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Citizen's View: Competition in the land of opportunity

Ah, the noble fight. The well-deserved victory. Give praise to competitors and the competitive spirit! How could America and the free-market system have thrived if rivalry had been reined in by regulations and rules?

As an example of achievement, let’s look at the most American of sports, football, and in particular the NFL, the most successful sports franchise in the world. No one doubts that the teams of the league are highly competitive. The games are exciting. The desire among the players to win is intense. And the franchise makes tons and tons of money. About as capitalist as can be, right?

Actually, what makes the NFL so successful is that the profits of the NFL are distributed according to the rules of socialism — that is, evenly: the losing teams make as much money as the winning teams.

“Foul!” you might cry. “Outrage!” “Un-American!” And you’d be right. The way the NFL works is un-American. How could anyone think that rewarding the losers would do anything but make them lazier and more dependent?

In fact, it does just the opposite, and here’s how. Since every team receives the same amount of money, every team has a more or less equal chance of getting good players, and therefore a more or less equal chance of having a good team and making it to the playoffs. Of the 32 NFL teams, all but 4 have played in the Super Bowl during its 49-year existence. Because the teams are more or less equal, competition is stiff and games are more exciting than if one or two teams took most of the profits, bought the best players and won all the games.

Strong rules work. In football, boundaries are clearly defined. The number of players allowed in the game at any one time is fixed. Play lasts for a predetermined duration. Actions by players are restricted, and the rules governing those restrictions are enforced by referees who have the authority not only to penalize the entire team for an individual’s violations, but also to kick the player out of the game.

Imagine football without rules. Chaos. A coach could put more players onto the field to overpower an opponent. Players could run outside the lines. Contact between players, which already leads to fisticuffs, would escalate to unchecked mayhem. In effect, there’d be no game.

Now, think of an economy with few rules, or weak rules — an economy in which referees are powerless to enforce the rules that do exist. What might such an economy look like?

As you might expect, there’d be gross inequalities in power and wealth. The big shots would run roughshod over the majority. The largest competitors (the multi-nationals) would ask Congress to eliminate rules that restricted their ability to take advantage of uncompetitive and powerless taxpayers. The most competitive individuals (CEOs) would demand extraordinarily large salaries, thereby depriving their employees of a livable wage. High-income individuals would fight increases in taxes that are so essential in supporting the indigent and unemployed, who are so essential in keeping the whole system competitive and therefore healthy.

Some say that taxes on high incomes punish success. And yet, when high incomes are not aggressively taxed, the super-wealthy monopolize the game and soon the land of opportunity ceases to exist.

Peter Wright is a resident of Lake Oswego.

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