Stop Calling Capitalism Socialism Just Because You Don’t Like It
I'm not here to praise the Super League or to bury it. The sentient pig already had his say, and I'm happy to let him keep it. But I do want to address a pet peeve of mine that has recently become relevant, as embodied in this take:
Oh, he deleted it! Let's see if he has any old Tweets that illustrate the same point…
But Aldi-Voldemort isn't the only person on this game. There's also this from America's favorite magazine for liberals who call themselves "urbanists," still support the Iraq war, and wonder if maybe we can have just a little border wall, as a treat:
After the Super League announcement, there was some chatter online that it somehow made European soccer less “capitalist” and more “socialist.” Now, as a white Millennial male with an advanced degree, a professional job, and a passport with more than two stamps on it, I obviously identify as a socialist. So when I see stuff like this, it makes me feel like my Tucker Carlson-watching dad must feel when I tell him I'm a socialist. (I've never done this.)
MLS is not owned by its workers, or by the public at large (despite the large state investment in things like, say, the Columbus Crew stadium). MLS, like all other professional sports leagues in the United States, is owned by its owners – multi-millionaires and billionaires. The capital class. And there's already a word for when property is owned by the capital class.
Revenue sharing does not make MLS “socialist.” Revenue sharing in leagues like the MLS and NFL is part of a horizontal (look it up) restraint of trade, engaged in by competitors in an industry in order to minimize their risk, secure a predictable level of profit, and ensure that they do not face genuine competition. A group of market participants who collude with each other in order to improve their profits and dominate a market is called a cartel. Or in Spanish, un cartel.
But what about the salary cap, maximum salaries, and the draft, which restrict the ability of rich teams to outspend poorer teams, rewarding failure and limiting the benefit of success? The salary cap and maximum salaries are simply price fixing of the most important input for the league – its labor. Yes, labor is something purchased on a market, and an agreement by competitors to pay set prices for labor is generally anti-competitive conduct punishable under antitrust laws. By the same token, things like the draft, allocation rights, MLS rights, and discovery rights are also restraints of trade, agreements by competitors not to compete for talent. The effect of all of this is to reduce the labor expenditures of MLS teams – in other words, to lower salaries. (Without going too far down the rabbit hole here, I'll just point out that there's a labor exception to antitrust laws, which allows – for example – labor prices to be fixed through things like collective bargaining agreements.)
“Aha!” you might say, because you're an idiot, “MLS is organized as a single entity, and therefore, the MLS teams aren't competitors!” Well, there's an antitrust problem with certain single entities: They're called monopolies, and they're prohibited from engaging in anti-competitive conduct in furtherance of their monopoly. But also, "Who care?" In American Needle, Inc. v. NFL, the Supreme Court rejected a formalistic approach and said it doesn't matter how an entity is formally constructed – what matters is whether, in substance, the circumstances involve an agreement between functionally separate entities who functionally should be in competition with each other. As MLS teams continue to separate from each other in the form of team control over designated players, Homegrown players/sales, the U22 rule, stadium ownership, and other aspects, that "single entity" argument might start to break down.
It's well-known that Europe is more active in enforcing antitrust laws than the United States, which is why – for example – the European Union has done a lot better at standing up to Google and the like when it comes to online privacy. So it's likely (look, I'm not a historian of the thing) that the "more competitive" nature of European soccer is actually the result of an environment with more government regulation – in the form of cracking down on anti-competitive conduct – than less. That's simply not "more capitalist," whatever that means.
Which makes the proposed European Super League interesting in another sense, as it casts doubt on any belief that plutocrats from Russia, the Middle East, and the good old USA were happy to spend whatever it took to buy the best players simply because these teams were their toys and they just liked winning. It turns out that these owners might have been engaging in one of America's favorite pastimes, embodied in the likes of Wal-Mart, Uber, and Amazon – moving into a market with huge amounts of capital, outspending/undercutting your less well-funded competition to drive them out of business, and then doing whatever you want once you've won total control.
So please, stop calling The MLS, the NFL, MLB, or Joe Biden socialist. It's all capitalism. It always has been.