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Canadian Hockey, Sex, and My Golf Game

2010 March 3
by Brian Goff

Related to Skip’s post, how much happiness was generated in Canada by Sunday’s hockey victory?

“Thousands on street” in Vancouver (maybe 150,000), Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and all over the country.

Crowd estimates are always sketchy, but the crowd in Vancouver was large, very large. The team and entire audience’s unabashed rendition of “O Canada” during the medal ceremony stirred even a cynical, non-Canadian economist like myself.

What other kinds of non-sports related celebration can match or surpass this kind of national celebration? The list isn’t very long. V-E day, V-J day, …? Where would one find such a large “utility” impact relative to the size of the revenues paid out for out-of-pocket expenditures by consumers?

Skip raises an interesting issue. Are these effects permanent or transitory? As with most utility-raising “recreational” activities ranging from sex to an enjoyable golf day, the warm glow fades. The Vancouver Games afterglow for Canadians may hang on longer due to gold medal performances, and, especially the hockey finish. The hockey finish itself, may have a very long-lived enjoyment value but at a much lower level just as the “Miracle on Ice.”

Students sometimes ask me, isn’t the enjoyment for the winning team’s fans offset by the disappointment for the losing team’s fans? Or, what if Canada had lost, is the downer to be subtracted from national “happiness.” I like to use my golf game as an analogy. Yes, my relative “glow” increases when I shoot lower, but both bring enjoyment. Even losing a “match play” or scoring low in a tournament brings enjoyment, just less in relative terms.

On occasion, I can play badly enough to regret even going out. Maybe a Canadian loss on Sunday slips into this realm. My guess is that such an outcome would have been more analogous to Canada missing the medal round. Really poor performances raise some tricky questions regarding the intertwining of ex post versus ex ante measurement of happiness when part of the reason for playing is the “chance of winning” — the participation — and part is the expectation of winning.

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