Who should a utilitarian root for in the World Cup?

by on July 2, 2010 at 2:22 am in Philosophy, Sports | Permalink

The very excellent Sandor writes to me:

From a maximum utility point of view, who's the right team to root for in the 2010 FIFA World Cup (TM)?

The off-the-top-of-head first order model seems something like

num_native_fans * (joy_of_native_fans_upon_winning –
misery_upon_losing) + num_foreign_fans * (joy – misery),

where the second term is probably negligible compared to the first,
except maybe for Uruguay and Paraguay.  The "joy" term probably is larger the longer it's been since the team won?  But maybe the misery is less for teams that have never gotten far—wouldn't Ghanaians be
pretty thrilled with a loss in the semifinal?

What are the second order and higher effects?  Germany's lost productivity from a long tournament run is worth more in absolute terms but maybe less in utility terms?  Do we need terms for foreign anti-fans?—I've heard a surprising number of people express extreme anti-Germany and anti-Brazil feelings, the former for past crimes, the latter for general arrogance.

I'm attracted to the Netherlands and the two 'Guays, which are probably the lowest three in utility terms.  Maybe I'm just a misanthrope.

Does Derek Parfit like football?

My view is that a Brazilian victory does the most to maximize happiness, although I worry about the effects on second-order violence.

If you wish to rationalize the victory of a small country team, try the argument that too many young people invest career time in becoming athletes.  By having a small nation grab the glory, this wasteful effect is minimized.

1 elartistamadridista July 2, 2010 at 2:55 am

Well, since the turbulences in the markets are right now focused in the Eurozone, and specially in the PIIGS, and specially in Spain, I think the answer is easy.
More so if you consider winning a World Cup would cause intense and widespread happyness in the country just now when it is more needed. It would help to deal with the austerity measures, the cuts in public salaries and high unemployment. So it could help Spain to implement the reforms needed to regain the confidence of the markets, and then the Eurozone would be in much more better shape and that, of course, would ease the tensions for the EU, the US and the entire world.
In fact, rooting for anybody else would be highly irresponsible.
¡A por ellos!

2 Quirk Quotient July 2, 2010 at 3:48 am

For some strange reason, almost every soccer fan in India supports Brazil. Now, that is a lot of people, inflating your foreign fans term in the equation!

3 Lennart Regebro July 2, 2010 at 4:02 am

Oh, and if the question is “which team would create the maximum utility if they win” (which is a completely different question) the answer is still Ghana. For the same reason.

4 Ronan L July 2, 2010 at 4:12 am

What about the utility among all soccer fans from general feelings of fairness and “the right team won”? A lot of football fans were pretty miffed at how South Korea got to the semi-final in 2002, undoing a lot of the “pro-underdog” sentiment.

Suppose there were two billion football fans – even a small “fairness quotient” in each could dwarf one country’s national happiness.

At the end of the day, we should probably let the Smithian “invisible ball” decide.

5 J. July 2, 2010 at 5:51 am

A Brazilian acquaintance of mine thinks that the Brazilian victory would increase the probability of Dilma Rousseff’s victory in the presidential election this fall. The reasoning: Lula is a big fan of football and would exploit the victory at election rallies.

6 farmer July 2, 2010 at 7:32 am

i disagree with the “longer it’s been since they won” meme. Winners, one can assume, invest the most cultural resources into the sport and therefor enjoy their rewards more than a team that doesn’t win. Brazil or Argentina are probably HAPPIER than, say, japan or ghana, as it validates their cultural affinities and proclivities.

7 Andy July 2, 2010 at 8:10 am

I agree that we can’t forget the term for haters; this can be the most important. Speaking from personal experience once my team is eliminated I usually resort to rooting for the least obnoxious remaining team, so I think an exhaustive analysis would let this term’s weight increase with round number as more teams are eliminated and a higher percentage of interested fans are left rooting against teams they hate rather than for the team they love.

I’m not sure if any of the remaining teams are as radioactive as the French or Italians but Brazil is a possibility. One thing to consider is that with half the bracket occupied by South Americans, regional rivalries will play an outsized role this time around.

8 meter July 2, 2010 at 8:50 am

You should be rooting for Paraguay, hands down:


9 Bill Gardner July 2, 2010 at 9:25 am

An awesome reductio argument for rule consequentialism.

10 Steve July 2, 2010 at 11:46 am

Who you root for doesn’t impact who wins. Utilitarians are consequentialists so they wouldn’t care (I don’t).

Also, it’s be worth taking into account the baseline happiness of the populations. Ghana and most of it’s fans (Africans) have very unhappy lives vis a vis Brazil and most of Latin America, so a win for them would make the world a more equitable place. Utiliarianism should take into account the distribution of happiness, that’s what I take away from Rawls.

11 Robert Olson July 2, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Root for non-European teams. Maybe after they lose enough times they’ll get sick of the sport, and they’ll invent something new.

12 Ed July 2, 2010 at 1:29 pm

“ON THE OTHER HAND, for those who value the standard “let the most competent team win” we are offended by the utilitarian emphasis on happiness”

I prefer to root for the most competent teams myself, so most of this discussion is completely alien to me (and yes, I’m a Yankees fan).

I rooted for the U.S. (home team) until they were eliminated, than Brazil (Brazilian fiance) until they were eliminated, so now I have to fall back to the most competent team metric, which means Germany. But if they lose tommorrow I may have to turn to the “least annoying team remaining” metric.

Given the often embarassing play of both Brazil and the Netherlands in today’s match, it looks like the U.S. could have upset either of them and gotten to the finals if they had just gotten past Ghana. Too bad.

13 Barkley Rosser July 2, 2010 at 5:09 pm

Well, so much for your desired outcome, Tyler.

14 Ed July 4, 2010 at 12:56 am

This video speaks for itself…


15 Jack July 10, 2010 at 3:34 pm

If it can’t be Brazil or Germany, I’m happiest if the team who plays more beautiful football wins. Taking away the teams one has a personal bias about, wouldn’t this view be held by any real football fan? If a team that plays ugly football wins the World Cup, the probability that other teams will play in the same style is magnified.
Thus I conclude that maximum beauty=maximum utility. Between Spain and Holland, I don’t think there’s any question one would have to pick Spain by this logic.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: