Article published at Mises.org
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. 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.
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