We should all support Nigeria in the World Cup, says a Yale economist. Is he right? – Telegraph Blogs

Nigeria supporters celebrate a goal vs Argentina (Photo: AFP/Getty)

Professor Dean Karlan, who teaches economics at Yale, has been considering who we should support in the World Cup if our own country is knocked out. Mine (Scotland) never got to Brazil of course, and now Roy Hodgson’s England are back home, leaving their fans at a loss. One response to defeat is to support the team that came top of your group because if they go on to win the tournament it makes your own performance look marginally better. So English  fans might reasonably cry “come on, Costa Rica!” – all the more so because England actually drew with them and the fans were unlikely to be rooting for Uruguay who have anyway now departed, having lost to Colombia.

Professor Karlan however, being an economist, is more interested in encouraging you to make a rational, rather than emotional, choice. (Pseudo-rational anyway, as is the way with economists.) He advocates a utilitarian approach. “Root,” he says, “for the outcome that will produce the largest aggregate increase in happiness.” Well, most of us could only guess at that, but he is ready to measure it.

He has come up “with a simple index, calculated by a country‘s passion for soccer, multiplied by its average level of poverty multiplied by its population”. “The more passionate fans are,” he says, stating the obvious in the way of economists, “the happier they will be if their team emerges victorious.” (Millwall for next season’s FA Cup?) He incorporates poverty into the calculations because, first, “happiness and wealth are correlated” – a dubious proposition, if you ask me – “and, all else being equal, a utilitarian would prefer to help the person who is worst off.” His second reason is that “the wealthy have more outlets for dealing with sports disappointment – such as going out for a nice meal – and can bounce back faster.”

So Professor Karlan has come up with his index, and concluded that Nigeria comes out top, followed – a long  way behind – by Brazil. Actually, of his top 10 countries, seven have already been eliminated. Costa Rica, already through to the quarter-final, finish way down in his table, as do France, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland, all still in the mix today. Argentina don’t fare much better. So, if one is to believe the Professor, victory for anyone but Nigeria and Brazil is going to score very low on the happiness index.

Clearly in one sense his index makes sense, or sense of a sort. Both Nigeria and Brazil have large populations passionate about football. So if either wins the Cup, a huge number of people will be very happy indeed. “Simply put, the Nigerians have a lot of very passionate, low-income people who are ready to celebrate Nigerian success.” For a utilitarian economist they are evidently the team to back.

Many here may do so because Nigeria will be perceived as the underdogs and there is a British tendency to support the underdog. However this isn’t always the case. Few back the underdog against their own team or player. There can’t have been many British fans who were hoping that the engaging young Belgian David Goffin would beat Andy Murray in the opening match of this year’s tournament. Moreover, the more knowledgeable you are, the more likely it is that you want to see the better team or player win. Sympathy for the underdog goes only so far. Few tennis fans really want to see Roger Federer or Rafa Nadal lose to a much lower-ranked player. Almost every racegoer hoped that Frankel would end his career undefeated (as he did), and even those who had bet on the horse that finished second might have felt bad if it had come in ahead of the champion.

So, forgetting the good Professor, we will all now opt to support one of the surviving teams for personal reasons. Some will back Brazil – certainly no underdog – because they regard the Brazilians as the guardians of “the beautiful game”, others Argentina because they think Lionel Messi deserves a World Cup-winner’s medal. Some will want to see a European victory, and will go for Germany or the Netherlands as the sides with the best chance of delivering this. As for me, since I truly don’t much care who wins, I shall indeed opt for an underdog and go for gallant little Belgium. There would be an added pleasure unrelated to football: Brussels 1, Ukip 0.

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Source: telegraph.co.uk

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