A Bedtime Story
There once was a group of business owners who owned competing businesses. These business owners formed an oligopoly: between them they controlled nearly all of their nation’s trade in their product. As members of an oligopoly tend to do, these business owners banded together in collusion–something which was illegal in that country–yet they were granted a special exemption from antitrust legislation by their government.
These colluding businessmen (nearly all were male) were constantly looking for ways to gain a negotiating advantage over their employees, who had also instituted collective bargaining. After years of scheming, the business owners devised a new and innovative way of lowering their labor costs.
Labor is, in many industries, the primary cost to employers, and this oligopoly industry was no exception. Hiring employees involves quite a bit of uncertainty: an employee may add more value to his employer’s product than he costs that employer in wages–or he might not. So, the business owners thought, what if there were a way to force prospective employees to work for no wages for up to five years? Then, those of the best quality would rise to the top. The prospective employees would then bear all the risk: if they were injured on the job, they would receive no compensation for lost wages.
The business owners set about putting this plan into action. They set up a dummy corporation, for which all prospective employees in the industry must work for a minimum of a year, and often up to five years. The employees of this dummy corporation were paid less than minimum wage (even though their managers made top salaries). The profits from this dummy corporation were paid to the business owners’ wealthy friends, who in turn passed those profits to the business owners through various legal channels.
The employees targeted by this dummy corporation were mostly poor and members of minority groups. Often these employees worked for four or five years for next to nothing, hoping to prove themselves worthy of a big payday. Yet most did not make the cut, and many sustained serious injuries for which they received no compensation or disability benefits.
But the business owners cared little. The profits rolled in: the most productive employees–the lucky few–made it into the industry proper and made a decent living for several years (before sustaining serious injuries). The managers of the dummy corporation made nearly as much as the oligopoly businessmen. But the majority of the prospective employees, who were often the most gifted members of their struggling communities–continued to squander their most productive years, making millions of dollars for other people, and putting their livelihoods at risk, in the slim hopes of achieving a chance for a single big paycheck for themselves and their loved ones.
And that, boys and girls, is why we have college basketball and football. Sweet dreams!
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