Uncommon Knowledge

Field of free-agency dreams


If you build a retro ballpark, fans will come, even if they think players are in it for the money. As a recent study points out, the advent of free agency in the 1970s “led to an unprecedented amount of public bickering over the distribution of rewards in a league that had rarely discussed such issues publicly in all of its history. From 1876, when the first professional league began, until 1971, there were no leaguewide labor stoppages of any kind. However, over the next 23 years (1972–1994) there were eight work stoppages. . . . The same media that had lauded the players for their pure motives prior to free agency began to lambast them as money-grubbing gold diggers.” The increasing prominence of money then increased fans’ desire for authenticity. Not only did the 1980s see a surge of nostalgic movies like “The Natural,” “Bull Durham,” “Field of Dreams,” and “Major League,” but by the 1990s, “owners began building stadiums with features that had been discarded over the previous 70 years of stadium design. Fans celebrated these ‘traditional’ ballpark features such as ornate brick entrances, grass playing surfaces, manually operated scoreboards, and even exposed steel girders that obstructed fans’ views. . . . From 1923, when New York’s new ballpark took on the name Yankee Stadium, until 1990, 24 of the 25 baseball structures built used the name ‘stadium’ or ‘dome.’ From 1991 to 2006, 18 ballparks were built, and all of these ballparks avoided the name stadium and in place used some variation of ‘field,’ ‘park,’ or ‘ballpark’ as part of the name.” An experiment with baseball fans confirmed that exposing them to information about the impact of free agency made the fans more cynical about players and increased the fans’ preference for traditional ballpark features. Also, league data revealed that traditional ballparks gained relatively more attendance after the advent of free agency, especially when key players were lost because of free agency.

Hahl, O., “Turning Back the Clock in Baseball: The Increased Prominence of Extrinsic Rewards and Demand for Authenticity,” Organization Science (forthcoming).


Where the future is too bright

Countries closer to the equator tend to be less developed. Why? While some of it may be the effects of heat and tropical diseases, a study by Danish economists suggests that some of it is also the effect of sunlight itself — specifically, ultraviolet, or UV, radiation. Even after controlling for latitude and other geographic and climate-related factors, and controlling for tropical diseases, culture, and institutions, the intensity of UV radiation is still strongly associated with economic output per person, even when measured locally in one-degree-latitude-by-one-degree-longitude units. This association appears to be explained by UV-related eye diseases (e.g., cataracts), which reduce one’s expected work life, which in turn reduces the incentive for people to invest in themselves and their children. The association between UV radiation and development is only seen after the industrial revolution, when there was substantial divergence in development. Also, while the association is observed across locations in the United States, it’s not observed in China, given that country’s centralized control of development and fertility.


Andersen, T. et al., “Climate and the Emergence of Global Income Differences,” Review of Economic Studies (forthcoming).

From alma mater to laissez faire

The ghosts of recessions past may inhabit the halls of Congress. A new study finds that members of Congress who experienced a recession when aged 18 to 25 in the state where they went to college voted more conservatively in opposition to redistribution. This association was present even within the same party and controlling for the Republican share of the vote in the member’s district or state; was not true for recessions at other ages; was stronger for senators (who are less subject to party discipline); was stronger for longer recessions; and was weaker for social issues. The researchers theorize that the association is due to being in college and coming from an affluent background, which insulates the person from the pain of the recession and leads him to think that anyone can be successful despite hard times. Consistent with this, surveys of Americans have found that while people tend to move left after experiencing a recession as a young adult, educated people with educated parents tend to move right.


Carreri, M. & Teso, E., “Economic Recessions and Congressional Preferences for Redistribution,” Harvard University (July 2016).

A test of teachers unions

If you’re a teacher covered by collective bargaining, you’ve probably gotten more pay, benefits, and job protections than you’d have gotten without collective bargaining. But as the saying goes, there’s no free lunch, and a new study suggests that students helped pay for that lunch, years after graduating. Kids who grew up in states that required school districts to deal with a union ended up earning and working less — and scoring lower on intelligence and motivational tests — as middle-aged adults, controlling for other state- and time-specific factors. These effects were stronger for males and minorities.


Lovenheim, M. & Willen, A., “The Long-Run Effects of Teacher Collective Bargaining,” Cornell University (June 2016).

Unsportswomanlike conduct

Have you ever noticed that female athletes tend to congratulate opponents in a more perfunctory manner at the end of a match? If so, it’s not just you. A visual analysis of matches from tennis, table tennis, badminton, and boxing revealed that men spent more time interacting with, and were more likely to touch (beyond a handshake), opponents at the end of matches. The researchers attribute this to a primitive need in men to get along with other men in the community to be able to keep it safe.

Benenson, J. & Wrangham, R., “Cross-Cultural Sex Differences in Post-Conflict Affiliation following Sports Matches,” Current Biology (forthcoming).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at kevin.lewis.ideas@gmail.com.