Saturday, July 7, 2012

My Softball Team & 99%… very comparable!

By the coach, Doug Goepfert (guest writer)

Tell me why it’s so hard to figure out the right path for our economy.  All you have to do is follow team sports to get your answers.  Case in point, let’s compare managing my softball team to addressing the increasing disparity between the incomes of the top 1% of America and those of the rest of the country.

Two key questions: Is it poor form for the US to have such a large difference in incomes between the rich and the poor?  84 countries, where such statistics are available, have smaller differences in incomes—and ours is the greatest difference among western industrialized countries*.  Should the government foster more income equality through policy?

On this subject a friend wrote to me, "One of the best economics courses I ever took was from a professor who had been a central planner in communist Poland. He demonstrated to us that any system in which the state seeks to control or adjust outcomes (such as, say, increasing public infrastructure or reducing income inequality) is inherently less efficient in allocating capital and therefore depresses potential GNP/per capita and growth.”

He continued, “Another way to put it is, if, for ideological reasons, a baseball manager insists on playing the less talented players, or bats them in a ‘politically correct’ order, the result will be in fewer runs and wins for the team, but perhaps the batting averages will be ‘more equal.’  “

Well, I manage a softball team in a pretty competitive league.  As usual, I batted and played all my players last week.  We have a large number of really good players and a few, well, not so really good.  We lost…17 to 16!!  We would have won if I played the 11 best.  But the fact is, one game does not a season make.  We have a great group, supportive of one another, and the less talented ones are getting better.  Some of the better ones have even volunteered to give up their spots so non-starters can get more playing time (for a few innings anyway).  

The long run is important to me.  The team that wins is the one ahead at the end of the season.  In the long run, players will be unable to make games, some will get injured, some will lose confidence, and some will even lose interest, or go back to school.  Some will, like me, “age upward” and form lasting relationships with their orthopedists.  Some of the less talented players will blossom into real champs; and often it’s not the most talented who contribute to the team, it’s the ones who work hardest and stay focused.
The long haul is also what’s important for our economy.  If, in the long run, “Team US” can compete well in the world economy, we all win.   If our country can produce more innovative goods and services that sell world-wide because we all are better educated and our companies are better run, then we all benefit with higher across the board incomes.  We can build better schools, roads and enjoy richer lives.  In short, we can have a higher standard of living…and a better culture.  Everyone wins!

Like my team, Team US needs to develop all its players for the long haul.  Those with great income are also playing on a team, a team that needs to be helping those with fewer assets, but with a strong will and desire to work, to “step-up-to-the-plate”.  After all, it’s not always the scions of the rich who have made America great; it’s Edison, Ford, the Wright Brothers, Steve Jobs, and many immigrants who came to this country with only the will-to-work and make something of themselves.  Check out Charles Goodyear, Samuel Slater, Donna Dubinsky, George Westinghouse, Fred Smith, Edwin Drake, Gary Kildall and Elmer Sperry.

When we say that tax cuts for the rich are the only thing that drives business, it’s a bit like giving all our “at bats” to the guys who have the biggest muscles and swing for the fences.  We may get lucky and win some games.  But the season is won by those who work hard at getting hits each time up, any way possible; by the players who show up, get on base and keep the runners scoring; often the guys who are trying to make or stay on the team.  They are hungrier.  Likewise, the people who are hungrier drive the US economy: the small business owner, the start-up tech firm, the student wanting to make something of herself who is loaned up to the max, and the assembly line worker who shows up and gives an honest day of work 50 weeks a year.

Improving all the players on my softball team helps us win more games and motivates other teams to play better.  This increases the level of play league-wide.  When Team US becomes more productive, other countries look for ways to compete more effectively.  The result: the entire world benefits from a higher “level-of-play”.

Another thing.  In softball you have to work together, support each other.  “Team chemistry” is crucial for success.  Ever watch a perfectly turned double play, an outfielder hitting the right cutoff man on a long fly ball, or a batter chopping out a single with runners in scoring position?  That’s team chemistry – playing well together.  We need to cut out the divisiveness in our country.  American team chemistry is important.  Each of us needs to make sure that every person on our team who is willing to work gets a chance to do so.  In the end we all benefit. Our country becomes stronger.

So let’s make sure that innovation and success is rewarded today, but plow some dollars back for the future.  Let’s find a proper mix of spurring on new business while funding our aging infrastructure and supporting our education systems.

Here’s something else: All the players on my team take pride in being a part of some thing bigger than their own selves.  Some might tell you it adds meaning to their lives.  As we contribute to Team US, our lives become more meaningful.  In the end it’s not one player with a lot a talent that wins championships, it’s teamwork that makes the difference.  The ball players with the most strength and best skills would trade it all to be on a winning team.  I’m sure those in the 1% who do give back a major portion of their own good fortune find playing on a winning “Team US” more rewarding than personal wealth alone.

Here’s a great quote: “All baseball fans can be divided into two groups: those who come to batting practice and the others. Only those in the first category have much chance of amounting to anything.”  Well, do you want to amount to something?  Help make sure we come to batting practice and support the players who make Team US great.

*Source:  UN Statistics - the ratio of the average income of the highest 10% to the poorest 10%.  

Dr. Lewis C. Sage (AB Kenyon, PhD U. Maryland) likes intersections. Since 1991, he has taught Law and Economics, Mathematical Economics, and the Economics of Healthcare. A former Fulbright Fellow (Bulgaria 1995-6), he teaches an interdisciplinary Honors seminar, Enduring Questions, and is studying strategy in the NFL draft with faculty and students in Sport Management and Psychology. E-mail:

Kay Strong, Ph.D., Southern Illinois University, M.T., University of Houston, M.A., Ohio University; Associate Professor at Baldwin-Wallace College; Areas of expertise: international economics, contemporary social-economic issues, complexity and futures-based perspectives in economics. E-mail:


  1. Very interesting blogger here! I like the baseball analogy - I would enjoy an expansion of how whether we are playing on a level field or not fits in here. Great job!

  2. This begs the question--should we rely on the players themselves to determine an equitable distribution of playing time and at bats to season the team as a whole, or does this concept necessitate an institution where these decisions are centralized to a manager?


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This blog lives under the auspices of the Department of Economics whose mission has been to hold high the lantern beaming an "economic way of thinking" onto the world. Selfishness, rationality and equilibrium have been central to the teaching of an economic way of thinking rooted in the Renaissance. And, in this regard, the department has faithfully stayed the course. The intent of this blog, thinking out loud..., however, is to entertain exchanges which may challenge the centrality of economics as we teach it.