The Chicago White Sox, my beloved baseball team for my entire life, made the playoffs this year for the first time since 2008. I enjoyed tuning in for the quick three-game series they lost to the Oakland Athletics. The occasion didn’t involve nearly as emotional weight for me as the big games for my sports teams in previous years. I cried when they lost in the 2000 playoffs, felt immense rage when the Bears lost to the Colts in the Super Bowl, and believed I was personally harmed when Derrick Rose tore his ACL. I couldn’t name every player on the Sox this year and I hadn’t watched any regular season games. I’d like to think I’m a mature adult now with a better perspective on what’s really important life, but I also recognize that I follow politics a lot like I used to follow sports.

Ezra Klein compared the intense tribalism from increasing political polarization to sports loyalty in his book Why We’re Polarized. We have come to attach so much energy to our sides winning in politics that we lose sight of the actual substance underneath. Political parties have come to match so closely to our identities, he argues, that our side losing feels like a threat to our identities. Donald Trump shares little in common in terms of policy with the Republican Party of 2012, yet the overlap in voters is pretty strong. Our instinctive reaction to any political development is more about what side is doing the thing, rather than whether it’s good/bad for society.

Tyler Cowen recently had a post about declining sports viewership and included one possible explanation as a crowding out from “political fanaticism.” I think it’s correct that an outrageous President and the accompanying newscycles have sucked the air out of the room where people used to pay attention to sports. And I realize there’s a huge overlap between how I used to follow sports and how I follow politics now.

How I used to follow sports:

  • Spend a little time every morning checking the results of major events
  • Read about the history of different sports/players to better develop an encyclopedic knowledge of each sport and better understand the big picture context of current events
  • Follow my team closer than other teams and feel an emotional attachment to their success/failures
  • Be defined almost as much by what I loathe (the Cubs) as what I support (White Sox)
  • Get a sense of companionship from talking about sports with similarly informed people

How I now follow politics:

  • Spend a little time every morning checking 538 and Twitter to see the status of the horse race in different elections
  • Read about the history of different elections/politicians to better develop an encyclopedic knowledge of the political system and better understand the big picture context of current events
  • Follow my country’s politics closer than international ones and feel an emotional attachment to my preferred party’s success/failures.
  • Be defined almost as much by what I loathe (Trump) as what I support (sometimes I’m not even sure?)
  • Get a sense of companionship from talking about politics with similarly informed people

I used to justify the attention I gave to politics as “this makes me a better-informed citizen.” Sports viewership is purely a hobby and learning more about the current/past results doesn’t make me a better person. But I always knew that. It was just entertainment. Indeed, I do think that pre-Trump I used to follow politics in large part because it was the necessary vehicle through which different policy preferences (which I spend a lot of time reading about) were implemented. On a good day, following politics closely might increase my personal civic engagement, but there are a number of ways where that justification is just BS.

  • Following the horse race of the Presidential campaign is where I spend most of my Online time. There is nothing of substance here. It’s either a level of reassurance that Biden will win, or disaster porn of some kind.
  • The way to actually make a difference in politics is through local government, not national elections. I can tell you my two New York Senators and the Mayor but not my Representative in the House, my state senator, or any other local officials. If my goal was really civic engagement, I wouldn’t spend so much time worrying about Trump.
  • I closely followed hourly developments in things like the Mueller probe that 1) did not affect my life 2) I could not impact and 3) only served to satisfy my urge to see Trump get punished.

Since I became a grad student and cord-cutter, it’s been difficult to keep up with any sports. Going to a bar for 4 hours to watch a Bears game on a day off was exhausting and expensive. Watching enough Sox or Bulls games to feel connected to either team was tough to find on tv and took too much time. But while my sports viewership has gone down markedly, it has been completely substituted by the spectator sport of Politics. It sucks, but it is damn addictive.

If there’s anything that I ask of people when in political discourse, it’s consistency. Don’t say you are in support of freedom of speech, and then choose to apply it only when the speech is in agreement with your beliefs. Don’t be against corporate bailouts, and then support the bailout of your favorite car company just because you think it’s a swell company. Etc., etc., etc.

However, there are times where this philosophical consistency is greatly at odds with our own self-interest, as hypocritical as it may be. For example, when Jerry Reinsdorf threatened to move the Chicago White Sox to Tampa Bay in the early 1990’s unless Chicago built a new stadium, I have to say honestly that I’d support such a move. The fact that taxpayer dollars go to build these ridiculous stadiums when professional teams can easily afford them anyways is absurd. I acknowledge the hypocrisy on my part.

The Beatles Rooftop Concert in 1969. Their last public appearance playing music together. It must have been incredible to be there. I know the members of the Beatles had a great time performing (or so I see in the videos). But let’s remember what’s going on here. There are thousands of people who are working innocently around the neighborhood and disturbed by the noise. This noise externality shouldn’t be allowed to go on, should it? Obviously, if Creed or Matchbox 20 or some other crappy band was playing, I would have no hesitations shutting them down. Here’s where the dilemma is. We need to have consistency, otherwise the tyranny of the majority says what’s alright and there’s no rule of law.

Would you have shut down the rooftop concert and, if not, would you allow Creed?

Our very own Ilya Somin debates whether Billy Beane’s ‘Moneyball’ tactics are actually as successful as they were initially made out to be. For those of you who don’t know, Moneyball was a strategy that the Oakland A’s General Manager used in which he sought out low-salary underrated players that had two main characteristics: solid fielding and high on-base percentages. The A’s, using this strategy, were able to compete, despite their low budget, with powerhouse teams like the Yankees and Red Sox.