Friday, August 08, 2008

Is High School Football a Public Good?

It's that time of year again ... time to consider who should pay for private goods ... because the community doesn't pay, your neighbors do ... Jim

Article published at

Is High School Football a Public Good?
By Jim Fedako

Most of us would never think of asking our neighbors to foot a personal bill. We accept responsibility for car and roof repairs as ours alone. In addition, we don't bang on the door across the street in order to demand a contribution towards our children's figure skating lessons, taekwondo classes, etc. That which is consumed or used by our families is to be paid from our pockets — the definition of personal responsibility.

Now let's change the situation slightly. Instead of a figure skating lesson — the realm of the private good, consider the local public high school football team — the realm of the supposed public good.[1] The technical definition of a public good — a good that is nonexcludable, nonrivalrous, subject to free riders, and hence will only be provided by government through coerced tax dollars — has been corrupted in the modern lexicon to mean anything that is perceived to benefit society in general, no matter how specious the benefit argument.

Based on the technical definition, football is not a public good as teams are excludable and rivalrous since each team is limited to 11 players on the field without penalty. But no one really applies the technical definition to derive public goods. For if they did, the concept of public goods would disappear from economic textbooks and from debates over the need for government interventions in the market.

Instead, the collectivist definition — the vacuous, yet now standard, definition — applies the general welfare argument to elevate football from a private activity to that of a public good. The argument goes something along these lines: football is beneficial because it prepares boys for adulthood, keeps them off the streets after school, and provides them with a place where they can excel.

reading ...


Anonymous said...


Have you ever evaluated the statement - "Football pays for itself through ticket sales, concessions, etc.."

After the TCO is taken into consideration, I can't believe it would be even remotely possible.

Just curious if you've explored that common defense.



Jim Fedako said...


A while back I posted the State Standards Analysis Report that looked at costs associated with school programs (you can search my blog and still read the report).

Football is a cost to the district taxpayer. The report shows that without even considering associated operating costs (athletic directors, etc.) and construction/facility/bond retirement costs.

Football is only a winner at big-time colleges and universities (OSU, etc.).

Paul said...


While it's easy to see football and the many other extra-curricular activities as something optional which should be funded solely by its participants, I find it hard to figure out where to draw the line.

For example, my youngest kid is one of those brainiacs who took all kinds of AP courses in high school. I personally derived benefit from it because she received many hours of college credit that I would have otherwise had to pay for. Should there have been an additional fee for these classes, which benefit only a few?

How about the kids who attend the vocational school? We spend extra money to bus them there, and they make use of specialized equipment that can be fairly expensive.

I'm asking these questions as one who believes the American education system should be one where parents have a choice of schools, and pay tuition directly. And I'd use a Friedman-style negative tax plus voucher system to fund it (because I cannot accept denying a kid a basic education just because his/her family can't afford it).

But the reality is that for all the Libertarian gospel we might preach, the publicly-funded school system is likely here to stay for the foreseeable future.

So given that, what part of the cost of the school experience should be shared by the public, and how much on a pay-to-participate basis?


Jim Fedako said...


You answered your own question. Education -- whether in the classroom or on the field -- is not a public good, it is a private good (its supposed benefits accrued to you and your wife and your children alone) funded by neighbors through coercion and compulsion.

Education should be funded by the parents or through churches and other voluntary organizations. This served our country until the early 1800's when folks in New England became enamored with Bismarck and the modern Prussian state.

Read the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers to see the reading level that existed back then. Compare that to writing samples from Olentangy graduates and then decide for yourself whether government education is best.

To your point regarding the near term and the likely continuance of government schools ... the arguments should be for reduced government intervention in education, with the Three R's as an early resting point. I pay for my children's Spanish classes. Should I walk the streets of my development demanding that neighbors contribute. The supposed public benefits of government education also flow to homeschooling, right? When my kids are taking Spanish, they are off the streets, etc., etc. The same holds when kids are spending time at water parks, summer sports, etc. Should the taxpayer pay for every activity?

A think tank did a comparative study of government education vs. the private sector. For a standard teacher, you can get an assistant professor; for phys ed, a membership in a health club; for food, Subway-provided meals; for space, standard professional building space; etc. The total cost for the private equivalent of a government education is much less than the average cost per pupil of government schools.

The JVS. Yuck! Our JVS -- Delaware Area Career Center -- spends $35,000 per student (not a misprint). Can you believe that? I took a tour of the building and the administrators proudly noted that they had more PCs than students. I also noted that the PCs were better than anything I'd ever seen in the private sector. Then, read the results on the web. The school has pitiful achievement levels. A true money hole.

We've had this debate before: I believe that the churches will step up and serve those in need. I do not believe that the Bible ever instructs us to rely on the state -- the social apparatus of coercion and compulsion. And, I do not believe that we need a state for anything more than that provided by our Constitution.

Anonymous said...

Paul, I'm with you. We need a basic public education. The 3 R's. We could stand for a cutback in what is taught and push more back on the parents and with the added cost savings reduce taxes. I know private schools would see an increase and more parents will home school. Of course that will only help the middle and upper class, thus the need for free public education not tied to forcing people to join or believe in a particular church just so their kids get an education. I think we are a wealthy enough society to force those who can afford it to pay for public education. I don't think there is anything wrong with that. I don't think there is anything wrong with requiring society to have a basic level of services. I know Jim is wiggling in his seat reading this but I can't possibly think of a society where a firetruck has a VISA/MC logo on the side.


Jim Fedako said...


I grew up in a township that for years had a true volunteer fire department. Read the history of firefighting.

Sad, so many folks still hold to the nonsense taught in public schools. And they still believe that government always was, and always will be, the solution.

You paint a silly picture of possibilities. Attend a high school football game and count the number of advertisements, starting with the scoreboard. Your fear is already a reality. And we still have government running things.

It's a sad view of humanity that says the middle and upper classes will ignore the poor. And that collective coercion is the only way for good to happen. Doesn't say much about your view of your neighbors and family, does it?

Anonymous said...

It has not been my experience that my "neighbors" don't ask me to foot their personal bills. For the last
4&1/2 years I have been living in Muirfield. I've had "neighbors" ask me for money for their kids' Boy Scout troops, I've been asked to fund "ice time" for local Ice Hockey teams, asked to buy equipment and uniforms for the Dublin Football players, etc. I am outraged that the overindulged brats in this area and their overindulged parents dare to beg from me to fund their amusements. The last time a local brat came begging at me door (his father waited on the street) I asked him if his family was poor. He answered that they aren't. Then I asked him why his parents didn't pay for his scouting themselves. He shrugged and walked away.