The Futility of Financial Regulation: Lessons from Science and Professional Football

The Wall Street Journal does not make the connection explicit, the editors must realize that the sophisticated investors, who own luxury boxes (or even professional football teams), will get the message: financial regulation is futile. The offense has a scientific advantage over the defense. No matter what strategy the defense uses, the offense can find a way to overpower it.  The Journal even gives scientific analysis to make this point.  Of course, the possibility remains, of moving from a competitive capitalistic game to a more cooperative system will eliminate the need for offenses and defenses. Notice the similarity between the analysis of football and neoclassical descriptions of the economy.

Futterman, Matthew. 2009. “Behind the NFL’s Touchdown Binge As Scoring Soars, One Professor Sees Parallels in Nature: The ‘River Basin’ Theory.” Wall Street Journal (10 September).
http://online.wsj.com/page/2_0333-20090910.html

“The NFL has become so fast and efficient that last season, teams each scored 22.03 points per game, the highest since 1967, while all the league’s 32 teams combined for 11,279 points — the most in NFL history.”

“Some football thinkers believe these numbers speak to a temporary period of offensive dominance in the NFL — just one more high point in an endlessly fluctuating historical curve. But if you venture a bit beyond the particulars of football, to the principles of science, there’s another argument to be made: that the NFL’s high-speed, high-scoring offenses are a reflection of one of the laws of nature—the tendency of all things to evolve toward efficiency. “

“Adrian Bejan a professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University, likens the NFL’s evolution to a river’s effect on its basin. (Stay with us, here.) Over time, a river relentlessly wears away its banks and, as a result, water flows faster and faster toward its mouth. When obstacles fall in its way, say, a tree, or a boulder — or in the case of an NFL offense, beefy linebackers like the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Lewis or the Chicago Bears’ Brian Urlacher — it will figure out how to wear those away, too.”

“The game is a flow system, a river basin of bodies that are milling around trying to find the most effective and easiest way to move,” says Prof. Bejan. “Over time you will end up with the right way to play the game, with the patterns that are the most efficient.”

“In 1996, Prof. Bejan, who began following the NFL after coming to the U.S. from Romania to attend college, came up with a theory about natural phenomena known as the Constructal Law. The theory, he says, can be used to explain the evolution of efficiency in everything from river basins to mechanical design. By extension, he says, it could also be applied to the explosion of offense in the NFL.”

“Tom Lemming, the recruiting expert and analyst for CBS College Sports, says no one on the college level has figured out how to neutralize the speed of the spread offense, either. “The offense always sets the agenda, and the defense plays catch-up,” Mr. Lemming says.”

“Considered more broadly, Constructal Law may be the closest thing to a grand unified theory for the evolution of sports. In a sports context, the river is the relentless search for the easiest way to score or win more often. In soccer, there is the indefensible through-ball, passed between two defenders to a striker sprinting into open space. In basketball, the two-handed set shot eventually gave way to finding the tallest, fastest players who could jump the highest and dunk.”

4 comments so far

  1. […] The Futility of Financial Regulation: Lessons from Science and Professional Football « unsettling e… michaelperelman.wordpress.com/2009/09/13/the-futility-of-financial-regulation-lessons-from-science-and-professional-football – view page – cached The Futility of Financial Regulation: Lessons from Science and Professional Football — From the page […]

  2. pito on

    What a load of CRAP! The real analysis and analogy is like this. Owners know what offense brings more fans and the stars of the game easiest to market are the Offensive players. By definition in football only offensive positions are the “skilled” ones. So what do you know? Atheletes have not become more “efficient” on the offensive side of the ball over defense. Instead the rules have been cahnged constantly to favor more scoring. Atheletes know the best paid positions are playing “O” so having a choice they will choose to play “O”. That is rudimentary fact, not opinion.

    So the analogy that can really be made something like this. Big business make more profits by getting bigger and manipulating markets. So they use profits to rig markets and export jobs by paying off politicians. They merge and create monopolies, carteles, and oligoplies, which by definition are inefficient, polluting like crazy and passing on the costs to the public. You know, socialize losses, privitaize profits. THAT is the real analogy. I like to say that the biggest lies of those of ommission. WSJ you pathetic propagandists.

  3. mark hansen on

    one might wish to see the film “the informant” for a fun look at corporate fraud.
    it appears that it is only getting worse, much worse.
    the book by the same title was also just used as the base for a “this american life” prgram which first ran in 2000.
    the producer?/director? of the film learned of the story from the “TAL” radio show.
    as an aside, the son of one of the founders of ADM went to prison for 2 years.
    this was reported once on npr on a friday evening news bit and never heard of again.

    • mperelman on

      I have not seen it, but it is based on a bad take on the scandal. For anyone interested, I would recommend Rats in the Grain. Excellent study of corporate bad behavior.


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