Fwd >> The Parable of the Referee

The principle of small government explained in an illustrative nutshell. It’s well worth the 5 minutes.

(Originally posted on April 6, 2010 by DOCTOR ZERO at HotAir.com)

I often hear people on the Left accuse the defenders of capitalism of wanting completely unregulated markets, in which helpless citizens will be stripped of all legal protection, and placed at the mercy of rapacious bankers and businessmen. This is a straw man of such towering size that Nicholas Cage can be glimpsed inside its head, holding his broken legs and howling for his agent to land him a part in a better movie.

There are other choices besides anarchy, or a regulatory State that directly controls over half of our economy. Far from opposing all regulation, I maintain that clearly written, honestly enforced, minimally intrusive laws are both just and essential for wealth creation. A nation’s wealth lies in transactions between its citizens, and the pace of those transactions would be greatly reduced if consumers had no confidence in providers. Shopping malls would be considerably less active, if the shoppers had to assume every food product was potentially poisonous, every piece of consumer electronics could explode, and all of the merchants were thieves.

Clearly written and honestly enforced regulation is not easy to come by, these days. To understand why, imagine that two football teams assemble for a game, under the supervision of a single referee.

As the first play begins, one of the players complains that the referee has made illegal movements across the field. The referee laughs and explains he cannot be bound by the same rules that constrain the players, or he wouldn’t be able to do his job properly. He must be able to move up and down the field at will, in ways that would earn penalties for the players. Common sense supports his assertion, and the game continues.

The referee begins calling all sorts of penalties, invoking rules he has created on the fly. The players object, saying the rulebook accepted at the beginning of the game should be used without alterations. The referee mocks this notion. The field has grass, but the rulebook was written for a dirt field. It’s cold outside, and there have been some snow flurries. The game will continue into the night, under electric lights. The teams include players of different sizes and fitness levels. More complex rules are needed to ensure a good game!

By the end of the first quarter, the ref announces it’s too hard for him to administer such complex rules by himself. He begins pulling players off the teams, and deputizing them as assistant referees.

Early in the second quarter, the home team begins complaining of unfair calls, made in favor of the visiting team. To their astonishment, the referees actually begin tackling home team players, intercepting passes, and running touchdowns! The chief official explains that he felt the visiting team was outmatched, and had little chance of winning on its own, so he decided to make things “fair.” The home team is particularly upset that the biased referees retain all their special advantages – they can move around the field at will, and ignore the play clock. The chief official dismisses these complaints, assuring everyone his actions will enhance the “competition.”

The spectators are initially amused by the wild spectacle of referees tackling players, but the game quickly becomes boring. The home team becomes so confused and demoralized that their players begin to leave the field.

After the final whistle, the chief official is seen collecting money from a shady character near the locker room. It turns out the official had bet heavily on the outmatched visiting team. He had a financial interest in the outcome of the game all along… and he’s the only real “winner.”

Like the referees of a football game, the government must remain completely outside the markets it regulates. Contrary to the absurd sales pitch for ObamaCare, the State cannot enter the health insurance market as a “competitor.” It shouldn’t develop interests that will sour its regulatory powers into corruption.

By its very nature, government has access to power and resources which no private enterprise can equal. It can’t work any other way. We can’t treat the military as a business enterprise, to be shut down if it doesn’t rake in sufficient profits. We must have government resources to address disasters, and most citizens would insist the government be provided with funds to care for the desperately poor and sick. Those who enforce the law must have a measure of power beyond the law: sky marshals carry guns onto airplanes, soldiers have access to heavy weapons and high explosives, government auditors can demand access to information a business would never share with its competition.

To be trusted with such power and resources, the State must practice strict adherence to a basic set of laws which constrain its behavior, and which it cannot easily disregard or change. The rulebook for the American game is her Constitution. Fidelity to those rules would produce a small State with less influence to satisfy the appetite of hyper-competitive players who wish to cheat at the game… or its own appetite for purchasing votes and imposing its ideas of “fairness.” Disdain for the Constitution has led us to the present spectacle of referees who outnumber the players, unemployed players sitting dejectedly on the sidelines, and a dwindling number of investors willing to bet on a rigged game that will be decided by the whims of the officials.

The idea of a large, and yet scrupulously honest State is fraudulent to its core. As the State expands in size, it inevitably develops interests that lead to corruption. Its power becomes so valuable that bribery is an everyday transaction, camouflaged in sanctimonious rhetoric. Taking responsibility for errors and wrongdoing will always be less attractive than dipping into the public treasury for a few billion greenbacks to paper over the damage. As industries are first taxed, then regulated, and finally nationalized, the referees begin tackling players and running touchdowns. The only honest government is small government, so if you’re sincerely opposed to political corruption, that’s what you should insist on.

1 Comment

  1. Hmm. I guess you’ve watched or heard simotheng that’s struck a chord! As a professional giver-of-facts-don’t-try-to-put-words-in-my-mouth, I of course agree with you but it’s a tough road to travel, remaining impartial and keeping control of simotheng as unpredictable as an interview. Personally, I think the only way to mitigate these problems is to either train oneself or receive training from people who know how to counter inaccurate suggestions and push things back on track if they’re being shoved in another more controversial (i.e. increased ratings) direction. The problems seem to arise when the interviewer is trying to make an issue from simotheng that really shouldn’t be an issue. The obvious way forward as the scientist is to correct and re-frame the matter it runs the risk of becoming boring viewing or listening but that’s the interviewer’s fault, not the scientist.

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