn’t hold up in other arenas, as Schoenfeld’s basketball analogy points out:

And that brings us to Michael Jordan, who starred for the Chicago Bulls from 1984 to 1998. In 1986, the Bulls’ median player salary was $300,000. The team’s lowest-paid player made $135,000, and its highest-paid player made $806,000. The team’s Gini coefficient was 0.36. But Jordan’s superstardom increased the team’s popularity and revenues, and by 1998 salaries looked different. The median income was $2.3 million, the lowest was $500,000, and the highest (Jordan’s) was $33 million. The Gini coefficient had nearly doubled, to 0.67.

Jordan’s salary of $33 million consumed over half the payroll, but everyone was better off. The median player in 1998 made more than seven times what the median player made in 1986, while the income of the lowest-paid player in 1998 quadrupled that of his 1986 peer.

Schoenfeld’s analysis calls to mind a line from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. In the book, de Tocqueville claims, “Americans are so enamored of equality that they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom.” Equality is certainly a necessary virtue, one that ensures that all can enjoy basic rights and freedoms. But it is not equality alone that generates human flourishing. This is what the Framers, de Tocqueville, and the 1984-1998 Chicago Bulls got right. Humans require freedom and opportunity to fully tap into their inherent creative potential. To return to basketball:  Every successful offense is built around creating the best shot, and the opportunity for a slam dunk always trumps a prayer from half-court.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, March 8, 2010

Riffing off of Lord Acton’s quote on liberty and good government, I came up with an analogy that was well-received at last month’s inaugural Acton on Tap.

In his essay, “The History of Freedom in Antiquity,” Acton said the following:

Now Liberty and good government do not exclude each other; and there are excellent reasons why they should go together; but they do not necessarily go together. Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end. It is not for the sake of a good public administration that it is required, but for security in the pursuit of the highest objects of civil society, and of private life.

I tried to think of an image or analogy that captured what Acton meant by “good government.” Perhaps not surprisingly, I came up with a sports analogy.

Fans of various sports, basketball for instance, know that the best games are typically the ones in which you do not notice the referees. Yes, the referees are there, making calls when appropriate. But they do not become the center of attention. They are not the ones putting the ball in the hoop. They are not making a spectacle of themselves. They go about their duties and are at their best when they are not noticed. The referees are not the center of attention; instead, the focus is on the players and the game.

"Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever." (Westminster Shorter Catechism)

'Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.'

Good government is like that. It protects liberty as its highest end, but it is a liberty that is used in pursuit of other ends, what Acton calls “the highest objects of civil society, and of private life.” Foremost among these is religion, and they are ultimately oriented to and subsumed under what the Westminster divines identified as man’s chief end: “to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.”

In this analogy, good government is like the referee that calls a fair game and does so in a way that does not produce a slanted playing field, or favor one team over the other. Good government is at its best when it is not the focus and is not grandstanding for attention.

Keep that in mind over the next month while you’re watching the NCAA tournament (and hopefully watching the seemingly-perennial Final Four run from the Michigan State Spartans, this year’s Big 10 co-champs). And be sure to mark your calendars for the next Acton on Tap, Tuesday, March 31, featuring Rudy Carrasco.