Public Choice Theory

It’s quite probable that when James M Buchanan Jnr created is Public Choice Theory he didn’t expect to win a Nobel Prize. But that’s what he did. He probably also didn’t think his theory would be used to explain why certain players strike up natural partnerships with each other that delivers significant benefits for their club. But he should have because it is an example that works perfectly.

Buchanan was a fellow of the Austrian School of Economics back in the 1980’s, exactly the same time that the great Rapid Vienna side was tearing up trees in the domestic league in Austria. There’s no proof that Buchanan was a regular at the Garhard Hanappi Stadion at the time but there’s certainly a similarity between the concept of his theory and the exploits of the strikers at the club at the time. SK Rapid won the 1982-83 Austrian Bundesliga title on goal difference from city rivals Austria Vienna thanks in no part to the goal-scoring partnership of Hans Krankl and Antonín Panenka. Krankl was a goal-scoring legend for the club, scoring 267 goals in 350 games but he rarely found a striking partner who he worked well with. Enter Czechoslovakian Panenka in 1981 and the rest is history and he averaged a goal every other game in his four years at the club.

So what’s a Nobel-winning Economic theory got to do with the scoring exploits of Krankl and Panenka? Good question to ask and one that Buchanan could have taken to his grave if it wasn’t for his study, Buchanan lays out his award-winning theory in a book he co-authored with Gordon Tullock called, “The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy.”

Buchanan brought together insights from political science and economics to explain how public-sector individuals, such as politicians and civil servants make decisions. He showed that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, that the public-sector acts in the public’s best interest, unless there is a clear win-win situation. In footballing terms, players, especially strikers, are inherently selfish, wanting all the glory for themselves.

However, once in a while a club will stumble of a partnership where both players work in unison, understanding that the sum of the two talents is greater than their individual efforts and thus debunking Buchanan’s work. Shearer and Sutton, Sheringham and Cole, Cottee and McAvennie have proved that mutual interest is stronger than self-interest.

We’ve struggled with goal scoring down at the Dripping Pan for many years but in the 2016/7 season we appeared to strike striking gold. Enter Jonte Smith and Stephen Okoh, two players with different skills, and played in different ways but for a spell of six months almost unplayable. We all remember the opening goal against Godalming Town , right, which was a classic example with Jonté Smith holding the ball up and drawing defenders to him before playing Stephen into space behind the defence to slot home. For us Rooks fans the partnership got better game by game although it would have had Buchanan tutting into his Apple Strudl. He would have enjoyed Okoh’s solo effort in Guernsey though where he appeared to take on the whole Guernsey side without a care in the world for the Rooks players (including Jonté himself) in support before curling it home. Alas, at the end of the season Okoh decided that the commute from Kent was too hard for him and joined….Stranraer whilst Smith went on to play for Cheltenham Town in League Two.

So next time you see a player decide he’s going go it alone and ignore his team mates in better positions rest assured it’s not through self-interest but rather conforming to a Nobel-prize winning theory.

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