Headline: "Wilf Pushes Vikings Stadium — As Economic Stimulus"

The Vikings are in the playoffs and the economy is in a recession. It seems like a good time to ask again for public money for a new stadium and it seems like a good time to use the economic impact angle:

With the state and federal governments looking for ways to jump-start the economy, a New Jersey businessman has an ambitious public works project he says will create more than 5,500 jobs and provide $500 million or more to local contractors.

The businessman is Zygi Wilf, principal owner of the Minnesota Vikings.

The project: A $954 million, state-of-the-art stadium for his football team in downtown Minneapolis — to be constructed using more than $635 million in public money.

“Why not? The Vikings are a public asset,” said Lester Bagley, the Vikings’ vice president in charge of stadium development. “This is going to create an economic boost.”

The team has been trying to get public money to build a stadium for more than a decade. And even though Minnesota is facing one of the worst economic crises in its history, the team will once again approach the Legislature this month and ask for the money.

The reaction from a couple of politicians is actually heartening:

In fact, two legislative leaders laughed out loud when asked whether the House and Senate would seriously consider the Vikings’ bid this session.

“It certainly will not be a high priority,” Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said recently. “We have a fiscal and job crisis in Minnesota.”

Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the speaker of the House, was even more blunt about the Vikings’ chances of getting state money from the Legislature.

“There is no chance,” the Minneapolis DFLer said. “It’s a great idea if they would pay for it themselves. But we are in uncharted economic waters. We are in a crisis situation, and we have to focus on the financial and economic health of the state.”

But you gotta like the “public asset” angle. As is well-known in economics, a public good is something that is non-rival in consumption (my consuming it does not decrease the amount that someone else can consume) and that is non-excludible (the producer can’t keep someone from consuming the good). Yes, there may be an essence of “publicness” in that there are some things that are non-rival – a spirit of community, for instance – generated by the presence of the Vikings in Minnesota that is impossible for them to capture.

But the Vikings are not excludible: you can be kept out of a stadium and the league can blackout contests from being broadcast. Because the Vikes are excludible and, to some extent, non-rival, the Vikes are not a public asset and are more like a club good than a public asset.

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Author: Phil Miller

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