As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
A kid went to college years ago with designs on being an engineer. He didn’t know exactly what an engineer did; he did know engineering was a career with positive employment prospects and salaries that would provide a fellow access to life’s biggest spoils (which at the time consisted of - in any particular order - baseball cards, craft beer and music).
Then the prospective engineer ran headfirst into the realities of the engineering academic curriculum – calculus and chemistry, specifically. He survived - barely. The grind – hours of study, anxiety, self-doubt and the uncertain safety net of curved test scores (the hope that his fellow students bombed tests too) - was sufficient to launch exploration of other disciplines. On a whim, he signed up for microeconomics.
The class changed my life. I neither understood nor had any lasting desire to decode derivatives or thermodynamics. Engineering Road was destination nowhere. Economics however, with its confluence of history and sociology, the contrast between Adam Smith and Karl Marx and its influence on an increasingly interconnected world, matched skill and passion and provided direction for a wayward mind. As with so many things in life, the answer is blowing in the wind, as Bob Dylan suggested, and often arrives by chance.
The drifter finds purpose; that seems like another topic for another “View”. For this one, it is the economic theory of supply and demand that crept its way into the sports world. It’s simple, but powerful. Run quantities of a good across the X-axis and the price of said good along the Y-axis. Plot a demand and supply curve in the corresponding quadrant. The price and quantity at which the lines intersect is market nirvana – equilibrium.
Pause to enjoy angels singing
The theory implies that a free market will, despite short-term interruptions from externalities and disorienting shifts in supply or demand, find its way back to equilibrium. The NFL violates the rule: it exists in a constant state of imbalance due an unsolvable gap between the demand for quality quarterback play and the inadequate supply.
There is an appearance of equilibrium – all 32 teams fill available quarterback positions. Yet scant few teams are satisfied with performance at the position; for those that are content, many live in discomfort over pending contract negotiations or degrading relationships with their star. Angst and dissatisfaction: these are not characteristics indicative of market equilibrium.
The quarterback market disturbances are a non-stop shock-scroll. Mitchell Trubisky is about to be overpaid, a condition Kirk Cousins has made his legacy. Green Bay just spent two years acquiesing to Aaron Rodgers, the prickly, narcissistic quarterback genius, and is seemingly giddy about the make-up cost - a four-year, $200M contract extension for a 38-year-old. Washington, in its desperation for quarterback stability, shipped multiple picks to Indianapolis for Carson Wentz, a difficult personality who just flamed out after a year with his second NFL team. Seattle had the opposite dilemma. In Russel Wilson, it had one of the league’s best. But relationships had soured and the team was in decline. Retaining your most precious resource (Wilson) would seem wise, but in the “everything has its price” quarterback market, Seattle was able to get a haul in return for Wilson – a bounty of draft picks and players – that it couldn’t refuse.
Star quarterbacks: can’t live with them, can’t live without them, I guess.
This isn’t a knock on the NFL or power-wielding elite quarterbacks. Equilibrium, regardless of the “market”, is illusive – an on-going chase more than a state of being. What is really in balance? Aren’t we all seekers of equilibrium in our lives – be it physical, psychological, spiritual or financial? And even if it is achieved, disruptors, both good and bad, always lurk to throw supply and demand back into chaos. Companies are bought and sold. Children arrive. War happens. Real estate or oil prices spike or plummet. Life never stops, it only pauses from time to time.
In those pauses is tranquil equilibrium. I am grateful to economics for explaining it. But understanding equilibrium doesn’t change this fact: achieving it, in any capacity or for any meaningful duration, is a life-long endeavor.