I’m not often one to call Mayor Rahm Emanuel a friend of the middle class. But he earned that title by refusing to provide tax money for the Cubs’ $500 million renovation of Wrigley Field.
Public subsidies of stadiums are one of the most egregious drivers of inequality in American life today. They are a transfer of wealth from the masses, whose income has been stagnant for the last 40 years, to major league baseball players, whose income has increased twenty-fold in the same period, to an average of just over $3 million a year. As salaries increase, so do baseball’s demands on the public purse, as clubs seek new sources of revenue to meet rising labor costs. The Marlins’ new stadium will cost Miami-Dade County $2.4 billion by the time all the bonds are paid off. Detroit’s Comerica Park was 38-percent publicly funded, with a tax on rental cars, hotels, and revenue from Indian casinos. I’m sure that $115 million could have gone a long way toward rebuilding Detroit, but stars need a stage.
Beyond that, publicly-funded stadiums force taxpayers to pay for an institution that may actually damage the local economy. Dennis Coates, a professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, found that pro sports reduce a city’s per capita income, by withdrawing entertainment dollars from local businesses and transferring it to athletes and owners who don’t live in the area, and don’t spend much of their enormous salaries and profits: “money paid to players does not circulate as widely or abundantly as it would were it paid to people with less wealth and more attachment to the city.” So the public is helping to pay the salaries of people who don’t return it to the local economy -- a double fleecing.
Emanuel is no progressive, and his motives in turning down the Cubs may have been motivated by his political differences with the conservative Ricketts family, but he made the right call.