Monday, April 06, 2009

The Sobotka Corollary to the Yankee Principle

The New York Yankees have been, and continue to be, adamantly against revenue sharing in baseball. They have by far the largest revenue base, and the largest payroll. What the Yankees, in their New York hubris, fail to grasp is they need the other teams to be competitive. Eventually even New Yorkers would look elsewhere for entertainment if the American League evolved into a baseball version of the Harlem Globetrotters and Washington Generals.

The same is true of the economy as a whole. Capitalism has been very, very good to America. The churn of companies rising and falling is accepted as part of the cost of doing business. Regulation of business is viewed as a necessary evil by most, pure evil by others. Entrepreneurial spirit is valued above all else, unless the government can be talked into underwriting some expenses.

What is too often forgotten on Wall Street and K Street is that not everyone can be a tycoon. I’m not talking about those who try, but fail: you pays your money, you takes your chances. I’m talking about the people who, for whatever reason, choose not to play. People who are content to put in their forty hours, go home, and play with their kids. Pay for their home and retire without having to worry if the price of dog food will starve them.

A pure capitalist sees these people as having no value. They’re weak, and exist only as overhead to slow the engine the entrepreneur is trying to drive. This is why ardent laissez-faire capitalists are ultimately mistaken. Deluded, even.

Not everyone can be a titan of industry, even if they wanted to. Someone has to actually build the cars. Unload the ships. Mine the coal. Even as our economy becomes more service based, we still need people to work retail sales, repair appliances, and cut hair. Cops and fireman and teachers aren’t nice to have; they’re critical.

To a capitalist, these people are overhead, a drag on the bottom line. Yet automakers sell a hell of a lot more cars to these folks than they do to business owners. The board of directors of Consolidation Coal aren’t going into the mines any time soon, and it’s a safe bet Rick Wagoner couldn’t hook up a transaxle if his life depended on it. The entrepreneurs provide vision and, we hope, leadership, but it’s still the people fixing potholes and washing windows who actually get these things done.

I’m not so na├»ve to believe this is going to change anytime soon; money talks. But until there’s some fundamental recognition of the value of the non-capitalist in a capitalist society, we’re going to end up where we are now every thirty to eighty years, no matter how smart the Masters of the Universe like to think they are. I’m not advocating class warfare, though it may sound like it to some. I’m not even pushing for common courtesy. It’s just common sense.

(Explanation of the title: Season Two of The Wire dealt with the loss of stevedore jobs on the Baltimore Harbor. The union leader was named Frank Sobotka.)

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