In 140 BC, the Romans devised a system of handing out cheap food and entertainment to help win over the poor. Over the years "bread and circuses" has become a metaphor for the distractions that get the masses through difficult times.
Today, sport may be the modern equivalent of this ancient recession-proof form of escapism.
As reported in The National yesterday, tickets for today's Super Bowl between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers were being resold at the average price of $4,683. As Nicholas Colas, the chief strategist for brokerage ConvergEx Group, said: "The Super Bowl has become a unique event for football fans." Going by ticket prices, their mood is "markedly better than a year ago".
It's not just US football that seems to inhabit a parallel universe. The £200 million (Dhs1.18 billion) spent by English Premier League clubs on January 31, the transfer deadline day, showed that sport, and particularly association football, does not adhere to normal economic rules or even, some might say, logic.
Banks and financial institutions have collapsed in the last few years and the aftershocks of the crisis continue to resonate. And yet somehow professional clubs flourish. It seems our appetite for sporting drama in good times or bad outweighs financial sense.