Quotulatiousness

July 2, 2017

Minneapolis is going Seattle one better … and the results will be even worse

Filed under: Business, Economics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Tim Worstall explains why, despite all the pious hopes that significant increases in the minimum wage won’t negatively impact employment or take-home pay, Minneapolis will have measurably worse outcomes:

Minneapolis has just passed an ordinance making the minimum wage in that fine city $15 an hour at some point in the near future — the effects of this will be worse than the effects of the similar Seattle ordinance raising the minimum wage there to $15 an hour. I agree that this is an unpopular prediction but it’s one that I’ll still stick with for the interesting bit is that I predicted the effect of the Seattle rise correctly. I even managed to get right why it would go bad. This is not, sadly, because I have a crystal ball, nor am endowed with super-powers, it’s just that I understand the basic economics of the minimum wage.

The details of which are that modest rises in the minimum wage don’t have much effect. They don’t have much effect on wages and thus they don’t have much effect upon employment. Changes which are at best “Meh, marginal” have effects which are at best “Meh, marginal.” The problem with Seattle’s minimum wage rise was that it wasn’t marginal, the problem with that in Minneapolis is that it is even less so.

[…]

But why isn’t it all going to be wondrous? If we just insist that poor people should be paid higher wages then why won’t it all become copacetic? Well, this was tried in Seattle. And the results weren’t that way. We have the actual academic study of why and it’s just as conventional economics predicts. Modest rises in the minimum wage have modest effects, immodest rises have immodest. Which leaves us with trying to define immodest.

As I’ve been saying for some yeare now that definition of immodest seems to be 45 to 50 % of median wage in that labour market. We don’t usually have median wages by city, only by a rather larger economic unit. But Seattle’s area median is higher than that of Minneapolis. When we look at the cities, the mean is higher in Seattle than in Minneapolis.

We already know that $15 an hour is too high a minimum wage for Seattle, it leads to lower incomes for low wage workers. The Minneapolis $15 an hour minimum wage is higher compared to local wages–the effects will be worse.

June 24, 2017

The murder of Philando Castile

Filed under: Law, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Thomas Knapp on what he calls “The Castile Doctrine” … the police being held to far lower standards than ordinary citizens:

On June 16, a jury acquitted St. Anthony, Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez of all charges in the 2016 killing of motorist Philando Castile. That acquittal was, in a sense, also a death sentence — not for Yanez, but for future motorists unfortunate enough to encounter cops like him.

No, this is not a “bad cop” story. It’s a sad tale and I actually feel sorry for Yanez. But the facts are what they are.

Yanez killed Castile. The killing was caught on video and neither Yanez nor his attorneys denied it.

His defense (that he feared for his life) was based on ridiculous grounds relating to the smell of cannabis and the presence of a child (“I thought, I was gonna die, and I thought if he’s, if he has the, the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five year old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing, then what, what care does he give about me?”).

I find his justification to be astonishing … how can a man who thinks like this have ever been trusted with a gun and a badge?

Castile had informed Yanez that he possessed a concealed weapon and a permit for it, and was following Yanez’s orders to produce the permit when Yanez panicked and fired.

Key word: Panicked. His fear wasn’t justified. It wasn’t reasonable. It was unthinking and irrational. That made him culpably negligent in the killing.

[…]

The jury, in relieving him of the consequences of that failure, continued a sad tradition of holding law enforcement officers to a lesser standard of conduct than ordinary Americans. In doing so, they made the world a safer place for cops who shouldn’t be cops — and a more dangerous place for the rest of us.

US law generally holds civilian gun owners to much higher standards in cases like this than they ever seem to expect their own law enforcement officers to meet. A civilian who shot a driver in a similar situation would be lucky to only be facing manslaughter charges, but might well be convicted of first degree murder. A cop? Every extenuating circumstance is given full weight by both judge and jury. A person with no formal training is expected (and required) to be cool, calm, and collected under unexpected extreme stress, while a trained officer is given a pass for “panic” and irresponsible gunplay. Where’s the justice?

Update, 27 June: Even more puzzling is the virtual silence of the National Rifle Association (NRA) over this judicial killing:

These are gruesomely interesting times in the American gun debate. The footage of Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez killing motorist Philando Castile wasn’t enough to convict him in a court of law, but it’s no less damning for that. The more these videos pile up, the harder it gets to rationalize American police forces’ objectively insane collective death count.

The circumstances of Castile’s death are particularly enraging for gun rights activists — or, rather, they ought to be. Castile calmly informed Yanez he was legally armed, just as he should have; Yanez freaked out and, seconds later, pumped seven bullets into the car. By rights, many have observed, the NRA should be leading marches through the Twin Cities. Instead it’s saying and doing bugger all. Not a good look.

On the other side of the great divide, the gun control movement is almost in hibernation — and understandably so. Theirs is a tough climb at the best of times; with a Republican House and Senate it’s a sheer cliff.

November 30, 2016

Minnesota’s generous (hidden) gift to six government-appointed MFSA officials

Filed under: Football, Government, Sports, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Minnesota taxpayers contributed nearly half of the costs to build the new stadium that the Minnesota Vikings call home (“one of the largest public subsidies ever given to a sports facility”). The state government appointed a six-person board to negotiate the state’s share of the costs. Now, it comes to light that those six people get free luxury suite tickets to not only Viking home games, but every event held at the stadium:

Six government appointees, including the son of a vice president, who negotiated how much public money would be spent building the Minnesota Vikings’ new football stadium get free access to luxury boxes for all events in the stadium.

Which, you know, might call into question how hard they really negotiated for the taxpayers on that one.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that the six members of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), the quasi-government agency created in 2012 to oversee the public subsidies for the building of U.S. Bank Stadium, get free tickets to two lower-level luxury suites for all events held there. Even though taxpayers covered more than half of the cost of the $1.1 billion stadium, which opened earlier this year, the public is being kept in the dark about who occupies those 36 seats and the adjoining luxury suites during Vikings home games and other events.

The team claims that the suites are used for “marketing purposes,” but the Star-Tribune‘s investigation found that family and friends of the board members are usually in attendance too.

Maybe the best part of the story is the moment when two members of the MSFA board (chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen and executive director Ted Mondale) try to justify their sweet, free, and secret perk by arguing that they “work long hours on game days and spent long nights negotiating on behalf of taxpayers during construction of the building, so having friends and family there is reasonable.”

[…]

For anyone who isn’t part of this special cadre of insiders getting special access to the suites for free would have to shell out more than $20,000 for season tickets in similar suites at the stadium. Since the six members of the MSFA board also have access to the suites for all other events at the stadium, the actual value of their seats is in excess of that figure.

The whole thing raises ethical questions since public officials in Minnesota are not allowed to receive gifts, including special privileges or access not otherwise available to the general public. That gift ban has a loophole allowing public officials to accept such special freebies if it’s part of their official duties.

As I wrote back in 2012:

As you’ll know if you’ve read the blog for any length of time, I’m a big fan of the Minnesota Vikings, despite never having lived there or even visited the state. I’d be very upset if they became the L.A. Vikings. But I also totally sympathize with Minnesotans who don’t want their taxes being used to give corporate welfare to the billionaire owner of the football club. Pouring money into facilities for professional sports teams is one of the very worst ways to use tax dollars, as the lads at Reason.tv explain:

August 22, 2016

For newspapers, paywalls are (not) the answer

Filed under: Business, Football, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Techdirt, Mike Masnick uses small, easily understood words to explain why your local newspaper is cutting its own financial throat by implementing a paywall:

For many years, while some journalists (and newspaper execs) have been insisting that a paywall is “the answer” for the declining news business, we’ve been pointing out how fundamentally stupid paywalls are for the news. Without going into all of the arguments again, the short version is this: the business of newspapers has never really been “the news business” (no matter how much they insist otherwise). It’s always been the community and attention business. And in the past they were able to command such attention and build a community around news because they didn’t have much competition. But the competitive landscape for community and attention has changed (massively) thanks to the internet. And putting up a paywall makes it worse. In most cases, it’s limiting the ability of these newspapers to build communities or get attention, and actively pushing people away.

And, yes, sure, people will point to the NY Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times as proof that “paywalls work.” But earth to basically every other publication: you’re not one of those publications. The paywalls there only work because of the unique content they have, and even then they don’t work as well as most people think.

Not surprisingly, more and more newspapers that bet on paywalls are discovering that they don’t really work that well and were a waste of time and effort — and may have driven away even more readers.

In my case, I look at various newspapers for links to share with my tiny audience of regular readers. Once upon a time, I’d frequently link to the two big Minnesota newspapers, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press, mostly because I was reading their sports pages for information about my favourite football team, but fairly often when they carried other news of interest, I’d share the link with my readers. When the Star Tribune implemented a paywall, I pretty much stopped going there (they allow 10 free articles per month, and even if I only read the odd Jim Souhan column, I’d already be beyond my limit). Given the thriving fan community for the Vikings, I barely miss the mainstream coverage (but I suspect they miss me and the thousands of other out-of-state visitors they used to get in the pre-paywall days).

October 24, 2015

“Is it just me? Or are Minnesotans total assholes?”

Filed under: Randomness, USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

Swap out “the Twin Cities/Minnesotans” for “Toronto/Canadians” and this article could run in any of Toronto’s alternative newspapers:

The Twin Cities has never been the sort of place where hordes of starry-eyed young people move for fame and fortune. But as it climbs the ranks of every “top 10” list for quality of life, it’s becoming a harder pitch to ignore.

What those lists don’t mention is the frequent insecurity these transplants know well, whispered with confessional despair in wood-panel dive bars after months of missed connections: “Is it just me? Or are Minnesotans total assholes?”

The second-guessing is a common trait. Small-town settlers wonder if they’re just misreading urban chic for frigidity. Transplants alighting from megalopolises like Buenos Aires and Berlin chalk it up to small-city small-mindedness. Folks from the South are quick to blame the isolating cold of northern winters, but that doesn’t explain how those hailing from other Midwest cities have a hard time cracking the icy Nordic shells of native Minnesotans too.

Those born and bred here don’t always see it, but to newcomers we’re not very friendly, at least in a deep friendship way.

It took Jade Ross of Colman, South Dakota, no more than one college party to catch on that “Minnesota Nice” is a trademark best used sarcastically. At 18, when she reported for school at St. Cloud State, everybody talked up the Minnesota Nice phenomena ad nauseum, she says. “I’d never heard of that before, and I didn’t understand why you needed to talk about it,” Ross says. “In South Dakota, we were just nice, and we didn’t need to brag about it.”

At parties she’d describe home as a small farming town of 500. She got responses like, “So do you have … Internet? Do you ride a buffalo to go to school?”

July 8, 2015

Minnesota students face new rules under which “everyone accused of sexual assault will very likely be technically guilty”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Reason‘s Robby Soave on the introduction of new “affirmative consent” rules at the University of Minnesota:

The proposed policy is currently under review for another 30 days before it becomes official. Its language is fairly standard, which leads me to believe that it will suffer from the same problems as other “Yes Means Yes” policies:

  • It is the responsibility of each person who wishes to engage in the sexual activity to obtain consent.
  • A lack of protest, the absence of resistance and silence do not indicate consent.
  • The existence of a present or past dating or romantic relationship does not imply consent to future sexual activity.
  • Consent must be present throughout the sexual activity and may be initially given, but withdrawn at any time.
  • When consent is withdrawn all sexual activity must stop. Likewise, where there is confusion about the state of consent, sexual activity must stop until both parties consent again.
  • Consent to one form of sexual activity does not imply consent to other forms of sexual activity.

“It is the responsibility of each person who wishes to engage in the sexual activity to obtain consent.” But isn’t that redundant? All parties to a sexual activity must be willing participants in the first place, or else they are victims of rape under any standard. That’s what consent is: agreement to engage in sex. I presume the policy’s authors mean to say that it is the responsibility of each person who wishes to initiate the sexual activity to obtain consent. But such a requirement is at odds with the reality of human sexual activity — the initiating party is not always so clearly defined, especially when alcohol is involved (as it often is).

Equally troubling is the mandate that each and every sexual act be hammered out beforehand. May I touch your hand? What about your wrist? May I touch your shoulder? May I kiss this spot on your neck? May I kiss this other spot on your neck? May I kiss the first spot again while I touch your hand? Nobody is going to do this. Does that mean everyone is a rapist?

November 2, 2014

Pre-game program in Minneapolis

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:11

The Washington Redskins are in Minneapolis today to face the Minnesota Vikings. Both teams have 3-5 win/loss records and both are coming off wins last weekend. However, this weekend’s pregame festivities will include protests against the Washington team name:

People who want Washington to abandon the Redskins nickname are taking their protest to the streets.

After a rally at David Lilly Plaza, several hundred people are marching through the University of Minnesota campus to TCF Bank Stadium, where Washington plays the Minnesota Vikings. Four men banging a traditional drum and women carrying a banner reading, “No Honor in Racist Nicknames or Imagery” are leading the March to the stadium, about a mile away.

“Today it’s going to stop,” Clyde Bellcourt, co-founder of the American Indian Movement, said before the march began.

Update:

June 22, 2014

“Draw Play” Dave on how Minnesota got the Super Bowl in 2018

Filed under: Business, Football, Humour — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:20

I probably don’t need to say that the Super Bowl is a big ticket item … that much must be clear even to people who don’t have any conscious awareness of the NFL. Part of the push for a new football stadium in Minnesota was the hope that the new stadium would allow Minneapolis/St. Paul to bid on (and hope to win) the competition to host the Super Bowl in the newly completed stadium. The NFL being what it is, this meant a lot of “sweeteners” had to be offered to entice the league up to the deep freeze of Minnesota in the middle of winter. (Full disclosure: I’ve never been to Minnesota in winter, so maybe I’m just being swayed by pro-winter propaganda, but I believe it gets a tad cooler in the land of the ten thousand frozen lakes than it does in, say, Miami.)

“Draw Play” Dave Rappoccio admits he’s a bit late to this story, but I rather liked it anyway:

Click to see the full cartoon

Click to see the full cartoon

Again, older news that I never got to, but deserved a joke.

Has anyone actually looked up the requirements for cities to host the Super Bowl? The NFL is shameless in how is screws cities over and I can’t believe cities sign up for it.

May 29, 2014

A state legislative session devoted to “unlegislating”

Filed under: Government, Law — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:56

Our elected officials at all levels of government spend much of their time passing new laws … to the extent that it is no longer possible for an average citizen of a state or province to know what their legal status is on any given issue — it’s been estimated that you’ll commit three felonies a day without ever knowing it. Given that, this session of the Minnesota state legislature has a huge natural attraction:

It’s no longer a crime in Minnesota to carry fruit in an illegally sized container. The state’s telegraph regulations are gone. And it’s now legal to drive a car in neutral — if you can figure out how to do it.

Those were among the 1,175 obsolete, unnecessary and incomprehensible laws that Gov. Mark Dayton and the Legislature repealed this year as part of the governor’s “unsession” initiative. His goal was to make state government work better, faster and smarter.

“I think we’re off to a very good start,” Dayton said Tuesday at a Capitol news conference.

In addition to getting rid of outdated laws, the project made taxes simpler, cut bureaucratic red tape, speeded up business permits and required state agencies to communicate in plain language.

“We got rid of all the silly laws,” said Tony Sertich, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board commissioner who headed Dayton’s effort.

Well, not quite all of them. They kept a law on the books that requires state Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson to personally capture or destroy any wild boar that gets loose in Minneapolis or St. Paul. Sertich said it’s conceivable that such a critter could wander into the cities.

It would be a good use of any legislature’s time to trim old laws from the books, but that’s not how most politicians view their job, unfortunately.

H/T to Doug Mataconis for the link.

May 21, 2014

QotD: February in Minneapolis

Filed under: Football, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:17

It’s not surprising that the Wilfs, the Vikings and downtown Minneapolis business leaders want the Super Bowl in Minneapolis. Their pockets will be lined, and with more than fur.

The question is why the average Minnesotan would want the Super Bowl here in February.

We don’t invite friends and relatives to Minnesota in February. Why would we invite the world?

Especially the portion of the world that wields laptops and cameras?

You remember February, unless your therapist has helped you block it out. February is when we suffer from cabin fever and cold sores, when we lock ourselves indoors with a fire (whether we have a fireplace or not) and stare at screens until our skin matches the blue fluorescent glow emanating from the TV.

And those are the good days.

I’ve spoken to visitors who are forced to travel here during winter. They ask why we live here. They laugh at us. When Jerry Seinfeld did a show in downtown Minneapolis this winter, he referred to our skyways as “Habitrails.”

The rest of the country cannot fathom why we put ourselves through this, and let’s be honest: We can’t either when we’re in the throes of winter. We all just pile on layers and pray that, this year, summer will fall on a Saturday.

Jim Souhan, “We’re back on center stage, with frozen warts and all”, Star Tribune, 2014-05-21.

January 2, 2014

Chris Kluwe burns his bridges in Minnesota … and the rest of the NFL

Filed under: Football, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 13:57

He’s been looking for work since his time in Minnesota came to an end shortly after the team drafted Jeff Locke in the 2013 draft, but hasn’t been able to catch on with a team, despite his still-respectable abilities. He has strong suspicions why this might be, and he’s probably right. Now that he’s come to terms with the end of his punting career, Chris Kluwe explains what he think happened between him and the Vikings in 2012 and pretty much guarantees he will never work in the NFL again:

During the summer of 2012, I was approached by a group called Minnesotans for Marriage Equality, which asked if I would be interested in helping defeat what was known as the Minnesota Gay Marriage Amendment. The proposed amendment would have defined marriage as “only a union of one man and one woman.” (It was voted down, and same-sex marriage is now legal in Minnesota.) I said yes, but that I would have to clear it with the team first. After talking to the Vikings legal department, I was given the go-ahead to speak on the issue as long as I made it clear I was acting as a private citizen, not as a spokesman for the Vikings, which I felt was fair and complied with. I did several radio advertisements and a dinner appearance for Minnesotans for Marriage Equality. No one from the Vikings’ legal department told me I was doing anything wrong or that I had to stop.

On Sept. 7, 2012, this website published a letter I had written to Maryland delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. chastising him for trampling the free-speech rights of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo. The letter also detailed why I supported the rights of same-sex couples to get married. It quickly went viral.

On Sept. 8, the head coach of the Vikings, Leslie Frazier, called me into his office after our morning special-teams meeting. I anticipated it would be about the letter (punters aren’t generally called into the principal’s office). Once inside, Coach Frazier immediately told me that I “needed to be quiet, and stop speaking out on this stuff” (referring to my support for same-sex marriage rights). I told Coach Frazier that I felt it was the right thing to do (what with supporting equality and all), and I also told him that one of his main coaching points to us was to be “good men” and to “do the right thing.” He reiterated his fervent desire for me to cease speaking on the subject, stating that “a wise coach once told me there are two things you don’t talk about in the NFL, politics and religion.” I repeated my stance that this was the right thing to do, that equality is not something to be denied anyone, and that I would not promise to cease speaking out. At that point, Coach Frazier told me in a flat voice, “If that’s what you feel you have to do,” and the meeting ended. The atmosphere was tense as I left the room.

[…]

So there you have it. It’s my belief, based on everything that happened over the course of 2012, that I was fired by Mike Priefer, a bigot who didn’t agree with the cause I was working for, and two cowards, Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman, both of whom knew I was a good punter and would remain a good punter for the foreseeable future, as my numbers over my eight-year career had shown, but who lacked the fortitude to disagree with Mike Priefer on a touchy subject matter. (Frazier was fired on Monday, at the conclusion of a 5-10-1 season.) One of the main coaching points I’ve heard throughout my entire life is, “How you respond to difficult situations defines your character,” and I think it’s a good saying. I also think it applies to more than just the players.

If there’s one thing I hope to achieve from sharing this story, it’s to make sure that Mike Priefer never holds a coaching position again in the NFL, and ideally never coaches at any level. (According to the Pioneer Press, he is “the only in-house candidate with a chance” at the head-coaching job.) It’s inexcusable that someone would use his status as a teacher and a role model to proselytize on behalf of his own doctrine of intolerance, and I hope he never gets another opportunity to pass his example along to anyone else. I also hope that Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman take a good look in the mirror and ask themselves if they are the people they truly profess themselves to be.

Update, 3 January: The Vikings have hired two lawyers, one of them the former chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, to investigate Kluwe’s allegations.

Eric Magnuson, the former chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, and Chris Madel, a former U.S. Department of Justice Trial attorney, will lead the investigation.

“It is extremely important for the Vikings organization to react immediately and comprehensively with an independent review of these allegations,” Vikings owner/president Mark Wilf said in a statement issued by the team Friday.

Magnuson and Madel are partners in the firm Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P. Their investigation is already underway, according to the Vikings’ release.

“This is a highly sensitive matter that we as an organization will address with integrity,” Vikings vice president of legal affairs and chief administrative officer Kevin Warren said in the statement.

“Eric and Chris have stellar reputations in both the local and national legal community. They have handled numerous cases involving a wide range of issues, and we are confident they will move swiftly and fairly in completing this investigation.”

[…]

The Vikings investigation comes a little less than two months after the NFL hired attorney Ted Wells to investigate issues of workplace conduct with the Miami Dolphins, who asked the league for help after representatives for tackle Jonathan Martin turned over evidence of alleged abuse at the hands of teammate Richie Incognito.

The results of Wells’ investigation, which are to be made public, have not yet been released. Martin never returned to the team after a cafeteria prank Oct. 28. Incognito finished the season on the suspended list.

“The Vikings contacted us yesterday about the matter and have kept us fully informed,” league spokesman Greg Aiello wrote in an email to USA TODAY Sports. “We have no plans to conduct a separate review.”

December 27, 2013

The Metrodome had “a retro-futuristic feel that was equal parts Jetsons and Lite-Brite”

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:56

This Sunday, the final game will be played in Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. ESPN‘s Kevin Seifert looks at some of the oddities of the soon-to-be demolished stadium:

They played two World Series in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, and the same number of Final Fours. Baseball’s All-Star Game, the Super Bowl, Pink Floyd and Paul McCartney all made appearances, as well. And yet, from a national perspective, the dominant memory might well have originated on Dec. 12, 2010 — when the roof collapsed a day before a Minnesota Vikings game.

The Teflon-coated roof was one of many engineering quirks that gave the Metrodome a retro-futuristic feel that was equal parts Jetsons and Lite-Brite. My personal favorite was the strict rule against opening any set of double doors at the same time, a fail-safe against altering the air pressure setting that maintained the roof’s shape.

That rule was one of many improvised plans that stadium engineers developed and followed to maintain a building that will host its final event Sunday. And it’s why Steve Maki and six colleagues found themselves on the roof with fire hoses and a steam connection in the hours before the 2010 collapse.

We’ll get back to that incredible instance of homespun maintenance in a moment. First, it’s important to know a few facts about the roof.

The original design called for 20 fans of 90-horsepower apiece to maintain inflation from their position at the top of the stadium. Because it was used in a region that receives about 50 inches of snow per year, a system was installed to melt snow accumulation on the roof by shooting hot air between two layers of fabric on the surface.

December 7, 2013

Pro and college football as taxpayer-funded non-essential services

Filed under: Football, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

In Time, Nick Gillespie points out that among the most-subsidized industries in the United States, the college and pro football leagues get a lot from taxpayers (even taxpayers who don’t like football):

As we enter the drama-filled final week of the regular college football season and the final month of the National Football League’s schedule, forget about GM and Chrysler, Solyndra, or even cowboy poetry readings. Fact is, nothing is more profitable, more popular, and more on the public teat than good old American football. That’s right. You, dear taxpayer, are footing the bill for football through an outrageous series of giveaways to billionaire team owners and public universities that put pigskin before sheepskin.

It’s just not right when governments shovel tax dollars at favored companies or special interests, even when those firms are called, say, the Minnesota Vikings or the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers University. The NFL’s Vikings are lousy at scoring touchdowns — they have the worst record in the NFC North — but they’ve proven remarkably adept in shaking down Minnesotans for free money. Next year they’ll be playing ball in a brand-spanking new $975 million complex in downtown Minneapolis, more than half of whose cost is being picked up by state and local taxpayers. Over the 30-year life of the project, the public share of costs will come to $678 million. The team will pay about $13 million a year to use the stadium, but since it gets virtually all revenue from parking, food, luxury boxes, naming rights, and more, it should be able to cover that tab. Not that the Vikings were ever hard up for money: Forbes values the franchise at nearly $800 million and the team’s principal owner, Zygi Wilf, is worth a cool $310 million. When the Minnesota legislature signed off on its stadium deal for the Vikings, the state was facing a $1.1 billion budget deficit. Priorities, priorities.

[…]

Especially in an age of busted government budgets, even the most rabid sports fan should agree that it’s an outrage that the highest-paid public employee in a majority of states is a college football coach (in another 13, it’s a basketball coach). It’s far better to be broke and have a cellar-dwelling NFL franchise, right?

Minor nit: they just broke ground for the Vikings’ new stadium, so it’ll be a few years before they actually open for business there. Other than that, Nick is quite right.

October 16, 2013

Cultural organizations and unions

Filed under: Economics, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:41

Richard Epstein looks at two recent disputes between unionized employees and cultural organizations:

This past week featured two stories about major orchestras dealing with their adamant unions. The first incident occurred on Wednesday, October 2 at Carnegie Hall in New York City. A fancy opening night gala, featuring the violinist Joshua Bell and the young jazz performer Esperanza Spalding, was called off due to a surprise strike by Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

The second dispute, still unresolved, involves the protracted labor impasse at the Minnesota Orchestra. On October 1, true to his promise, star music director Osmo Vänskä resigned because of the inability of the orchestra and its musicians’ union to hammer out a new contract in time to prepare for concerts scheduled at Carnegie Hall on November 2 and 3. The issues in these two labor disputes could scarcely be more different. But each of them, in its own way, illustrates the long-term toll that American labor law takes on the cultural lifeblood of our nation.

The incident at Carnegie Hall raised more than a few eyebrows when it was revealed that the strike was organized by the five full-time Carnegie Hall stagehands who were members of Local One. Their annual compensation in wages and overtime averaged a cool $419,000 per year, making them — one properties manager, two carpenters, and two electricians — five of the seven highest paid workers at Carnegie Hall after Carnegie CEO Clive Gillenson. Other union members in unspecified numbers were called in to help from time to time, presumably at rates on par with those Carnegie Hall paid to its full time workers.

As befits the sorry state of labor relations in the United States, the dispute was not about the status of these five workers. Rather, it focused on the new jobs that would open upon the completion of a new education wing in 2015. Mr. Gillenson was not exactly breathing fire when, well-coached in the pitfalls of labor law, he eschewed any anti-union sentiment and announced that he expected union workers to take the stagehand slots in that new facility. It was just that he insisted on dealing with unions that lacked the clout and the wages of the hardy men from Local One.

[…]

The bargaining dynamics could not have been more different in the Minnesota dispute. It is no secret that unionized musicians command a short-run monopoly premium for their members. The orchestra knows that it can earn back some fraction of that wage premium by securing the most talented musicians. But by the same token, any generous deal opens the orchestra up to financial ruin if its endowment shrinks or if its key donors cut back their support in hard times. But usually the large gains for older musicians carry the day.

Unions in all industries — think of the debacle at General Motors — do not do well in negotiating givebacks to management. Yet, ironically, the higher the premium that unions are able to extract during good times, the larger the give-backs are needed to bring the employer’s fiscal position into balance during bad times.

Just that dynamic was in play with the Minnesota Orchestra. The high wages before 2009 led to one round of union concessions. But in 2011, the budget was still out of balance, and management came back with a request for further cuts of about 32 percent. It later softened its demands to insist on wage cuts that would reach 25 percent after three years. Those cuts would be offset by a one time $20,000 bonus, which would, of course, not be part of the wage base in future years.

The union proposals were for pay cuts in the range of six to eight percent. This would have left an annual deficit in the order of $6 million. In the end, no deal could be reached, which precipitated Vänskä’s departure and the subsequent huge hit to prestige of the orchestra’s hard-earned international reputation.

May 14, 2013

In other Minnesota news, same-sex marriage becomes legal today

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:57

Jacob Sullum notes that Minnesota becomes the twelfth state to legalize same-sex marriage today:

Today Minnesota, where voters last fall rejected a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, becomes the 12th state to give homosexual unions the same legal status as heterosexual unions. The state legislature approved the bill yesterday, and Gov. Mark Dayton plans to sign it this evening. Minnesota is the third state to legalize gay marriage in the last 10 days, following Rhode Island on May 2 and Delaware on May 7. The nine other states are Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York, where legal recognition of gay marriage was approved by the legislature or by voters, plus Connecticut, Iowa, and Massachusetts, where courts required the change.

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