Does the Amount of Money Change the Logic?

“You had ample time over the last two years to make a proposal that would be fair to both sides, but you failed to do so. During the last week of the mediation, we waited the entire week for the NFL to make a new economic proposal … That proposal did not come until 12:30 (p.m.) on Friday, and, when we examined it, we found it was worse than the proposal the NFL had made the prior week when we agreed to extend the mediation.”

~ Letter from NFLPA to Commissioner Roger Goodell

While one would hope the fans and the public would understand what’s really going on with the NFL lockout, it is quite possible that not everyone will “get it.” Some people—and some libertarians—have used a somewhat misinformed, if catchy, description of the situation. That description is: The NFL lockout is millionaires fighting with billionaires over money. While certainly punchy, and containing a nugget of truth, this description also misses the point.

Consider: If this labor negotiation were between business owners and their workers in almost any other endeavor, but particularly one where the workers were paid sums of money that were more “normal,” almost no one would make such a statement. Were this ostensible dispute—it isn’t really a dispute, but more of a money-grab—between the owners of a string of car manufacturing plants and their assembly-line workers, not only would the public side with the workers, but the supposedly liberal media and some members of Congress would be crying loudly as well. Why? In those cases, it would be easy to sympathize with workers. In fact, in that scenario, it’s a safe bet that some would compare the plight of these workers with that of the Wisconsin teachers union. (That would be a huge mistake, but not one that will be explained here. Maybe in the next rant.) The amount of money has nothing to do with the logic.

The NFL owners have been planning this labor stoppage for well over 2 years. They could have submitted a proposal to the players at almost any point during that time but chose not to do so. Why? In order to extract the amounts of money from their labor force that they wished to extract, they would have had to present evidence of their plight. (They claim that the current labor contract is unsustainable, and that they are losing money.) Maybe they are, but if so, why not just prove it? Why not simply justify changing the contract in mid-stream? If it seems rather ballsy for a cartel that has already successfully gotten the public to pay for their biggest capital investment—stadiums—while negotiating a huge TV contract, to attempt to take additional money out of the pocket of its workers, one can readily see why the approach of simply being honest did not appeal to the NFL owners. Open books do not a naked money-grab support.

The owners had also planned to use part of the TV contract money as a bridge to support themselves while they squeezed the players with the lockout. One could compare that strategy to the owners of that string of car manufacturing plants having been paid for cars that had not yet been made. Would it be reasonable for them to lock out their workers and keep the money? Of course not. (Thankfully, the judge who heard that portion of the case saw the underhandedness of such a plan.)

How will this situation play out? Only time will tell. And how should the fans of the NFL—which include this author—react? One can only hope for two things: One, that the players have banked enough cash to “ride it out.” Two, that the owners’ scheme to diversify from armed robbery—funding of stadiums with tax money—to grand larceny—fleecing their employees with a management-imposed work stoppage, is met with derision by not only the NFLPA, but the public as well. All the money eventually comes from the public anyway. The tax revenue was taken via the guns of the State. It would be a shame for the rest of the cash to be taken with even less of a fight.

Cross-posted at the LRCBlog.

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