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The NFL vs. the Free Market



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Conventional wisdom holds that the National Football League lockout of unionized referees will hurt Mitt Romney, because the lockout reminds union workers and former union workers in swing states that owners and their agents are often incompetent when it comes to understanding what exactly workers do. Skilled workers, they might remember, are not just interchangeable cogs, something that managers often don’t get. 

There is another way of looking at it, though.

The NFL employers are not a free market. Yes, yes, teams compete. But there is no longer a competing league to which fans can decamp if they don’t like the NFL’s coordinated approach to managing teams.

If there were, the referees would likely be working right now. One league would want the competitive advantage of having referees who know the game and make good calls. Skilled referees would have a bargaining chip: They could go somewhere else. 

A cartel, on the other hand, can afford to pay less for mediocre labor, because where are fans going to go?

Romney should say that similar crony capitalism in the economy at large is similarly bad for labor. Companies that really compete need good workers. Companies that mainly compete over government connections that help attain for them captive customers — and insulation from failure — don’t, at least not so much.

Of course, Romney could also just say: “Who cares, it’s only a stupid, violent game.” This approach would help him with the female vote!



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