Saturday, July 16, 2005

Cherry on NHL Deal: "Sorta socialist, so Canada should like it"

Marx on Ice

As Don Cherry said on CBC Wednesday night, "Sorta socialist, so Canada should like it." Predictions are all over the map on the business impact of the settlement and year-long conflict. Will the league prosper? How many southern U.S. franchises will bite the desert dust? Is it good or bad for Canadian teams?

Here's a tip from an old pro in the business of watching union-controlled industries: Take a look at the Big Three auto firms, unionized railways, telecommunications firms, newspaper workers. Unionization in the private sector has been in decline for decades, in part because workers don't like unions and unions tend to drive jobs away and leave their industries struggling against non-union competitors. Unionized auto production is falling, non-union companies and employment is soaring.

Members of the Players Association, whose misguided intransigence under Bob Goodenow produced the fiasco of the last year, were sold an ideological bill of goods. The very existence of a union, and collective bargaining, in professional sport is an absurdity. Hard to believe that Marx could make a comeback in an environment where workers pull in $2-million a year and live lives of kingly luxury. But great is the power of conventional economic wisdom. Even with their wealth, the players seemed to believe they were somehow exploited workers, victims of oppressive owners --alienated from power and cut off from the big dollars that the owners were amassing on the sweat under their shoulder pads.


Let's hope, though, that as professionals the players have also individually learned a lesson or two in economics and the ideology behind collective bargaining. It's not about open markets, either for the players or the owners. The process locks both sides into inflexible agreements that can only make the teams and the league less able to take on the overwhelming forces of competition -- from other sports such baseball, football, lacrosse and soccer to the mass of entertainment options available.

I expected the owners to win this dispute, at least superficially, as did most people I expect. That said, I think as far as the viability of the league is concerned a full open market with no controls, either minimum or maximum salary would be superior. The league is already over-saturated with teams as it is and instead of determinedly attempted to protect teams that should never have been started in the first place they should just allow them to disband.

As to the out of control spending that the owners are so shrill about...who is signing the paychecks? Exactly, they have no one to blame but themselves for ballooning salaries. And anyways, the salary expansion had tapered off in the last few years without forcing a salary cap on the league.

What we have here is a deal that attempts to level things out, a forced averageness that will leave the league to continue its decreasing emphases on skill, leaving us the fans with increasingly bad hockey, and in the long run destroying the league and possibly the sport.