Why does Germany have one football team and UK three?

A good piece as usual by Prof Ricardo Hausmann.

He says the main reason for Brexit was obviously fear of immigration. Uses the England football team example to make his point:

Of the 24 teams that qualified for this year’s UEFA European Cup football (soccer) tournament, only one came from Germany. Three came from the United Kingdom: England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. That seems rather odd. After all, East and West Germans reunited only in 1991, and Bavarians united with Prussians only in 1871, whereas the annexations/unions of Ireland, Wales, and Scotland to the Kingdom of England go back to 1177, 1542, and 1707, respectively.

So why do Thuringians, Saxons, and Swabians root for the same German team, while UK citizens root for so many? (Scotland and even Gibraltar have their own teams as well.) Wouldn’t they have a stronger team if they chose the best players to represent them all?

Presumably, British citizens understand this, but they prefer to have their own national teams rather than a stronger UK team – even if this means losing to tiny Iceland. After all, if it is only about the strongest team, you might as well root for Barcelona. For a team to represent “us,” it somehow has to be us.

Seen in this light, the Brexit vote is less surprising. The “Remain” campaign focused on the economic benefits of staying in the European Union and the costs of leaving, some of which fell due immediately after the results were announced: the British pound plummeted and stock markets wiped out a couple of trillion dollars of wealth.

And yet 52% of those who voted preferred a country where Poles and Romanians would not be permitted to live, work, and compete for a position on the economic team. Letting them in might produce a better team, but it would no longer be our team.

Hmm..The real problem is us vs them:

At the core of the issue is the sense of “us.” What does it mean to be a member of the EU, Nigeria, Iraq, Turkey, Switzerland, or any other political entity?

The sense of us is a subroutine of the brain based on the sense of self, which is one of our brain’s many creations: a sensation of being an ongoing entity that experiences things, remembers its history, can act, and has feelings and goals – what the eminent neuroscientist Antonio Damasio calls an autobiographical self. Our brain is also acutely aware of the existence of other selves, with their feelings and intentions, and it is particularly good at reading what others are thinking, feeling, and planning.

We use this same mental apparatus to develop a sense of “us”: the people we care about and root for. We think of this “us” as if it were a person with an autobiography, a temperament, predispositions, and aspirations. We regard firms as legal persons, and we talk about countries as if they were a composite person with clear characteristics: Germans love order, Italians are passionate, and Brits possess a stiff upper lip. And, obviously, the sense of “us” implies a sense of “them”: those whose welfare we consider less fundamental than our own.

As Joshua Greene, Director of Harvard University’s Moral Cognition Lab, has argued, our moral sentiments evolved to support human cooperation. Just as evolution gave us sexual desire, rather than rational arguments, to ensure procreation, so we have evolved feelings of empathy, affection, disgust, and rage to respond to one another’s behavior. Our moral sentiments both limit individuals’ abuse of the common good, expressed in the conflict between “me” and “us,” and maintain the coherence of the group, to support the competition between “us” and “them.”


The European project will succeed only when it creates a European sense of “us” so powerful that it feels right that, say, Bulgarians should be permitted to live and work in Birmingham. When all are European, all may live wherever in Europe they please. They might even become the team to beat.


One Response to “Why does Germany have one football team and UK three?”

  1. Jim Rose Says:

    Scotland has been trying to get into this tournament for some years now.

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