Who should I support in the World Cup?

12th June, 2010

Dear Economist,
I am an Indian but my country never qualifies for the World Cup. I usually support the Netherlands because I am a fan of Dutch football. But this year is different, because I work in England, pay my taxes here and feel that if England wins the World Cup it will lead to positive externalities for me. My boss may go easy on me, the general mood of the country will lift and even the looming spending cuts may feel more bearable. But should I sacrifice my love of Dutch football for the sake of my stake in the British economy?
Deepan Banati, London

Dear Deepan,

I am glad to see you are taking the beautiful game seriously, but puzzled that you are so determined to impale yourself upon the horns of an imaginary dilemma. You seem to think that supporting England and supporting the Netherlands are substitutes with sharply decreasing returns – in other words, you can only afford to support one or the other. I do not really understand why this should be true.

Until the two teams actually meet, you can support both. This has many merits. You have a real interest in twice as many matches, for example, and are more likely to have some wins to celebrate. If the teams do meet, the situation will be slightly more difficult. But this cannot happen until the semi-finals at the earliest. And it may not happen at all: neither England nor the Netherlands are exactly permanent fixtures in the World Cup’s last four.

In the unlikely event that your divided loyalties are tested, find a Dutch pub and cheer the Dutch with abandon. At work the next day, resume the demeanour of an England fan, whether celebrating victory or heroic failure in a penalty shoot-out.

Economists always assume that people may hide their true preferences; this is one assumption to which you should adhere.

Also published at ft.com.

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