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.


  1. Mark Bigelow:

    Don't get too excited. WA voters (with Seattle-ites being the majority) also voted NOT to abolish the estate tax and they decided that in cases where the government passes a law rendering your property (residential or otherwise) worthless, the government doesn't need to reimburse you.

    Case in point, I have a friend who owns a large strip of land near a river. It's longer than it is deep, which means the vast majority of it is close to the river. Well, King County passed a law saying you can't build within 25 feet (I think) of a river, which means he can't build anything because his land isn't deep enough. So, thanks to this law, his property is worthless and the government feels no responsibility for that.


  2. Matthew:

    If you don't play the game then another city will and you'll lose the team and the economic impact that comes with it. It's not an evenly matched game.

  3. Highway:

    Plus, didn't Seattle just finish constructing their two stadiums with public funds? So, maybe this is more a case of closing the barn door after the horses have run out.

  4. Phil:

    There's little "economic benefit" to speak of from hosting a sports team - at least in terms of measurable activity. If you go to a baseball game, you're not going to, say, a movie or a restaurant. So there's little, if any, new spending within an economy. It's mostly just redistributed.

    Add to that the fact that professional athletes and team owners have a greater tendency to live away from the areas they play in (compared to local restaurant and bar workers). The smaller the area, like a suburb, the more likely the owners and players call another city home. Thus, a dollar spent on a baseball game is more likely to leave the economy.

  5. Scott:

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

    Excellent observation so true in so many governement messes.