Saturday, June 28, 2008

One of the wrongest things I've ever heard in my entire life

"The pride and the presence of a professional football team is far more important that 30 libraries." - former Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell

That was what Modell answered in response to being asked about the ethics of creating a bidding war between Cleveland and Baltimore to put taxpayer dollars into his pockets at a time when public libraries were being closed for lack of funds. As David Cay Johnston put it, "He spoke without a hint or irony or any indication that he had ever upon a midnight dreary, pondered weak and weary the effect of his greed upon the human condition."

Public libraries are the closest thing you can get in a secular democracy to a sacred temple. They are repositories of public knowledge - a tool by which citizens can obtain the knowledge necessary to make informed decisions about their government and society. They provide a means for self-improvement and personal growth. They are the most perfect example of the democratization of knowledge essential to our liberty (recall Frederick Douglass having to literally steal knowledge and self-education from his slave-masters.) They are one of the most pure symbols of what democracy is all about.

Which is why Modell's comment is one of the most abominable things I think that I have ever heard.

And for more on how professional sports stadiums have become a scam to enrich owners at taxpayer expense, peruse the Field of Schemes website.


Spocko said...

One thing that the libraries do that is not very popular is prove a place for homeless to go. In San Francisco the homeless and poor don't always have a public place they can go where they feel safe.

The librarians that serve these people didn't sign up to be social workers, but they do their best.
It is another thing that makes being a librarian a noble profession.

Humanist.Observer said...

"They are repositories of public knowledge - a tool by which citizens can obtain the knowledge necessary to make informed decisions about their government and society. "

That is assuming there is anything in them worth reading. But of course this is also an issue of funding. I am presently in a rinky-dink small town, and the selection is pretty thin.

And I have been thinking for some time that the professional sports industry is one that does not get its fair share or critical examination.

Hume's Ghost said...

If you can find a copy of Free Lunch, there are a couple of chapters about professional sports. Johnston explains that were it not for the lavish subsidies that these teams receive from local governments they would not turn a profit.

He explained this to Amy Goodman when he was on Democracy Now

Sure. George Steinbrenner is getting over $600 million for the new Yankee Stadium in New York. The New York Mets are getting over $600 million. In fact, the City of New York gave them money to lobby against the taxpayers to get more money. Rudy Giuliani gave $50 million to the two teams for that purpose.

The new owners of the Washington Nationals baseball team in Washington, D.C., paid $450 million for the team. But, in fact, they got the team for free, because the subsidy they’re getting for the new stadium is worth $611 million. We actually paid these people to buy the team.

Now, in this country right now, we are spending $2 billion a year subsidizing the big four sports: baseball, basketball, football and hockey. It accounts for all of the profits of that industry and more. Now, there may be individual teams that make money, but the industry as a whole is not profitable. And that’s astonishing because the big four leagues are exempt from the laws of competition. By the way, irony is not dead, because here are people who are in the business of competition on the field who are exempted by law from the rules of economic competition.

Of course, Johnston has to give the uber-example of a sports franchise being used to enrich someone at the expense of taxpayers: George W. Bush, a man who campaigned on "free market" principles and cutting taxes, yet got rich from a subsidy and a tax raise and the use of eminent domain.

Spocko said...

Wow! Boy am I glad that in SF we didn't totally fall for that scheme with AT&T park.

Of course the teams LOVE to play the whole "It helps the community!" card and how much prestige it brings to the community and local pride, yadda, yadda, yadda.

It figures, the people who cry the "free market" and competition usually do it from behind a monoply and a government hand out.
I see it in the radio industry.

Hume's Ghost said...


And I'm not sure why I didn't say this in the previous comment, but the Field Of Schemes website author also has written a book of the same name which forms the basis of much of what Johnston wrote in his own book, so that might be worth checking out, as well.

Also, notice how cut funding for a library doesn't affect the rich so much - they can get whatever book they want. This is the sort of hidden cost that isn't so apparent when politicians talk about "tax relief."

Hume's Ghost said...

And nevermind the even less overt cost - that affects the rich as well - of a society less stable, less intelligent, and less productive that results from lack of investment in public eductation.

Humanist.Observer said...

We might also add that so much of this tax subsidy could be put into public recreation facilities so that people could be doing sports more instead of watching sports, mostly from their televisions. It is mainly the more affluent who can actually attend the games in the stadium.

Hume's Ghost said...

Before the new Yankee Stadium was built, two public parks were converted into land for the new stadium which has 60 luxury boxes (up form 18)

One of the blocks of the park "featured tennis courts, another a swimming pool, others fields of grass for running and playing catch. Hundreds of oak trees ensured cooling shade in the summer. There was even a cement rink where the Hogi children would learn to ice skate in winter and to roller skate in summer."

The Hogis were a family that had moved next to the parks specifically because of the parks. One day a notice was put up that they were being converted into the new Yankee stadium. The public was kept in the dark about this, while federal officials were told there was no public outry about it (because they hadn't told them!).