The media cheerleading here in the D.C. area over the Expos deal is nauseating. I have nothing against baseball. I have everything against taxpayer-funded sports statism. (A commendable exception to the media slavering over this government rip-off is the Washington Times, whose scathing editorial today is dead-on.)
Way back before I knew what a blog was, I ran a modest little website that monitored corporate welfare called Porkwatch (here’s what it looked like in 2000, courtesy of the Wayback Machine). Exposing the bogus economic development rationale for subsidizing sports stadiums became one of my hobby horses when I worked in Seattle. Government, media, and Big Business interests there collaborated on an appalling, half-billion-dollar stadium giveaway package to Microsoft mogul Paul Allen. The sports sycophants in Seattle–and everywhere else–use the same econo-babble arguments to justify public subsidies for their private preferences: The “investment” pays for itself. It’ll bring jobs. Strengthen community spirit. Blah blah blah.
But as I wrote a few years ago:
The government has no business picking winners and losers in the private sector. It has no business taking people’s hard-earned money to prop up art which offends them, professional sports which bore them, or recreational activities which they consider a waste of time.
I prefer professional figure skating to pro-baseball. Why not subsidize deluxe ice rinks and enact price supports for Spandex costumes? That would create jobs and foster community. While we’re at it, what about a slice of government pork for those of us who crochet? We contribute to the economy, too. Give us tax-exempt bond funding to build bigger yarn stores. Get us a federal write-off on craft supplies. It’ll pay for itself!
Time and again, such economic arguments for sports welfare have proved bogus. Most recently, statistics show that Bank One Ballpark in Arizona — the $355 million, government-financed home of the Diamondbacks — has had a negligible effect on the economy in Phoenix. “These things can only be viewed as a redistribution program,” University of South Florida sports economist Phil Porter told a local Phoenix newspaper. “This takes the money from people who don’t care about professional sports and gives it to the people who do…”
This issue is, unfortunately, like illegal immigration. Both parties benefit from supporting it; so do media outlets with obvious corporate interests. I often found myself in odd company in Seattle, where grass-roots anti-tax activists joined with Naderites to try and stop the stadium juggernaut. Alas, the alliance wasn’t strong enough to overcome the political establishment. And it has been particularly disgusting to watch the purported supporters of lower taxes and smaller government in the Republican Party sell out their principles–starting at the top with President Bush.
This is a seemingly hopeless cause, but there are a few good watchdog groups out there who keep tabs on these sports scams. Check out Field of Schemes to see what’s being cooked up in your area.
Meanwhile, pundits are all atwitter over what the name of the new D.C. team should be. How about the Washington Porkers?