Voice

This blog's official position about soccer

Apparently, rants about the World Cup generate a lot of traffic to this blog.  With that in mind, one of the things that fascinates me about the World Cup is the orgy of self-examination it produces about when or whether Americans truly embrace futbol football soccer?

From what I can ascertain, there are two clear camps.  The enthusiast camp, epitomized by this Daniel Gross essay, suggests that it's just so hard to be a soccer fan in the United States: 

Being a soccer fan at World Cup time in America is a little like being Jewish in December in a small town in the Midwest. You sense that something big is going on around you, but you're not really a part of it. And the thing you're celebrating and enjoying is either ignored or misunderstood by your friends, peers, and neighbors. It can be a lonely time.

Jonathan Chait's rejoinder to Gross' essay best epitomizes the rejectionist school of thought.    Part of it is a genuine disdain for soccer, a game with lots of flopping and 0-0 ties and is ripe for Simpsons parodies.  I suspect that another component is hostility to the trendiness of the game among DC media elites and intellectuals.  My local sports radiop station has had a contest to name these people, and come up with "nilrods." 

My hunch, however, is that neither of these descriptions fit the American attitude towards World Cup soccer.  I've seen elevated but not overwhelming interest in the World Cup.  Any honest assessment of soccer would have to acknowledge that the game can be boring for long stretches, punctuated by some moments of genuine excitement and athleticism -- not unlike baseball. 

The fact is, there are plenty of sports in the United States that occasionally capture the intermittent attention of the casual sports fan, but won't "break through" the sports zeitgeist until and unless the United States fields a successful national team.  This is how it tends to work with the Olympic team sports, and it's how it will work with the World Cup.  If the United States can advance far in this tournament, Americans will become more interested; if not, they'll switch back to baseball and the NFL draft. 

In this approach, the casual sports fan is using a strategy of "rational ignorance" -- i.e., not caring until the team is sufficiently successful.   This is the kind of thing that political scientists tend to understand, but sports and politics junkies reject as somehow not representing true fandom.  But it is how most people think about most things in life most of the time.   

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Daniel W. Drezner

U.S. economic power: what is it good for?

Over the weekend, Paul Krugman trotted out his "let's pressure China" argument but expanded it to Germany.  This prompted some quality IPE snark from Kindred Winecoff, followed up by the same points written in less snarky fashion.  

Ordinarily, I would be eager to enter this debate full of vim and vigor.  Unfortunately, I spent the weekend at my college reunion at an important networking conference in which I drank a lot and caught up with old friends a lot of retrospective analysis and discussion took place over cocktails and I'm still exhausted from pretending to be a 21 year old for a few days still processing the exciting intellectual synergies that took place during the free-flowing dance party breakout sessions. 

Fortunately, I really don't have to add too much.  I'll just link to my old post about this debate and note that the questions I raised in that post have yet to be answered. 

Well, I'll say one more thing.  Between then and now, I've had the opportunity to enjoy a conversation with Krugman over dinner on these questions, and I think I can say where, exactly, we disagree.  He believes that, as the deficit country, the U.S. has vast reservoirs of economic power that can be exercised over China.  I would argue that the U.S. position is such that America can deter China but can't unilaterally compel the country to alter its own policies. 

More importantly, Krugman -- and most economists engaged in this debate -- are seriously underestimating the extent to which nationalism will affect China's response to any unilateral move by the United States.  Even if China's response to an increase in U.S. trade barriers would be counterproductive to their own economic interests, it might serve the regime's political interests.  In an ordinary world economy, China wouldn't want to do anything to upset its expoert engine.  In a world where the leading open economy basically says "f**k it," well, they're going to reassess.  Riding the nationalist tiger will look politically appealing in a slow-growth world.