The gold-medal winning, U.S. women’s 4 x 100-meter relay team members celebrate with an American flag, after winning in world record time at the London Olympics.
I always consider the Olympics an enjoyable diversion from the spectacle of professional sports (football, baseball, basketball, tennis, golf, etc.) and an opportunity to witness the amazing feats of athletes in non-traditional games such as gymnastics, swimming and diving, rowing, fencing, horse-back riding, shooting and especially track & field (my favorite).
But the Olympics also offer proof about how to develop a nation’s athletes to represent their country as successful competitors at international sporting events. I believe the results from the London Oympics show the best formula for success. Do you think it is a government-oriented, centrally planned model or a free enterprise, decentralized model? I watched the country rankings with baited breath to see which nation was leading in the medals count at the end of the day. The question on the minds of many Americans and others from around the world was which nation would win the most medals: state-run China or America and its privately financed team?
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Communists beat the Free World almost every Olympics, supporting the 1960s threat by the late Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev that “we will bury you.” The Soviets devoted an inordinate amount of human and capital resources to achieve their goal. But after 1992, the United States regained its status as the world’s most dominant country in the Olympics.
Communist China had the home-field advantage in the 2008 games and earned the most gold medals, even though the United States won the most total medals.
At the London Olympics that ended last Sunday, Aug. 12, democracy was back on top. After the first week of games, China had a slight lead over the United States in gold and total medals. By the end of the games, however, the United States prevailed by winning 46 gold medals vs. 38 for China. In the overall medals count, the United States garnered 104 vs. 87 for China.
Don’t forget that many international competitors who won medals trained in the United States. The United Kingdom’s Mo Farah comes to mind. He and American Galen Rupp trained in Portland at the private Nike Oregon Project under Coach Alberto Salazar. Farah won the gold medal in both the 5,000 and 10,000 meter races, while Rupp won the silver medal in the10,000 meter race when he finished just behind his training partner Farah.
Unlike other national Olympic committees, the United States Olympic Committee is a non-profit organization that relies on private contributions and corporate sponsorships for its funding. This fundraising approach does not mean that the United States is completely private in its Olympic efforts. Many athletes train at state-run universities and public high schools, which receive hefty government funding.
Don’t forget Title IX legislation, which may be responsible for so many female athletes winning medals this year (women won two-thirds of the U.S. gold medals). Of course, Title IX also had unintended consequences. One could argue that U.S. men did worse because Title IX forced many men’s sports programs to be discontinued to meet the legislation’s requirements.
Even so, there is much private sector involvement in athletic prowess on the college level. For example, college football (largely funded by private sources such as TV contracts and ticket sales) is one big reason why our athletes are so successful. It brings in almost all of the revenue for collegiate sports programs. Overall though, there is a much more independent approach to the U.S. efforts. And, it is far better for the athletes themselves. One Chinese athlete I read about had been home for just 17 days since 1996.
The Unite States has provided real leadership when it comes to financing the Olympics, starting with the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Olympics were the first to be funded entirely by private sponsorships and contracts. The London Olympic organizers could have learned from their U.S. counterparts about how to sell tickets to keep the stands filled with appreciative spectators. In the United States, we’ve largely solved the scalper problem with the creation of standardized private secondary markets via Stubhub and Ticketmaster. However, the British adopted the medieval approach of making scalping illegal. The Bobbies cracked down on scalpers and even jailed individuals who tried to sell (or buy) tickets. Is it any wonder many events took place in front of empty seats?
America’s melting pot of citizen-athletes was apparent for everyone to see at the London Olympics. A diversified, open-to-all, laissez-faire policy works wonders and sends a message loud and clear to the world: Democratic capitalism works!
You Blew It: Better lyrics for John Lennon’s “Imagine”
John Lennon’s famous song “Imagine” was sung during the closing ceremony at the London Olympics. I found it ironic how everyone joined in, merrily singing the lines: “Imagine there’s no countries…” when without country vs. country competition, there would be no Olympics!
The music is beautiful, but the words are a tribute to secular humanism and socialist materialism. The lyrics’ attack on faith (“no religion”) and capitalism (“no possessions”) reflects a failure to recognize the great benefits of sound religious institutions and the value of private property in an economy. Without traditional Judeo-Christian values and proper economic incentives, we would head down a “road to serfdom,” as Friedrich Hayek warned.
At FreedomFest 2009, we invited a Beatles impersonator band to perform at our Saturday night banquet. The band played “Imagine” but we changed the lyrics to a more libertarian theme:
Imagine there’s no taxation,
It’s easy if you try
No IRS below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living to be free.
We all sang along and it was great. Even the band loved it.
Yours for peace, prosperity, and liberty, AEIOU,
One of the Top 20 Most Influential Living Economists
Mark Skousen recently was named one of the top 20 most influential living economists (www.superscholar.org). Since 1980, he has been the editor of the award-winning investment newsletter, Forecasts & Strategies (www.markskousen.com). He is also the producer of FreedomFest, the world’s largest gathering of free minds (www.freedomfest.com).
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