Yesterday’s massive protest activity was impressive on its own, but it also serves an important democratic function. In Robert Dahl’s 1972 classic book on Polyarchy, he devised three axioms that propose to predict when regimes will move towards full democracies. In his view, full democracies (polyarchies) both allow dissent (contestation) and give broad sets of people opportunities to get involved in the political process.

Axiom 2: The likelihood that the government will tolerate an opposition increases as the expected costs of suppression increase.

Massive protests like the one held yesterday signal to the regime in power that efforts to stifle dissent will be met with large-scale resistance (hence the costs of implementing tools of repression will be high). This is important for any democratic system, since having to hold off on repression reinforces an open competition for power.

The big challenge for organizers of the women’s march is turning a “show of resistance” to an expansion of inclusiveness in the political system. How many of the marchers yesterday will run for office or remain as activist and organizes over the next 22 months before the 2018 mid-terms. Protest activity can ensure that the system is at least a competitive oligarchy, but it can’t by itself ensure political inclusiveness.. for that protest has to be translated into direct political power. The Tea-Party movement is an effective object lesson.

Techcrunch took a stab at analyzing Trump’s tweets and found that the President Elect’s Twitter activity has grown exponentially since he took office.

A question that keeps rattling around in my head in our new Trump reality is whether social media posts like blogs, Tweets and status updates work like currency? Is there a “law of diminishing marginal returns” to the effectiveness of using Tweets to communicate?

On one hand, if he keeps up this pace, the novelty of a President of the United States taking to twitter to engage in a flame war will soon dissipate. If it does, we’ll discover what happens when the American public gets tired of a social media presidency.

On the other hand, brand marketers say that you need to be consistent on social media to engage your audience. If his goal is to keep his supporters (and detractors paying attention), constant tweeting is a good thing. Once in office, an attentive electorate can be a potentially mobilized electorate.

If you’re an academic, why bother to write a blog post? Here’s why I need to do it. I have to retain a sense of possibility in an era of nihilism. To not “put honest words out there” is to abandon the idea of a public sphere (something many democratic theorists abandoned long ago) or at least to give it over to a politics where ideas don’t matter, only brutal power and interest.

What do I mean by “honest words”? I don’t mean unassailable truth. We don’t have that and cannot presume to have it. But what we do have is a good faith effort. At our core, we are supposed to reject invalid truth claims. I’ll be the first to admit that we often fall short of that goal, but we are guardians of an epistemological way of knowing that needs to be protected.

Since antiquity, we’ve known that episteme isn’t the only way to know things. I’ve been intrigued recently with the work of Nicholas Nassim Taleb, in particular his view in a recent article that some academics and “elites” are what he derisively calls “intellectuals yet idiots” because they fall victim to an evangelical devotion to “scientism” or a naive belief in the inviolability of epistemological truth at the expense of other ways of knowing like experience or tradition.

I think this view gives us in the academy good fodder for reflection. Many of us in the academy and in the journalistic elite do use “science” as a cudgel in arguments. We use this type of knowing without always being entirely certain of the underlying science. We presume to know the unintended consequences of thing we couldn’t possible know. I can admit as a member of the “coastal elite” that we can come off a little entitled and superior when talking about “red America.”

Accepting all these things as true, where does the leave someone who tried to create, synthesize and disseminate knowledge for a living? I think it means to go forward and speak, with humility, about what we know (and what we don’t). But above all, it means that we demand that other make explicit their claims to truth and that we call out insincere discourse laden with hidden agendas. In other words, we need to be vigilant in looking out for bulls**t (HT to Harry Frankfort’s great book).

Soon after the networks declared Donald Trump the winner of the 2016 presidential election, it became apparent that the Democratic party as we know it needs serious reform. Progressive luminaries wasted no time in offering autopsies and solutions for going forward. Bernie Sanders reiterated his claim for a political revolution. Elizabeth Warren reasserted her intention to challenge Wall Street excess. DNC chair hopeful Keith Ellison spoke of voter mobilization and community engagement.

The myriad of responses tend to be tied together by a tried and true Democratic party formula – economic populism. The response from these leaders is to provide a clearer message of standing against corporate capitalism by raising taxes on the wealthy, ensuring a living wage, providing free access to college and other noteworthy policies. These are all important elements of a new Democratic coalition, but how these policies are discussed and which of them are emphasized is an important determinant of their success.

While there are dozens of reasons for Hillary Clinton’s loss, a lack of economic populism was not one of them. Her policy positions very closely mirrored that of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Clinton’s policy shop painstakingly crafted proposals to help the middle and working class — from a minimum wage increase, to expanding the earned income tax credit, to offering universal pre-kindergarten. All these proposals were designed to help the very working families that turned their back to HRC en-masse.

Why did these policies fail to resonate? Some of the blame falls on poor messaging, or message confusion. But the deeper problem was the belief on the part of enough voters that Hillary Clinton “progressive economics” was just a kindler, gentler, top-down, globalism. Lots of voters surmised that Clinton wasn’t addressing what Ben Page and Martin Gilens found in their influential work on the connections between the wealthy and political elites. Voters on both the right and the left (unfairly) saw Hillary Clinton as a custodian of this system.

If a consensus is slowly building over the need to develop a sharper economic message, what should that message be? The natural response for the Democratic party is to adopt Bernie Sanders’ democratic socialist policy framing whole cloth. I think using this language is a bad and unnecessary idea. The party should adopt as a core principle the idea of democratizing capitalism or enacting policies that expand economic control over individual lives.

In many ways this is more a shift in message than in substance. Bernie Sanders’ plans to provide expanded higher education access and guarantees for individual health care are not simply “handouts” but tools that allow citizens to determine their own destines. But how progressives talk about these policies is as important as what they actually contain. Self-reliance and individual initiative are still deeply resonant core values in American society. Framing social welfare spending policy in terms of Democratic socialism primes many voters to view those policies as “handouts” even if they themselves might be key beneficiaries.

More importantly, framing college access or health care as socialist needlessly cedes rhetorical ground to the right. The terms “freedom” and “rights” are contested in political philosophy, but not in actual politics. The British philosopher T.H. Marshall notes that social rights (access to college, health care, etc.) are an essential part of individual human flourishing — true “freedom/liberty.” As a professor, I teach both sides of this coin as alternative visions of “the good life,” but in politics, concepts like freedom, liberty and capitalism are uncontested by Democrats. In our current political discourse, Democrats accede to Republicans the argument that corporatism equals freedom and state intervention equals socialist enslavement.

But language alone is not enough. Democrats need to emphasize policies that promote individual access to capital. One of Bernie Sanders most innovative (but least discussed) proposals was allowing the Post Office to provide banking services, thereby eliminating or significantly curtailing the predatory payday lending business. You can think of this policy as “government intrusion” into a private sector enterprise (payday lending) or as an effort to provide all Americans with easier access to the capital they need to thrive. Many small business owners have to take out credit card to invest in their start-ups because banks can make much more money through credit card rates and late fees. Regulatory schemes taht work to provide more access to voters might be fraught with unintended consequences, but the voting public should at least be given a clear alternative to deregulation and corporate rent-seeking as the only “free” position.

Progressives would be well served to reframe their policy agenda. Instead of calling it “universal health care” why not “health freedom.” Instead of “free college” why not “educational liberty.” Or how about calling the de-regulation of banks “economic tyranny”?

Democratizing capitalism is a message that can resonate with a wide swath of voters. Former Congressman Jack Kemp actually had interesting ideas about giving people in low-income housing projects the ability to purchase their homes. Teddy Roosevelt recognized that both government and corporate power could be tyrannical and destructive to individual freedom and need to be checked. We are in a populist moment. Identity politics and protecting the rights on marginalized groups is a key part of the Democratic party message, but in addition, the Democratic party has an essential role to play in offering a truly democratic alternative to corporatism.

Donald Trump is making a concerted effort to reach out to African American voters. His outreach has been widely criticized as making universalist claims of black poverty and despair. Case in point from a speech last Thursday:

I say to the African-American parent: You have a right to walk down the street of your city without having your child or yourself shot, and that’s what’s happening right now. That’s what’s happening.


It doesn’t do much good to speculate on Trump’s motives. Too much of that happens under the guise of legitimate political analysis. Instead, we should examine him on the evidence. We know is that violent crime is rising after a two decade decline. Whether this is an anomaly or the start of a trend is hard to know. What we can say, however, is that the largest increases in violent crime are in small town/rural areas. The Bureau of Justice Statistics report on crime for the first part of 2015 noted that:

Murders were up 17 percent in areas with fewer than 10,000 residents, while murders were up 12.4 percent in places with between half a million and a million residents and up 10.8 percent in places with more than 1 million residents.

So while crime is increasing, it’s not doing so in “inner cities” at a particularly alarming rate as compared to other areas. We can say similar things about drug addiction. A 2015 study on heroin addiction by my colleague, Jane Carlisle Maxwell at UT-Austin, found that drug addiction rates do not follow recent historical patterns. Her findings indicate that whites aged 18-44 had the highest rates of heroin addiction.

Trump’s has repeatedly referred to the inner cities as bastions of poverty and despair. While central city poverty has gone up over the past few years, it has been far exceeded by the increase in poverty in suburban areas, such that there are more suburban poor people than urban poor. A 2011 Brookings Institution found that while central city poverty had increased 29 percent since 2000, suburban poverty had gone up 64 percent during that same time period. And the 2015 American Community Survey found that the rate of rural poverty 18.1 percent exceeded the rate of urban poverty 15.1 percent.

None of this is to say that central cities do not face significant challenges (they have for decades). But the data contextualizes Trump’s claims and challenges the notions of inner cities as being singularly filled with poverty and despair. Why frame the debate this way? Trump’s appeal fits into a time honored narrative of cities being dens of immorality and depravity. In a 1787 letter to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson wrote:

When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become corrupt as in Europe. – Letter to James Madison (20 December 1787)

Jefferson’s preference was for a nation of yeoman farmers. This romantic notion of small towns as bastions of wholesome, moral rectitude is being strained by the reality of increasing drug addition and economic stagnation. Highlighting to supporters the challenges facing in small-town rural communities undercuts Trump’s main campaign theme of “Making America Great Again.” Appeals that reinforce the idea of central cities as broken appeals to the vanity of rural and suburban residents who can feel legitimated in their lifestyle. This is particularly true for rural voters convinced that liberals think they are dumb or immoral because of their views towards different groups. Ideally, the press would be challenging appeals on both sides with factual evidence rather than as spectators who are merely covering a horse race (the basis for another blog post).

“Health care is a right!” It’s a familiar refrain on the left. Progressives argue universal human dignity requires that access to care not be restricted to those who can pay. It is a central tenet of what it means to live in a democratic society. British theorist E.G. Marshall noted that health care was one of many “social rights” necessary for humans to flourish and hence be part of a well functioning democracy. As a reaction, many on the left ask government to step in and provide this necessary good.

Is it time for us to think of access to responsible journalism in the same way? The first amendment pays special attention to the freedom of the press because of its central position in challenging those in power. In the era of “over the air” television, the three major networks took seriously the responsibility owed to the public. Watch a broadcast of Face the Nation or the evening news and compare it to today’s news fare.

The advent of cable television, however, eviscerated the quaint notion of the public airwaves (and a corresponding public trust). The result has been a slow descent into covering the spectacle of politics over actual politics itself. To accommodate this new reality, politics has become more spectacular. In particular, this 2016 presidential race is unprecedented for the lack of public policy coverage. It has been almost entirely replaced by low cost “pundits” that analyze easily digestible “optics” or “tactics.” Substantive discussion about critical questions facing the nation have taken a backseat to weeks of argument over whether a major party candidate calling a judge a “Mexican” means the candidate is a racist.

I don’t mean to romanticize the politics of yesteryear. Penny presses were plenty salacious. But in a time and age where issues are increasingly complex, our system requires a sober, thoughtful citizenry capable of making thoughtful decisions (at least thoughtful enough to “do no harm” and not elect demagogues). We need news sources that are not driven by profit motive to cover important affairs of state in a banal way.

Given this, is it time for us to think about demanding the creation of impartial “public news” in the fashion of the BBC. We have something on radio in the US that isn’t directly driven by profit and strives to provide public policy coverage. Would an NPT (National Public Television) akin to our National Public Radio (NPR) give citizens the tools necessary to make informed decisions?

I don’t mean a replacement for PBS. I mean a 24 hour public television news station that was “listener sponsored” and sought to present pressing policy issues and world events in an interesting and compelling way. It would not be bound by ratings in the same way that CNN, Fox or MSNBC are bound. Could you have a television version of “All Things Considered” or “Planet Money” that would take an honest stab at objectivity and would provide those who listened with a better understanding of public challenges?

The parallels with health care are important, if imperfect. Not everyone has the time or inclination to read longform journalism. But most Americans do have a few moments to watch the news. How many people would switch from Fox or CNN if they had an “NPR TV station” as an alternative? Would they be better informed citizens if they did?

A few national polls showing Donald Trump beating Hillary Clinton in the general election have many on the Left in full panic mode. To be sure, Trump presidency is an alarming possibility, but, for a number of reasons, they ought to be concerned, but not panicked. At the same time, there are some reasons for concern. I discuss each.

Reasons not to worry
1. Trump isn’t really winning. It’s just a few polls out of many. Most poll aggregators including Huffington Post and FiveThirtyEight have Clinton up by 1 or 2% (RealClearPolitics is an exception, showing Trump with a slight lead). And while national polls on Election Day are fairly predictive of Electoral College results, these polls aren’t aggregated state-level polls that would allow us to build a full-fledged model. We just don’t have enough polls yet. Moreover, candidates almost always get a short-lived bump after wrapping up the nomination.

2. It’s too early to matter. The NYT Upshot has a great piece this morning showing that it’s too early for the polls to even be meaningfully predictive. Punchline: “Since 1980, the polling average 167 days before the general election has been off by about 8.8 percentage points.”

3. The party will unite. We’re probably looking at Clinton’s low point. Four weeks ago, the Republican Party looked to be in disorder compared to the relatively united Democrats who were having a love-in primary. Now, the GOP is slowly coalescing around Trump and the primary between Hillary and Bernie has turned pissy. But several things will likely happen once Hillary wraps up the nomination formally and accepts the nomination at the Democratic convention. First, Obama, who has high favorables with Dems and independents, will endorse and campaign for Clinton. Second, the Bernie supporters will come around. Not all of them, but most. Right now, depending on the poll, 55-60% of them say they will support Clinton. According to Nate Silver, if that number increased to 75%, Clinton would immediately be up by 4-5% in the national polls. That 75% figure is well below the comparable figure in the past. The Dean supporters came around, the Clinton supporters came around. It happens every time.

4. Most people aren’t paying attention. Do you know that 18% of independents have never heard of Bernie Sanders and another 12% have no opinion of him? If you’re reading this post, you are a weirdo. Normal voters aren’t paying attention to Trump’s outrageous comments. They don’t know about Bernie Bros or the Nevada convention. They’re not paying attention. So, sorry, journalists and their political junkie readers who need a new dose of drama every day, you just have to wait.

Reasons to worry
1. A third is still a lot. The betting markets have Clinton’s implied probability of winning at 66.67%. In other words, if this election played out three times, we’d expect Trump to win once. There’s a one in three chance that a major earthquake with hit the Pacific Northwest in the next 45 years. If I lived there, I’d be worried and buy insurance or move.

2. Republican dominance. I’m fairly confident that Clinton will win, but if she does, she will still probably face an obstinate and extremist Republican House, majority Republican governors, and Republican control of most state legislatures. GOP control ain’t going away.

3. A real fissure. Trump is the candidate who launched a thousand thinkpieces about the breaking up of the Republican Party. Some have suggested that the same is happening with the Bernie contingent and the Democratic Party. That’s wrong. Bernie – whatever he may say about socialism – is a conventional Democrat, just further left. Most Hillary supporters say they’d vote for Bernie. By contrast, Trump breaks the conventional spectrum on the Right. Is he a moderate? A radical? He’s disavowed by some party elites (e.g., the Bushes) in a way that Bernie just isn’t (despite his seeming death feud with Debbie Wasserman-Schultz).

So, who would break the spectrum on the Left? Ross Douthat told Ezra Klein that he thinks it would be someone like a BlackLivesMatter candidate. Identity politics have already demonstrated their capacity to divide traditional liberals and activists who use more radical rhetoric and approaches to addressing racial and gender inequality. The debate about P.C. culture on campus represents this divide in microcosm. What if there were a candidate who could tap into not only the youth vote (like Bernie has), but also draw people of color and women in mass numbers away from an establishment Democrat like Clinton? What if that candidate talked about race injustice in language that the Chuck Schumers of the party felt compelled to condemn? For those invested in the Democratic Party, a candidate who took a more radical approach to race and gender could produce a real fissure. Depending on one’s orientation, that might be a cause for concern or a reason to celebrate. However, I suspect such a candidate would have about the same odds with the general voting public as Trump.

To summarize, worry about the big picture and what it means for policy. Don’t sweat the polls for at least two months.

As a mid-forties college professor who worked in and for the Clinton Democratic party of the 1990’s, I’m protective of you and your husband and the ways in which your stewardship of the Democratic party has been assailed in the last few months. Progressives have levied an effective critique at the famed “triangulation” strategy in which the party took more centrist positions to protect Southern and rust belt Democrats in Congress.

As an example — Michelle Alexander’s scathing article in the Nation that blames you and your husband for turning your backs on Black voters in the 1990’s through your support of welfare reform and the Crime bill. While I have great respect for Michelle Alexander, her widely cited article misses the political context in which you acted. The Bill Clinton of 1992-1994 passed the Brady Bill, raised marginal tax rates for upper income Americans and sought to achieve universal health care coverage. The result was a Republican tsunami in 1994. As titular head of the party, your husband faced a choice after the Republican’s took over Congress that year — stay left and run the risk of becoming a regional party or move to the center and stay relevant. Because we can’t replay the nineties, we will never know if a more progressive Bill Clinton would have lost the 1996 election if he stayed to the left of the country.

A sharper critique is the one that paints the 1990’s as the era of Wall Street deregulation, reckless free trade agreements and corporate excess. Of course, the reality is more complex. If anyone needs a refresher as to what the Clinton presidency left the Bush administration, they can re-watch this celebratory State of the Union speech from 2000:

In it, you can see him repeatedly taking credit for the passage of both Republican and Democratic ideas. Those who study power know there is a distinction between achieving results through authoritative “power over” a group and achieving results through force or sanctions and a getting things done through a “power to” bring the relevant players to the table to hammer out a solution. I believe you are a transactional politicians who knows that any economic reform would require Wall Street and Corporate America to be at the table. Senator Sanders is a “power over” politician who thinks that Wall Street simply can be chopped down to size through sheer political will.

In a free market democracy, the idea that you can “make Wall Street pay” by regulating and taxing them into oblivion is farcical. A “power over” approach to corporate America assumes they don’t have options like moving more of their activity overseas, cutting the number of workers or simply going out of business. As Paul Starr argues so eloquently in Politico, there is a difference between a liberal and a socialist. Liberal leadership requires both recognizing the essential role that the financial and corporate sectors play in job creation and standing up to these entities so that their pursuit of profit helps, not harms, the polity. Liberals realize that state power sometimes serves as a necessary check upon runaway fiscal/corporate power. Bernie Sanders isn’t offering this vision of leadership. His vision isn’t to work with Wall Street, it is to “bring it to heel” to borrow a Hillary Clinton phrase from another context. In his discussion of his proposals, he seems unconcerned with how his policies would impact the work of the financial and corporate sector. The few questions posted to him on this measure are battered away with a glib call for corporations and Wall Street to “pay their fair share.”

This is why it is equally discouraging is to see someone like Senator Sanders, who is not a Democrat and has not done the hard work of party building, capture the imagination of voters across America, by promising a “revolution.” It’s discouraging because it implies that the problem is with the Democratic party and with liberalism. Rather than running to defend the Democratic party, Sanders sees his shot to push the party left by running against it. Jamelle Bouie in Slate put it succinctly, you are running to be the head of the current Democratic party and he is running to be head of an idealized, pure progressive Democratic party that does not yet exist. But we don’t need a different Democratic party, we need more Democrats in office. We really haven’t had “liberal” leadership for the past eight years because Democrats haven’t had veto proof majorities for the last 7 years. Maybe those “Feeling the Bern” would have been satisfied with liberal governance, but we won’t know because they and others didn’t turn out to elect Democrats to Congress, state legislatures and governorships.

Secretary Clinton, I get what you are doing. As a pragmatic Democrat, you’re trying to run to the left in the primary and the spring back to the middle once you’ve dispensed with the slightly crazy old man and his community radio, Dr. Bronners’ soap, Frankfurt school ways. But here’s the problem. While you probably won’t lose to Bernie Sanders, you run the risk of putting the party in jeopardy by not more effectively advocating for liberal governance. Much like I think the Republican party has been damaged by getting pushed too far to the right, I think the party may be irrevocably damaged if it is pushed to far to the left.

As a Democrat, what I like about you and your husband is that you fight for Democrats. It was discouraging and shameful to watch 2014 Senate candidates sprint so far away from the Obama record that they seemed indistinguishable from Republicans. While your husband may have “triangulated,” you and he could also “throw a punch” and stand your ground against your opposition when necessary. It is time to fight for the soul of the party.

As of now, your attacks on your opponent have tried to paint his as a disingenuous progressive — a supporter of the minutemen, an opponent of the auto bailout and a an NRA fanboy. These weird critiques have little impact because they do not reinforce people’s pre-existing notions of Bernie Sanders. Nobody who has payed any attention would believe that he opposes the auto-bailout… it would be completely anathema to his core identity to do so.

A serious concern I have is that you present as a candidate that has an uncomfortable relationship with power and hence is uncomfortable with yourself. Your reluctance to admit that you might have Wall Street connections and may (god forbid) have said a few nice things about Goldman Sachs at a speech, can’t be dismissed. You need to explain why you have a relationship with banks and I think it’s because as much as we may not like it, we need to work with them. The impression of you can only be overcome by not just admitting that you talk to and take money from banks because we need Wall Street for the national and global economy to function, but that it’s a strength that Wall Street with work with you. You need to find messaging that is consistent with the idea that a global economy is not perfect but it is better for Americans than 17th century mercantilism, or whatever Sanders proposes as an alternative to our current economic system.

We are in a social media age that values the presentation of authenticity above all else. You very well may be the more authentic candidate, but your opponent has mastered the art of not appearing rehearsed. If you want to make any dent with youth voters, you need to drop the rehearsed lines. The “no bank to big to fail and no executive too powerful to jail” verse would have sounded great coming out of Jesse Jackson’s mouth in 1988, but it is cringe-worthy coming out of your mouth in 2016. It sounds like an infomercial pitch and millenials are too finely tuned-in to “scripts” to resonate with anything that sounds packaged. Note that Bernie Sanders is just as packaged, but his packaging “seems authentic.” Ask Bernie Sanders a question on a tough vote and watch him equivocate and parse like the best “flip flopper.”

You have no other choice. If you aren’t frank about your belief in transactional, “power to” politics, voters will think you are hiding something. Your appeals will seem trite and insincere. This is why when you tell young people that “they may not be for you, but you are for them,” it sounds to them like you’re doing a late night infomercial, selling Snuggies or Sham Wow’s. Maybe this is why one millenial in the Fox News town hall crowd couldn’t restrain herself from outwardly showing her disdain for you on national TV.

I’m still with you, but I hope you begin to stand up for your version of the Democratic party and not try to “out Bernie” your Democratic Socialist opponent.

Guest Post by University of Minnesota graduate student and friend of the blog, Ryan Larson. See the more lovely pdf version here.

When reading my esteemed colleague (and former official, and current satellite-unofficial, advisor) Andrew Lindner’s post on the shift in buying power in English Premier League teams, my interest was sparked by one of his last propositions: “It may just turn out that 2015/16 was an outlier season and that the clubs with the deep pockets will buy their way to success again next season.” In order to adequately evaluate this claim, data from the coming seasons would be needed. However, we can assess whether the 2015-2016 break in the “buying wins” trend is due to a few influential points. In other words, do a small number of teams disproportionately account for the change in trend?

After replicating Andrew’s data manipulation and models, I looked at some influence regression diagnostics, namely Cook’s Distance. In a nutshell, Cook’s Distance measures the change in a regression coefficient when an observation is deleted. The following plot shows influence indicies for each point in the 2015-2016 model, and indicates that points 101 and 112 are statistically influential: Leicester City and Chelsea.


In accordance with the high Cook’s Distance values, I removed Leicester City and Chelsea from the 2015/2016 model. Although the downturn of money-flush Chelsea and the success of relatively pauperized Leicester City are influential, they in themselves do not account for the break in the trend. In terms of the trend Andrew is noting, the correlation between wage bill and points in the 2010/2011-2014/2015 seasons is .81, and the correlation (with estimated points) in the current 2015/2016 season is .43 – indeed a marked difference. But even after removing Leicester City and Chelsea, the correlation in the current season is .64. In other words, wage bill is still giving teams less point return as compared to previous seasons, even after the removal of Chelsea and Leicester City (see updated plot below). This strengthens the assertion that the diminishing power of deep pockets is an overall trend (at least for this season) as opposed to just the disproportionate influence of two wildly performing teams respective to their piggybanks.


Cross-posted at my web site.

Arsenal’s victory with a breathtaking extra time goal by Danny Welbeck this past weekend notwithstanding, Leicester City’s season has had the kind of storyline we normally only see in Hollywood movies. This isn’t a March Madness Cinderella team upsetting Duke in a one off win. Leicester is a team with a wage budget less than a quarter of the size of the league favorites. Leicester finished 14th in the English Premier League last season. Leicester’s leading scorer this year, Jamie Vardy, had 5 goals in 36 matches last season.

But this season, Leicester has had sustained success, leading the league through the first two-thirds of the season and downing major clubs like Man City. Vardy has become a hero, leading the league with 19 goals. As Sports Illustrated soccer writer, Grant Wahl, put it on Twitter,

But just how unusual is this season? Very. Compared to the socialist sports leagues of the United States with their strict salary caps, the EPL is the Wild West where top teams can pay players as much as their owners are willing to spend. It has led to massive inequality between clubs with four teams spending at least £100 million more in player salaries than most of the rest. Unsurprisingly, it is usually the case that clubs that pay for better talent do better.

Taking data on club wage bills and season point total from the past five years¹, I produced the figure below that charts the relationship between spending and success for the four campaigns from 2010/11-2014/15 in red (with some assistance from my Skidmore colleague, Michael Lopez, who has studied salary and wins in MLB). In a normal season, £25 million in additional wage spending is worth about 6 points (or two wins). Moreover, team simply do not join the rarefied club of 75+ points in a season without a wage bill north of £140 million.

EPL Points by Wage Bill

This season broke that (see the blue points). The aristocrats were deposed (well, at least Chelsea and Liverpool). Southampton and West Ham are in positions to win Champions’ League spots. As of writing, positions 5 and 14 on the table are separated by only 3 wins. This season, £25 million in additional wage spending is worth about half a win.

And, well, Leicester … as NBCSN commentator Peter Drury exclaimed during Leicester City’s victory over Manchester City, “They’re not just beating the richest club in the land! They’re rippin’ them on their own patch! Why shouldn’t they be champions?” As the figure show, Leicester of this season is an unbelievable outlier. Over the past five years, the next closest club with a wage bill under £50 million had 22 fewer points (7 wins)!

What explains the wilting effect of wages on points? It’s easy for the punditocracy to come up with individual accounts. Leicester’s success is due to its “team spirit and togetherness.” The seeds of Chelsea’s unprecedented misfortunes were visible in their low-scoring title year last season. But the truth is that even the data-equipped are grasping for answers.

It may just turn out that 2015/16 was an outlier season and that the clubs with the deep pockets will buy their way to success again next season. For now, let’s just enjoy the competitive balance and hope that Leicester can win a title for underdogs everywhere.


¹Because the current season is still underway, I estimated this season’s final point total based on current standings.