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Competitive Balance!

[ 0 ] December 31, 2008 |

As an addendum to Matt’s post, allow me to note from the frozen tundra of Alberta that the NHL offers us a good controlled experiment in the effectiveness of salary caps in terms of ensuring competitive balance, as it’s gone from a good free-market system to a hard cap after cancelling the 04-05 season. (As I’ve noted before, the fact that a team from a small Alberta city played a Sun Belt team in the first finals after the lockout was treated as a real benefit of the new regime, because of course no such thing could have happened in 03-04.) So let’s check in on the new parity by looking at how the traditional big markets are faring:

  • The Rangers, ghastly for years before the lockout, are 23-13-4 after two playoff appearances.
  • Philadelphia are right behind them at 20-10-7.
  • Boston, also a pretty bad team for the most part prior to the lockout, are 28-5-4. Let me repeat that: 28-5-4.
  • The Canadiens, Yankees of hockey, are 21-9-6.
  • Detroit, the Yankees of the post-Clinton Bush I era, are 24-7-5.
  • San Jose, with a large, wealthy market all to themselves, are 28-4-4.
  • Chicago, awful for the decade prior to the lockout, are 20-7-7.

If there’s parity or competitive balance there, I don’t see it. Sure, there are exceptions. Toronto, which may be the biggest market in hockey terms, suck, but they are what they were before the lockout: a thoroughly mediocre franchise whose pathetic fans seem to consider relevant because of an ersatz winning tradition derived from a period in which a six-team league guaranteed you some championships from the law of averages alone. Calgary, one of the smallest cities with a franchise, is 21-11-4, but since they play to 112% capacity it’s not really clear in what sense they’re a “small market” in the terms most relevant to the NHL. As Matt says, this isn’t to say that salary caps have no effect, just that they’re swamped by other factors. An analogy might be abortion prohibition: prohibition almost certainly reduces abortion rates, but because it’s so ineffective and because so many other factors are relevant, it’s common for countries with almost unregulated abortion to have much lower rates than countries with total bans.

One more comment from the thread. If you scroll down, you’ll see brother djw capably addressing most of the specious arguments, but I can’t resist bringing up one of my favorites from rec.sport.baseball — the “Cleveland Indians couldn’t keep all their stars” argument brought up to debunk the fact that baseball is the most competitive of the 4 major sports. Apparently, the fact that the Indians could only win 6 division titles in 7 years proves that baseball is hopelessly imbalanced and uncompetitive. You see, if baseball had true competitive balance…the same teams would win every single year for decades. If one were to take the various premises of the “socialism for billionaires” crowd seriously, as far as I can tell we would achieve “competitive balance” when about 20 teams win the World Series every year…

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The Year In Wingnuttery

[ 0 ] December 30, 2008 |

A comprehensive roundup. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’m tempted to go with the low-seeded “Fred Thompson, savior of the Republican Party”…

Abdication of Responsibility

[ 0 ] December 29, 2008 |

Perhaps I’m missing something, but it seems clear to me that Minnesota court’s order that both the Franken and Coleman campaigns had agree to a standard for counting improperly excluded ballots is pretty much the stupidest thing ever. Maybe before the election establishing such standards by mutual agreement could work, but after the fact? Of course the Coleman campaign doesn’t want to include improperly excluded ballots, and I can’t even blame them. The role of the courts in this situation is to develop a standard consistent with state statutes, not to delegate the decision-making to third parties even though the incentives in play make a mutual agreement virtually impossible. The impasse now being reached was of course inevitable, and it seems likely that the court will have to step in anyway.

UPDATE: Adam Platt had more.

Exceedingly Unsurprising News of the Day

[ 0 ] December 29, 2008 |

Abstinence pledges don’t work.

Or, rather, they don’t work in terms of promoting abstinence. In terms of what one suspects is the real objective — marking a teenage girl’s virginity as the property of her father and related notions — I suppose they’re more effective.

"Libertarian" Torture Apologist of the Day

[ 1 ] December 29, 2008 |

Glenn Reynolds.

In addition to everything else, Reynolds also demonstrates the bizarre inability of torture apologists to understand the concept of consent (or, in a pinch, the ability to define the concept of “consent” so that it’s meaningless):

At any rate, whatever limits on volume and duration are applied to Guantanamo should also be applied to public concerts…

The most prominent reactionary blogger in America, ladies and gentlemen!

Just To Add

[ 0 ] December 29, 2008 |

…to the points Drezner makes about this silly column, let’s start with this argument from Sherdian:

What’s wrong here is obvious. It’s also not really new. Unlike the NFL, NBA and NHL, baseball has no salary cap. Those leagues do not have caps for the sheer, unbridled joy of finding loopholes and exceptions. They have them as part of an effort to maintain some kind of competitive balance among teams from different-size markets in disparate parts of the country.

Ah, yes, like most sportswriters, Sheridan would seem to be a puke funnel for the extremely wealthy people who own professional sports teams. At this point, let us summarize the central reasons for salary caps in pro sports:

  • To increase the amount of money owners get to keep.
  • There is no #2.

If the policy objective is to ensure competitive balance, then the key is to equalize revenues, not salary expenses. The NFL, in fairness, does a lot of this, but this makes its salary cap largely superfluous for reasons other than suppressing player salaries (and given the short careers of NFL players and the effects of playing on their bodies, this suppression is an absolute disgrace any rational person should be embarrassed to defend.)

On a related point, Sherdian’s whining about high-salaried baseball players because we’re in a recession is a transparent (though beloved by many sportswriters and fans) non-sequitur. If I may be permitted to state the obvious, capping player salaries doesn’t affect the total revenue earned by professional sports one iota. The only question here is how much money goes to the players and how much goes to the owners. How the Steinbrenner family keeping more money and C.C. Sabathia keeping less would help laid off autoworkers or underpaid teachers or whatever other group you care to name I can’t tell you.

And Again…

[ 0 ] December 27, 2008 |

Some depressing holiday news:

Waves of Israeli aircraft swooped over the Gaza Strip on Saturday, firing missiles at Hamas’s security headquarters and killing more than 200 people, bringing the highest death toll in Gaza in years in a crushing response to rocket fire by Hamas against Israeli towns.

After the initial airstrikes, which also wounded about 600 Palestinians, dozens of rockets struck southern Israel. Thousands of Israelis hurried into bomb shelters amid the hail of rockets, including some longer-range models that reached farther north than ever before. One Israeli man was killed in the town of Netivot and four were wounded, one seriously.

A military operation against Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, had been forecast and demanded by Israeli officials for weeks, ever since a rocky cease-fire between Israel and Hamas broke down completely in early November and rocket attacks began in large numbers against Israel. Still, there was a shocking quality to Saturday’s attacks, in broad daylight on about 100 sites, as police cadets were graduating, women were shopping at the outdoor market and children were emerging from school.

The center of Gaza City instantly became a scene of chaotic horror, with rubble everywhere, sirens wailing, and women shrieking as dozens of mutilated bodies were laid out on the pavement and in the lobby of Shifa Hospital so that family members could identify them. The vast majority of those killed were Hamas police officers and security men, including two senior commanders, but the dead included several construction workers and at least two children in school uniforms.

By afternoon, shops were shuttered, funerals began and mourning tents were visible on nearly every major street of this densely populated city.

“Hamas was warned a few times in a variety of ways, but I can’t elaborate on the warnings,” said Maj. Avital Leibovich, a spokeswoman for the Israeli military. “Anything associated with Hamas is for us a legitimate target, including an apartment in which the basement is a weapons storehouse. This operation is not finished yet, but for now it involves only aircraft.”

Israeli airstrikes continued after dark, striking a metal foundry and other targets in southern Gaza, Palestinian officials said. Calls on both Israel and Hamas to refrain from further attacks were issued by Russia, Egypt and numerous governments in Western Europe, as well as the United Nations. The Bush administration urged Hamas to stop firing rockets, but called on Israel only to avoid hitting civilians as it attacked Hamas.

I don’t really have much to add; I assume most of our readers will (like me) see the Israeli response as disproportionate and also see Hamas’ apparent conviction that this time firing some rockets at civilian targets will achieve political and security goals is roughly as rational as the continuation of the American embargo against Cuba (even if the reverse of the power symmetry makes it more understandable.)

Harold Pinter

[ 0 ] December 25, 2008 |

R.I.P.

Since I need to go open presents and such, allow me to delegate to Roy’s old appraisal. Make sure to stick around for the decimation of the inevitable Aesthetic Stalinism that followed his Nobel Prize (“Why don’t Kimball and Steyn go make a Thatcher Prize medal out of paperclips and a yogurt lid and give it to Tom Clancy?”).

Christmas!

[ 0 ] December 25, 2008 |

A happy one to all of our loyal (or intermittent) readership.

Gosh Darn It, People Like Him

[ 1 ] December 25, 2008 |

Bye-Bye Norm. That is, unless the Supremes discover another mysterious “no, the Republican has to win” clause in the 14th Amendment…

The "Invoking A Meritocracy That Never Existed" Gambit

[ 0 ] December 23, 2008 |

Quebec premier Jean Charest has, for the second time, selected a cabinet with equal numbers of men and women, perhaps establishing this as a norm for future premiers. Lysaine Gagnon is displeased:

This development is being touted as a progressive move by Mr. Charest. It certainly added a touch of gloss to what would have been a rather lacklustre event, since most senior cabinet ministers were simply given their former posts. But it’s sending our governments down a very bad path, because it means that some of these appointments will be made regardless of merit and qualifications.

Oooh, fetch me the smelling salts. Are you telling me that a cabinet appointment in Canadian government may be based on any factor other than “merit or qualifications”? What an unprecedented development! When I read this I was planning a string of snark about what an amazing coincidence it was that every Liberal who managed to get elected in the prairies turn out to be remarkably qualified for the federal cabinet, etc. etc., but the striking thing about her argument is that Gagnon completely recognizes this: “There are many factors apart from merit that must be taken into account when a premier creates his cabinet – geography, political considerations and so on.”

At this point, then, one is compelled to ask why exactly the train of political considerations should stop with the inclusion of traditionally underrepresented groups. This is a classic Charles Murray move: justify the exclusion of African-Americans by citing a non-existent American tradition of judging people on their individual merits. Somehow, the door always stops in front of discriminated against groups (legacy admissions are OK, but suddenly when more people of color start attending universities standardized tests are absolutely sacrosanct.) One can quibble with Charest’s precise mathematical equity, I suppose, but in general it seems likely that appointing more women is as likely to improve the quality of people serving in the cabinet as anything, and certainly redressing the gross gender inequality in political institutions is certainly a more compelling consideration than, say, rewarding the premier’s cronies. Which brings us to the last point: what exactly are the “qualifications” to be a lower-level cabinet minister anyway? Cabinet appointments are always in substantial measure political, and this is not only inevitable but not particularly undesirable.

Pravda as a Jouralistic Standard

[ 0 ] December 20, 2008 |

Shorter Weekly Standard: If American journalism wants to restore its reputation, the only acceptable form covering Dick Cheney is the fellatio cool objectivity of Stephen Hayes.

Almost any part of this review could be a “verbatim,” but I think this was my favorite passage:

There is the cherry-picking of evidence. Much is made, for example, of an Australian intelligence report debunking the purchase by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq of electronic maps of the United States and of the doubts regarding aluminum tubing suspected of being useful in making centrifuges for a nuclear bomb. Angler reflects almost none of the fairly consistent foreign intelligence agreement that Saddam had, or was close to having, weapons of mass destruction.

Yes, clearly the fact that Hussein might have been “close to having” some “weapons of mass destruction” that posed no threat whatsoever to American civilians provides evidence that he was close to having nuclear weapons, and debunking straightforward lies made by administration officials is “cherry picking evidence.” Now that’s journamalism that I can get behind.

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