Cricket versus Baseball as an Engine of Growth

My previous post on parody and academic economics reminded me of the classic paper in this tradition, Howard Wall's 1995 'Cricket versus Baseball as an Engine of Growth' (free access). If you are a professional economist and haven't read this excellent paper before, do so now; it is only 3 pages long and is easily one of the most entertaining pieces ever to be published in an economics journal:

Until the pioneering work of Solow (1956) forced growth theorists to focus on things such as savings rates and capital accumulation, economists searched far and wide for engines of economic growth. One of the seemingly eccentric streams of the literature considered the relative effectiveness of sport in spurring economies along. Marshall (1889) was the first of the classical economists to suggest that the character-building aspect of sport may play an integral role in harnessing the capacities of an economy towards productive ends.

At the time, Marshall proposed that the sports that would best serve as an engine of growth were those that "involved the carrying, and sometimes the tossing, of a ball; and the frequent collision of opposing bodies." Subsequent research naturally looked towards gridiron football in the US, and rugby football in the UK.

Marshall’s case for gridiron and rugby did not last long. In a footnote to a theorem on the existence of irrational numbers in σ-dimensional lattices, Russell and Whitehead (1908) found an error in Marshall’s result. Russell and Whitehead had stumbled onto something would keep economists at odds for nearly fifty years. They found that the necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for a sport to be an engine of growth are (1) that it uses an ash implement to strike a round object; and (2) that at any time the majority of players spend their time standing idly in an expanse of grass, or sitting on a wooden bench doing nothing.

Within months of this result becoming public, opposing schools of thought developed, separated, as they often are, by the Atlantic Ocean. Cricket and baseball very quickly became the centers of growth theorists’ attention.

The debate raged until the entire field fell into disrepute in the early 1950s. The backlash began with attacks by the French economist Maurice Le Point. As a Frenchman, Le Point could not see any point in cricket nor in baseball, and failed to see how either could have anything at all to do with the economy. His most biting insight, which purportedly came to him while attending a St. Louis Browns baseball game, roughly translates as "there is a fine line between playing baseball and standing in a pasture dressed like an idiot." Although aimed at baseball, this certainly rings true for cricket as well.

So powerful was Le Point’s attack that nearly all traces of the two schools have been purged from the economics literature. The early works began to disappear from libraries, and later editions of Keynes (1936) do not include the original twenty-fifth chapter on the role of cricket in ending the Great Depression.

The purpose of the present paper is to revive and answer this long-forgotten question. With today’s statistical techniques and the availability of data for a large number of countries, the question of cricket versus baseball can be addressed once and for all [...]

The empirical results speak for themselves. For emerging countries without a history of cricket or baseball, baseball instruction and subsidies should be an immediate priority. The difficult problem is in devising a plan to eradicate the cricket-induced malaise of the cricket-playing countries. Clearly this is a task of Herculean proportions, rivalled only by the economic reform of formerly-communist countries. Like communism, years of cricket have polluted the very souls of these countries, and we need to measure the pace of reform in decades, not merely in years.

Postscript: Don't miss the references at the end of the paper.


  1. Anonymous Says:

    I can well believe that cricket has a negative impact on worker productivity. I for one am far less productive during and england test match as I follow the ball-by-ball coverage throughout the day. My output falls by a particularly large margin during exciting or important tests and should England happen to lose, the ensuing malady has been known to write off entire days of work. Case closed.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Interesting post Datacharmer. A very interesting book comparing the two sports is 'Playing Hard Ball' by Middlesex and England Cricketer Ed Smith (who has a first in History from Cambridge). One of the many interesting points he reveals is that cricket was once America's favourite team sport. It rivalled baseball for most of the 19th century with as many stories in the sports pages of the New York Times until 1880. Indeed, the first international cricket match was between Canada and the United States in 1844. By 1850 cricket clubs flourished in 22 states.