All the world is a game…

Perhaps one of the best metaphors for the free-market and good governance is that of team sports. I recently came upon this revelation as I was watching my eldest son’s soccer team playing. Two teams on the pitch are a microcosm for society. Markets are represented by the presence of both competition (between teams) and cooperation (within teams). Any player not acting in the best interests of the team is rapidly replaced so that the efforts of the team are not affected. Governance is represented by the presence of simple rules understood by all and which are enforced through the mutual consent of all via the arbiter of said rules (the referee). All players are governed by these rules and any transgression results in an equivalent punishment (equal protection) for all. However not all players are equal in skill. Even on this elite team there is a bell-curve distribution of natural skill and earned abilities. On an elite (non-rec) non-professional team ability is rewarded with that which is most sought by these young players: playing time. In other words, playing time is the currency that all seek to maximize.

Two teams on the pitch are a microcosm for society.

Let us now test proposed policies on our model to see the outcome. To test “minimum wage laws” we will propose a minimum playing time rule whereby a coach is not required to play an individual but if he does they must play a minimum amount. What effect would this have? The weakest players (those this rule was trying to help) would never be played because the team could not “afford” to have such a weak player on the field for that long. All other players would then have greater playing time (same time but fewer players).

Now test income redistribution in the name of “fairness”: Let us propose a “player equalization” (aka “maximum skill”) rule. Since we can’t “take” skill away we will artificially limit skill to a maximum level by using weights, elastic restraints, etc. What effect would this have? Would it make the less skilled players better players? No. It would slow the game down thus making it less productive (fewer goals per game). It would also decrease any incentive a player has to improve his skill set beyond the maximum mandated level.

Now, onto governance: Let us propose that the referee be granted absolute authority to conjure up any new rule he desires and enforce it in any way he desires (remember the referee embodies all branches of government) which is what we see today with lawmakers completely ignoring the constraints on power found in the Constitution. The referee could write up hundreds of new rules. Rules as arcane as “players may only wear green socks” are strictly enforced even though they have absolutely no relevance to the game. The referee feels he knows best because green socks will cut down on grass stains therefore he feels it is in everyone’s interest that this rule be enforced for the “good of all.” A rule of “all players must pay the referee” whatever sum the referee deems necessary would not be far behind (remember he has absolute authority on the field in ALL matters). Anyone who questions the magnitude of said fee would be targeted with the straw man argument of “you do not value the service I perform” even though it is not the service being performed but the size of the fee being demanded that is questioned (i.e. “fair share” is whatever I say it is).

If an issue can be sufficiently abstracted such that it can be applied to this “team” model and the outcome is obvious at the team level then it logically follows that the same result will occur in the larger sphere of society from which it was abstracted. People are people and incentives will be followed no matter the scale.