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Uprising

Wednesday, Jul 18, 2012, 4:17 pm

Jeremy Lin: Anti-Austerity Hero

By Bhaskar Sunkara

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Our site crashed this morning, so I was bored and did my writing over at VICE instead. They let me use naughty words and the piece did well, soliciting replies from Reihan Salam over at National Review and others.

The core of the rant was situating Jeremy Lin, a highly paid athlete, on the labor side of the labor-capital dialectic. I connect quasi-populist denunciations of big player salaries with resentment against public sector union workers. That's an inclination I've covered in Uprising, as well.

It’s not hard to convince a liberal that migrant workers deserve a living wage. It’s tougher to argue that Lin deserves an extra five million, but the same logic applies.

It’s a struggle between management and labor and management has made plenty of money milking a player like Lin for all he was worth—international media interest, jersey and ticket sales, the Cablevision deal, not to mention that without him the Knicks might not have even made the playoffs.

Big salary haters get it wrong when they factor the fans into the equation. Talking about Jeremy Lin’s “greed,” acting like he’s taking something from someone else when he’s got a family to feed, may be a good way to sound like a populist. But it actually puts you in the operative position of siding with an owner who is way richer than Lin will ever be. That’s the kind of populism that put Bush in office.

Say we do manage to lower player salaries or restrict their mobility—who’s saying we’re going to get lower ticket prices or anything but higher margins for already wealthy owners?

So what’s to gain from the politics of resentment? It’s the same type of politics that fuels anger at teachers, firefighters, and other public sector employees. “Why them?” is the petty loser’s version of “Good for them. Why not me?”

And if Lin’s still earning a bit too much for our tastes, instead of waiting for him to funnel his bounty into the community and name youth basketball camps after himself, why not just tax his (and his boss’) income at a higher rate? We can take some of the money, trustee our favorite sports teams, and give away shares to players and fans jointly.

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Bhaskar Sunkara is the founding editor of Jacobin magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @sunraysunray.

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