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Sun, Aug. 25

Stossel: The seen vs. the unseen

Sunday is the Super Bowl.

I look forward to playing poker and watching. It’s easy to do both because in a three-hour-plus NFL game there are just 11 minutes of actual football action.

So we’ll have plenty of time to watch Atlanta politicians take credit for the stadium that will host the game. Atlanta’s former mayor calls it “simply the best facility in the world.”

But politicians aren’t likely to talk about what I explain in my latest video — how taxpayers were forced to donate more than $700 million to the owner of Atlanta’s football team, billionaire Arthur Blank, to get him to build the stadium.

In addition to the subsidies, the Falcons get all the money from parking, restaurants and merchandise sales. Sweet deal.

But not an unusual one. Some NFL teams collect even more in government subsidies than it cost to build their stadiums.

So taxpayers, most of whom never attend a game, subsidize billionaires.

Seems like a scam.

I don’t fault Blank for grabbing the money. I like the guy. He made our lives better by founding Home Depot. We’re both stutterers who donate money to AIS, a stuttering treatment program.

Since politicians give money away, Blank’s shareholders would consider him irresponsible not to take it.

The problem is that politicians give away your money in the first place.

I understand why they do it.

They like going to games and telling voters, “I brought the team to our town!”

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman and her cronies recently funneled $750 million of taxpayer money to the owners of the Oakland Raiders to get them to move the team to Vegas.

Reporter Jon Ralston asked her, “Why should there be one cent of public money when you have two guys who could pay for this themselves?”

The mayor replied lamely, “I think it really is a benefit to us that really could spill over into something.”

Spill over into ... something. Politicians always claim giving taxpayer money to team owners will “spill over” to the whole community.

They call their handouts investments — a “terrific investment,” as the mayor of Atlanta put it.

But it’s not a good investment. It’s a bad one.

Politicians point to that extra business activity that occurs when the football team plays at home, but the Atlanta Falcons, like most NFL teams, play just 10 home games. The stadium is used for some concerts and soccer games, but most days little or nothing happens there.

That’s why economists who study stadium subsidies call them a bad deal for taxpayers.

The problem is the seen vs. the unseen, as economist Frederic Bastiat put it. All of us see the people at the games buying beer and hotdogs.

But we don’t see the larger number of citizens, who had their money taken from them to spend on the stadium, not buying things.

We don’t see two fewer customers in a restaurant or the home remodeling that never got done. Those humbler projects lack the political clout and don’t get the media attention that politicians and the stadium-builders get.

So this Sunday, when Atlanta politicians brag about their beautiful stadium, and clueless media claim that it created lots of jobs, let’s also remember the jobs the subsidies destroyed -- and the tax money that was given to rich people.

The problem isn’t just Atlanta, and it isn’t just sports.

Most every time government presumes to tell us where and how our money should be spent rather than leaving it up to free individuals, it creates a loss.

Politicians announce whatever project they fund with great fanfare, implying you should be thankful to them -- as if football, or the arts, or whatever is unveiled in the latest ribbon-cutting ceremony, couldn’t exist without politicians moving money from your pocket to the pockets of their cronies.

But really, government shrinks your ability to make choices every time it steers money away from what you might choose to spend it on.

Football is popular enough to thrive without politicians subsidizing it.

John Stossel is author of “No They Can’t! Why Government Fails — But Individuals Succeed.” For other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.

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