There is plenty of economic activity in the U.S., and plenty of wealth. But like greedy children, the folks at the top are seizing virtually all the marbles. Income and wealth inequality in the U.S. have reached stages that would make the third world blush. As the Economic Policy Institute has reported, the richest 10 percent of Americans received an unconscionable 100 percent of the average income growth in the years 2000 to 2007, the most recent extended period of economic expansion.
That's Bob Hebert in his last op-ed piece for the New York Times, Friday, and it has everything to do with the labor issues that, save for the draft, have shut down the NFL.
On Wednesday, the league jumped on comments from Richie Incognito (sigh) when he said:
We kicked their butts in the last negotiation so we’re not going to settle.
Of course, if Richie's opening his mouth, the wrong words are coming out of it. It's not that he said anything incendiary or offensive. It's that both sides refuse to see the forest for the trees.
The NFL is a behemoth of a sports machine, creating $9 billion annually. Any normal group of people would be able to find a way to divide that money, go home rich as all hell, and smile while taking a cash bath. We're not dealing with normal people, though. We're dealing with super-rich owners.
The super-rich owners will never accept the idea that both they and the players get a "good" deal. Why? Because it's all or nothing. The goal of the rich is to be very rich. The goal of the very rich is to be very, very rich. And the very, very rich? Give me super-rich or give me death.
The players are dealing with a cabal that can't accept the idea that if teams make millions and their happy employees make millions, that could be okay. We could just shake hands, and go about running the most powerful machine in sports. They don't accept that premise, because it implies there is something yet to be squeezed out of labor costs that would flip some money from the expenditures side of the balance sheet over into revenue. And if you don't think they will squeeze anybody, at any time for any amount of money, you're probably visiting from a distant utopian future.
It's 100% or nothing for ownership. On Friday, the New York Times reported on G.E.'s tax bill. You might think that "the nation’s largest corporation" might have to set aside a solid chunk of money for taxes. Seeing as the Connecticut-headquartered company hauled in $14.2 billion in profits, $5.1 billion of that from U.S. operations, you might think that they would be on the hook for a large sum of money to Uncle Sam. You would be wrong. In fact, you would be negatively wrong.
G.E. didn't pay a large sum in taxes. G.E. didn't pay a small sum. G.E. didn't sign a $0 check either. No, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion. This is the world in which NFL ownership operates.
NFL ownership will not let the players back into the NFL world until they give in. Sure, litigation might put things off, and we'll get our football on time, to a degree. We'll have much more enjoyable things to talk about, like which WR is Sam Bradford molding into a Pro Bowler, or Chris Long and how underrated he is, or which players RamChop wants to send to the UFL. Football stuff. The stuff this community is supposed to talk about. For now, though, we're left waiting for the billionaires to decide how little they have to give to players to get them to play.
Helping me on the closing note, the Wall St. Journal had this to say in a David Feith piece in January:
When Forbes magazine recently ranked the world's 50 most valuable sports franchises, all 32 NFL teams made the list, demonstrating that—despite any problems with the 2006 collective-bargaining deal—the franchises have built up tremendous value over time. The Dallas Cowboys were second overall, behind England's Manchester United soccer team and in front of the New York Yankees. The least valuable NFL franchise was the Oakland Raiders, which still beat out baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs, and basketball's New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers.
How am I supposed to believe that the previous deal was a "bad" deal when ownership is winning? And not Charlie Sheen winning, but actually winning? They are making more money than their competitive peers in every aspect. Isn't that a win? Shouldn't the nature of their deal with their labor be colored by the overall profitability of the businesses they run? Maybe you paid $160 million in salaries and you only want to pay $120 million, owners. But you're making more than all of them combined... and you can replace "them" with just about anybody.
The NFL makes more money than the NBA and NHL combined. By $2 billion. Winning. The crap-ridden Raiders franchise, which has carved out as little profitability as is possible in the NFL, is worth more than the Lakers. Uh, winning.
The league is so intent on making [a lockout] happen that the NFL is willing to tell the world that we’re all currently in this mess because 30 billionaires blew it in 2006 by giving their blessing to a bad deal.
I guess they're not winning. $9 billion not winning. Because to the owners, there is no such thing as a win-win. Or in Charlie Sheen terms, winning-winning.