Thursday, January 15, 2009

If it keeps them occupied...

In anticipation of this weekend's AFC Championship game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh's mayor has changed his last name from "Ravenstahl" to "Steelerstahl." All in good fun, of course. Though if, God forbid, he passed away tomorrow, what would his tombstone say?

Anyway, it brought my mind back to an idea I've had for a while now. Clearly, this action doesn't have any direct consequences on the economy of Pittsburgh. But if we believe that public officials tend to get things wrong more than they get them right, then focusing their attention on the mundane and unimportant would lead to better outcomes, right? Maybe Pittsburgh isn't the right venue to view this in; what about Congress? When Roger Clemens sat in front of a committee, people complained that Congress was wasting its time and should have better things to do. Well, if the "better" things to do are to levy taxes, impose regulation and logroll to their heart's content, then I say have as many Clemens hearings as possible! Let's have him back a few more times! Same can be said for the Lewinsky scandal. As long as Congress is paying attention to that, they can leave the economy alone.

This would be difficult to test; since the effect is multi-stage (more diversion --> less lawmaking --> better economic outcomes) and intertemporal, it's not the easiest case to prove with numbers. I'd love to see a paper on that, though.


Justin M Ross said...

Matt Ryan subscribes to the Bryan Caplan view of policy advice.

Jeremy said...

What irks me, as a lawyer, is the phony complaint "don't they have better things to do?" The reason Congress investigates steroids and other competitive issues in sports, especially baseball, is that the Supreme Court has carved out an antitrust exemption for baseball (and given some additional rights to other sports, but mostly, I believe, with respect to broadcast rights). The actions of Major League Baseball are not a purely private, corporate matter, as baseball acts in the way that it does with the specific blessing of the government (not to mention public funding of stadiums, lowered real estate taxes of privately-funded stadiums, etc.).

From what I remember from the sports law course I took in law school, the Supreme Court case that created this exemption for baseball was, as all cases are, carefully worded to place the actions of MLB under the purview of Congress. And baseball will ALWAYS comply with Congress, by the way, because Congress has the authority to revoke the antitrust exemption, and if that happens baseball will be subject to all of the antitrust laws and is screwed. For example, teams will be able to move to new cities without league approval, (which was what the original suit was about), the amateur entry draft, possibly the most visible example of collusion, could be done, revenue sharing could be done and the small-market teams would go out of business, and the players association's authority and influence would increase at least tenfold.

Even without this, Congress has investigated truancy, comic books and other items thought to be corrupting our youth. When some of the most famous, celebrated and "heroic" figures in society are cheating by using illegal drugs, it will have a negative effect on (probably just the most naive of) our youth. Regardless of your view of the necessity of Congress investigating such moral turpitude, it is something Congress has done with regularity.