By: Dean Karlan
Most of the world considers football’s quadrennial World Cup to be the most important sporting competition of all. A growing number of fans have embraced the event, and if their country isn’t a part of the event, are not so sure for whom to root.
I am offering an alternative, utilitarian guide to help Americans choose a country to support.
The basic principle is simple, drawn from utilitarian principles: Root for the outcome that will produce the largest aggregate increase in happiness. So I came up with a simple index, calculated by a country’s passion for football multiplied by its average level of poverty multiplied by its population. It’s perhaps a bit crude, simply to multiply these factors by each other, but the exercise highlights some important truths about the world.
Why this formula? Considering football interest seems obvious enough — the more passionate fans are, the happier they’ll be if their team emerges victorious. I incorporate poverty into the score for several reasons. First, happiness and wealth are correlated, and all else being equal, a utilitarian would prefer to help the person who is worst off. Second, the wealthy have more outlets for dealing with sports disappointments — such as going out to a nice meal — and can bounce back faster.
Finally, if we are to embrace the utilitarian principle of the greatest good for the greatest number of people, we need to think about the population of the countries in question. While Uruguayans undoubtedly love football, it will be a nation of only 3.3 million people celebrating their triumph should Uruguay come out on top. In contrast, if neighboring Argentina wins, it will mean a celebration for 42.7 million.
The first challenge is measuring a country’s passion for football. It doesn’t take a genius to know that Ghana was more invested in its match with the United States than the United States. Ghana shut down factories and imported electricity from neighboring Ivory Coast to make sure that the power grid would support all households watching the match. To quantify such passion, I turned to Google Trends and looked at how football compared with the other most popular sports in each country, based on searches. While football accounts for 16 percent of searches about top sports in the United States, the share is a stunning 85 percent in Colombia. The region with the highest appetite for football? Africa, with Algeria, Ghana, Nigeria and Ivory Coast all finishing in the top six (the other two most soccer-crazed countries are Brazil and Ecuador).
Share of interest
In a recent Upshot study of public opinion in 19 World Cup countries, conducted by YouGov, Colombians showed more interest continued…