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The Value of Athletes

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Some people complain that professional athletes make too much money — that the salaries they receive are ridiculously high, perhaps even immoral. But is this actually the case? Aren’t athletes’ salaries, like everyone else’s in the private sector, ultimately determined by the desires or demand of consumers? Isn’t that how the value of everyone’s services is actually ascertained in the marketplace? Critics say that it’s not right that other more “socially important” jobs in society don’t pay as well. But who should determine what is “socially important” — some bureaucrat at the Bureau of Labor and Statistics or consumers in the marketplace? Value and “importance” are subjective. And the actions of individuals in the marketplace — their actions of buying and selling — reveal their subjective preferences. The fact that a person willingly parts with $1,500 in exchange for NFL season tickets reflects that he places a higher value on the tickets than on the $1500 (and the alternative uses of the $1500). It just so happens that lots of consumers place a high value on watching professional athletes play football, basketball, and other sports, just as they place a high value on watching certain rock stars sing songs. How can that make the size of salaries too high or even immoral? The salaries simply reflect the value preferences of millions of fans. Isn’t that what the free market is all about?

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    Bart Frazier is program director at The Future of Freedom Foundation. Send him email.