Government & Business: Referees or Coaches?

Warning: incoherent rambling about government to follow:

Let me explain how conservatives and libertarians have normally seen the relationship between government and business.  (I believe this particular analogy is an update on a debate that Hamilton and Madison had, once upon a time.)

Some people think that the government should be like the referees in a football game, and the businesses are the players.  The referees (the government) should know the rules, explain the rules, and enforce the rules.

But they shouldn’t influence the outcome of the game, who wins or who loses, unless someone has broken the rules.

Other people think that the government should be like the coaches in a football game, and the businesses the players.  The coaches (the government) picks which players get to play and how much.  They set the game plan, call the plays, set the strategy.  It’s a partnership.

I understand the attraction to the second scenario.  It’s inspiring to think of government as Bill Parcells or Bill Belichick, brilliant coaches and leaders both.  (Added points for me because Belichick is of Croatian ancestry.)  And it’s inspiring to think of businesses as Troy Aikman or Tom Brady.

So in this scenario, government will pick who gets advantages, help them choose the directions their business will go, guide them with their wisdom and brilliance, etc.

But governments are run by politicians, and politicians are corruptible. Politicians aren’t always brilliant or great leaders.  It’s  not meritocracy.

In the NFL, Bill Belichick plays Tom Brady because he knows Brady is the best player for the job.  Tom Brady doesn’t have to pay Belichick for his starting job; he’s the best QB they have.  Meritocracy.

Business and government don’t work that way.  Businesses and lobbyists donate money to politicians, buying favor for their business or industry or approach.  That’s like whoever the Patriots’ backup QB outbidding Tom Brady to be starting QB.  It’s NOT meritocracy.  It’s not even purely darwinian.

(And that’s to say nothing of how hard the economy, etc., is to predict.  People who succeed don’t understand their success.  People who fail understand even less.)

We’re better off with free markets and a government that gets out of the way, that enforces the laws we have (or improves the laws that we have without favoring one team over another).  That maximizes freedom and it provides the greatest opportunities for economic growth.

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