These questionable rationalisations are the stock in trade of other sports, other businesses, governments, and us as individuals. The basic line is that if you give us something then it will benefit society. The currency in which we denominate the claim is frequently financial – regularly accompanied by a dodgy economic evaluation report to justify the claims. Increasingly, the benefits are listed as improving the environment or diversity targets. These claims can be widely inconsistent at a point in time or over time. How many Premier League player who wore rainbow laces last weekend will end up playing in leagues where they would not dare to wear such rainbows? Consider the outrage over Jordan Henderson’s summer move.
Economics can provide an antidote for the outrage. An economist is unlikely to be outraged, surprised, or disappointed with the decisions of Jon Rahm or Jordan Henderson. They would start by presuming that they made the best decision for themselves. They would discount, but not necessarily ignore, some of the cheap talk. I would like to think that a well-educated economist has developed a good nose for identifying bull. There is nothing wrong with a healthy dose of scepticism.
That is not to say that economics does not have its own issues. For much of the 21st century, economics has been criticised, from outside and inside the profession, for its use of rational (wo)man as a way of thinking about human decisions. I have often wondered if a more appropriate person for our thinking should be the rational(e) man or woman. When it comes to our decisions, we use our faculties to both reason ex-ante and rationalise ex-post. I’m sure Jon Rahm considered the costs and benefits of his decision before making it and I’m sure he did something similar when considering the narrative to spin about the same decision.