Wednesday, June 25, 2008

None and Done: The Labor Market for Young Basketball Talent

The 2008 Celtics-Lakers NBA finals featured two great straight-from-high-school athletes: Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett. The NBA benefits from a host of other players drafted straight from high school, such as LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Tracy McGrady, Amare Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler.

Early entry into the NBA is a classic example of opportunity cost—the notion that the cost of something is what you give up to get it. For elite players, attending college can cost millions in forgone earnings as an NBA player. So until recently, the decision for most was simple. Skip college, sign a huge NBA contract, and worry about getting a degree later, if at all.

Curiously, a 2005 collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and the players' union implemented a draft-eligible age limit of 19 with the requirement that athletes be one year removed from high school. This was great news for the NCAA, since most draft-worthy players would spend their first year away from high school wowing college basketball fans. Without the rule, we'd have missed Derrick Rose in the 2008 NCAA tournament. Of course, Rose might not have missed us, since he'd be earning a big paycheck as a rookie in the NBA.

As a recent article in the New York Times points out, labor mobility and the presence of European leagues offer young players an opportunity to break free from the strictures of NBA and NCAA rules. Europe promises pay and a chance to develop against professional players, an alternative that may prove superior to an earnings-free year of college ball and freshman classes.

Discussion Questions

1. Why would the NBA players' union support the age barrier to draftees? Why would the NBA support the restriction?

2. College basketball generates big money. Should college players be compensated in accordance to the value that they add to their school's program? How would less-than-NBA-caliber players benefit from such a system?

3. Under what circumstances might it make sense for a phenomenal young athlete to play one year in the NCAA rather than playing professionally abroad?

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

China’s One-Child Rule, Post-Earthquake

Right on the heels of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar came news of another equally shocking and destructive natural disaster in China. The very first reports of the devastating earthquake centered on the destruction of schools and the resulting loss of many young lives. The quake left many families without children—particularly because China enacted a policy in 1979 that restricts families to having just one child in an attempt to help ease the pressures of a fast-growing population. The Chinese government is now ensuring that families who had a child killed or disabled by the earthquake understand that they are allowed to have one more child, as reported here.

Why was China’s birthrate so high before this policy was implemented? Japan has no one-child policy, yet its birthrate is relatively low. What is the difference between these two countries in this regard?

In a developing country (as China arguably still is to an extent), markets for retirement savings and pension funds are often absent. To compensate for this, parents must count on their children for support later in life. And a couple must decide how many children they need to have in order to be reasonably certain they will be supported. This is determined in part by the couple’s attitude towards risk, and when it comes to security in old age, it is reasonable to assume that most people will be quite risk averse. To assess the risk of ending up alone and destitute in their old age, they need to estimate the probability, given current economic and social factors, that any single child will provide old-age support. Assuming the child lives into adulthood, he or she must earn enough income to be able to provide support, as well as being willing to do so. Furthermore, if only men have the earning potential needed to provide financial assistance, the necessary number of children will double. Facing these risks, couples in developing economies often choose to have larger families than needed for the sake of old-age security, leading to relatively high birthrates. China’s one-child policy was meant to curb this trend.

Discussion Questions

1. The opportunity cost of raising children is another factor that influences birthrates. Women in China (particularly rural China) face fewer employment opportunities, and at lower wages, than women in Japan. How does this help to explain the disparity in desired number of children between the two countries?

2. Will a grown child be able to support two elderly parents any better than a single parent could provide for him- or herself and two young children? How might this problem be magnified further with multiple generations of only children?

3. Has China’s one-child policy been a success? Why or why not? What unintended consequences might result from this policy?

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