Public Option Sports

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 silly.

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.

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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?

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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 citizens!

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 economy?

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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 referees.

This originally appeared in the Fairfield Weekly.

August 27, 2009