The Tallahassee Democrat prints JMI President Bob McClure’s opinion editorial “We Can Learn from Olympics”.Text of Editorial
Imagine what would have happened at the 2012 London Olympics if Michael Phelps’ opponents had been given a head start in the pool. Or if the U.S. women’s soccer team had been forced to play on a tilted field where all its kicks traveled uphill. Or if the American archery team had been required to hit the target from a longer distance than its opponents.It’s safe to say NBC wouldn’t be attracting millions of viewers — and that an awful lot of Americans would be crying, “Unfair!” (With good reason.)What’s more, I doubt American attitudes would be significantly different if the roles were reversed and U.S. athletes were the ones getting the head starts or the downhill rolls or the closer targets. We love watching the Olympics because athletic competitions reward merit. They honor excellence. They exalt those who distinguish themselves as the best.Now, I mention all of this because I think Americans need to see that our economic life is — or ought to be — a lot like sports. We should all play by the same rules, desiring equality in one sense yet despising it in another sense. As George Allen writes in his book “What Washington Can Learn from the World of Sports,” “In sports, equality of outcome — a tie — is something to avoid. But having ‘a level playing field’ is an essential part of the game.”Yet, Allen says that Washington often gets this exactly backward. “When folks in Washington talk about ‘equality,’ they’re not usually talking about a ‘level playing field,’ they’re talking about trying to rig the game for a contrived outcome or a result,” he writes. “In their manipulative, pity-the-poor-loser, let’s-give-everyone-a-participation-trophy way of thinking, many in Washington think that our society’s ultimate goal should be to have the federal government redistribute resources ‘from each according to his ability to each according to his need.’ ”Not only does this sort of thinking run contrary to the Olympic ideal, but it actually has the effect of discouraging the pursuit of excellence. Human nature being what it is, Allen says, “people will not strive as long, work as hard, study as diligently, innovate as readily, risk as freely, care as passionately, sacrifice as willingly, or produce as much if they know that, in the end, the fruits or rewards or honors or acclaim will be redistributed evenly to others.”In addition to discouraging economic excellence by taking disproportionately from the successful, Washington increasingly intervenes in the marketplace to play favorites.Rather than viewing the role of government as like that of an impartial referee, some in Washington model their behavior after that French judge in the 2002 Winter Olympics who fixed scores so that a Russian ice skating pair would win the gold medal over a clearly superior Canadian couple.Just as that French judge had entered into a dirty deal with the Russians, some in Washington routinely bestow special favors on their campaign contributors (rather than expecting these contributors to compete in the free market with everyone else). As a result, companies like Solyndra end up costing America’s taxpayers billions of dollars in outrageous bailouts.Clearly, it’s time for this sort of “crony capitalism” to stop — as both the Tea Party movement and the Occupy movement understand. But the antidote to crony capitalism is not socialism (as some in the Occupy movement seem to think). For socialism is like asking American swimmer Missy Franklin to give up her hard-earned Olympic gold medals so that they can be evenly divided among all the competitors in the pool.No, the antidote to crony capitalism is free-market capitalism backed by a government that expects all competitors to play by the same rules. For much like Olympic competition, free-market capitalism rewards excellence. It fosters achievement and incredible breakthroughs. And it bestows honor upon those who succeed through hard work and ingenuity, the Olympic ideal, rather than by having political friends in high places.