Public Option Sports

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We are about
to get a public option on health care, an idea so incontrovertibly
great that it ought to be extended to other fields. The government
simply provides more choice and more competition.

There are already
public options for mail delivery and mass transit — the United States
Postal Service and Amtrak. Sure, those entities do under-perform
the private alternatives, such as FedEx and Greyhound. But at least
the public option is supported by monopolistic laws preventing direct
competition! No private party can deliver regular mail or run trains,
even if they could do it for cheaper. We want public options to
have some advantages, don’t we? If they didn’t have any legal advantages
over private competitors and were intended to be self-sustaining,
we might as well offer them as another private option! That’s just

America has
a long and proud tradition of public options. Did you know that
one of the first states, Connecticut, used to have a public option
in religion?

From 1636 till
1818, the Congregational Church was the state’s established church.
By default, you attended and tithed to that public church, but it
was not always mandatory. You could opt out of the Congregational
Church. Under the Act of Toleration of 1708, you just had to declare
yourself a member of a different religion and then you could attend
the other church. Did you still have to pay to support Congregational
Church ministers? Well, sure! It was a public option, you know,
and we all pay our fair share for the public option — just like
the public option on education. You can send your kids to any school
you like, but we all must pay our share for public schools.

Over time,
Connecticut even granted certain exceptions. Episcopalians could
opt out of paying taxes to support the Congregational Church starting
in 1727. Baptists and Quakers could do so in 1729. As long as you
were on the short list of approved alternate religions, and you
could prove you were supporting other ministers, you could opt out
of the religious public option. Easy.

You might have
noticed what you assumed was a typo above. A state church in 1818
— when the Bill of Rights, whose very first amendment separated
church and state, had already been in effect for nearly three decades?

That is no
typo. The Bill of Rights, like the rest of the Constitution, serves
as a guideline and a goal, not as a blind, mindless restriction
on the government’s ability to provide for the well-being of its

With enough
time to properly plan a transition, in 1818 Connecticut removed
the public option and moved closer to compliance with the First
Amendment by issuing a new state constitution. Sure, it still explicitly
favored Christianity, but it was a step in the right direction.
By 1843, Connecticut had even recognized that Jews have a right
to worship. Talk about progress!

The only conclusion
one can reach from all this is public options are of course a great
idea. They should also be applied to sports.

Sports and
health care? Are the two even comparable in terms of impact on the

They are. We
pay about as much for health insurance as we do for sports. Health
insurance companies had total revenue of $405 billion in 2007, according
to the Highline Data Health Industry Aggregate. Total sports revenue,
including the NBA, NFL, NHL, MBA and golf, are now around $400 billion
a year, according to Plunkett Research, Ltd.

And not just
revenue, but the same arguments about rising costs of health care
apply to sports. Just try to get Knicks tickets for the whole family
without selling a kidney.

Sure, fans
currently have a choice about which team to follow, but why not
offer a government-funded one, just as an extra option? Consider
the Federal Bureaucrats as a new NBA team.

The ‘Crats
would offer equal NBA access to all. Your grandmother could play
point guard and your toddler could play center. The coach would
be a former Goldman Sachs partner and only the top lobbyists and
political fundraisers would be allowed in the locker room.

And if Shaquille
O’Neal finds himself with a decided advantage over a two-year-old,
or Kobe Bryant keeps swiping the ball from Grandma, that’s where
we call foul, and that’s where the true advantage of a public option
comes into play:

We own the

This originally
appeared in the Fairfield

27, 2009

Dr. Phil
Maymin [send him mail] is an
Assistant Professor of Finance and Risk Engineering at the Polytechnic
Institute of New York University. He is the author of Free
Your Inner Yankee

and Yankee
Wake Up

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