The FT publishes a weekly Dear Economist column, where the reader’s burning questions from relationships to politics are answered using the tools of Adam Smith. Questions are answered by Tim Harford and I look forward all week to the witty questions and even better answers.

I thought my burning question from the last post needed no less a brain to answer and he did answer:

Question – 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

Answer –

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.

And so I shall stop impaling myself on the horns of an ‘imaginary dilemma’ and support both the teams.  Come on England  ! and Come on Oranje !! Hopefully you will never meet in the tournament.


When I first started to blog I don’t think I ever imagined that one day I will be writing about football. But at that time I also thought that I wont get a month of writing and so it goes. The World cup kicked off today and to me this world cup should be no different from any others, except for the fact that the matches are at more sensible times. But already there are so many things that are different about this world cup.These differences make the world cup closer and I feel like I have a bigger stake in the game than at anytime before.

This time the game is in Africa rather than in some boring european nation where everything goes like clockwork and nothing can ever go wrong. This time it is in South Africa and just like in China for last year’s Olympics, South Africa has been subject to intense scrutiny on its democracy, post apartheid integration, economy and politics. The scrutiny is intense and not surprisingly they manage to show up some chinks. From all accounts it seems to be an open developing country trying to become a model for Africa and trying to host a football competition. There is criticism that the stadiums won’t be full, they wont get used after the competition, of the income inequalities and even the fact that Mugabe is coming in his capacity as an African head of state. All this because the country wants to hold a World cup competition ?

The country that I now live in is a bit football mad. All year, there are these intense football leagues with matches  every week and intense club rivalries. The premier football league features the some of the top players of the world. For the past couple of weeks a countdown has begun to the World cup, more so because the fans think England have a better chance than the past couple of world cups, although not too many are willing to admit it yet. At work I receive emails which somehow manage to bring the World cup into serious emails and I have entered into two world cup related competitions – one a simple one where you get to do a lucky dip and pick out a team and I got Paraguay (!) and the other where you have to predict scores in the first round and winners from then on. It doesn’t help that there are television screens all around and world cup schedules stuck everywhere. More and more I watch international football, I realise that this is the sport of a globalising world. It easily transcends boundaries , most countries around the world (albeit not as well as some others) and is probably the only sport that attracts international business types. So many different languages, colours, playing styles and all of them come together.

I am also in bit of a quandary this world cup. I usually support the Dutch team, since India never qualifies for the world cup. But this time it is different since I live and work in England. I feel that if England wins it will lead to some positive externalities for me. So should I give up my love for Dutch football for my stake in the British economy ? Coming soon (hopefully) is the answer to this question using the tools of adam smith.