Thursday, 1 September 2011

The Lopsided Playing Field

The ‘transfer window’ for the new season of Premiership football has just closed. What a damning metaphor the once beautiful game has become for the wealthy-takes-all world beloved of plutocrats.

How does Premiership football work exactly? Last season’s results are instructive. If we rank the teams by the cost-effectiveness of the points they gained (ie the total number of points divided by their wage bill), Blackpool would have topped the league, followed by West Brom, Wolves and Birmingham. But of course Blackpool and Birmingham actually ended up being relegated under the money-can-buy-anything rules.

By the same token, the bottom three clubs for relegation last season would have been Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool. But these clubs stayed, spent millions more than anyone else over the summer, and are all sitting at the apex of the league. Much has been said (amongst us football fans at any rate) about the once formidable Arsenal losing their way – beaten by Liverpool, thrashed by Manchester United. But take a look at the money gap between Arsenal and the ‘top four’ (the net spend on player transfers – as of 22.00, 31 August 2011): Chelsea and Manchester United each spent over £60 million more than Arsenal; Liverpool spent £75 million more; and Manchester City spent almost £90 million more.

Success is not to be nurtured, but bought with money. Will any team other than those four with their substantially larger budgets for transfer fees and wage bills win the Premiership? Absolutely not. In the wider money-dominated society, success is also in the grip of the corporate elite. The top financiers make money for themselves out of devising money-making schemes, while others lose money and sink hopelessly into debt.

What happens to others who try to compete for investment and growth? The manufacturing industry, public healthcare, universal education, affordable housing, these all languish because they cannot make the fast and easy money the financial institutions can secure. Those with the most money write the rules: they scoop off the profit, they pass on the risks, and if things do not go their way, they just get everyone else to hand them more money (public bailout, private savings, contrived deals involving futures and derivatives).

For all the talk about the merits of a free market, with a level playing field where everyone can compete fairly on the basis of their relevant contributions – skills, innovation, organisation, commitment, responsiveness – what we get is a rigged market. The lopsided playing field favours the mega-rich who will take all titles, leaving the poor to survive if they can crawl through the eye of a needle.

But just as the football world is beginning to look at introducing rules to cut down the unfair advantages that money can buy, fiscal policies can help to bring about a fairer society overall. Encouragingly there are rich people in France, Germany, and Italy who have asked their government to tax the wealthy more so they can with their greater resources play a bigger part in meeting the challenges their countries face. Alas, in the UK, the Tories and the super rich are huddled together to talk about cutting the tax rate for those with the most, and relegating the poor to a lower level of existence.

It’s time to show this Blue Government the Red Card.

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