August 28, 2018 Reading Time: 4 minutes

I loved my dear father so much. A kind soul. A gentle man. Except on Sunday afternoons when the Dallas Cowboys were on television. He would sit in his recliner. Even from the kickoff, he would start yelling at the players.

“Run to the left! No, you dummy! Oh, see? He took you down because you weren’t looking.”

It happened nearly every play.

“Dumb Staubach, why are you running the ball so much? You need to pass against this defense!”

“Awww, dumb Dorsett, you did it again! You ran right into the iron defense instead of around it.”

When his team made a touchdown, he would say: “That’s the right way to do it! That’s what I’ve been saying!”

This would go on for three hours. As a child, I started to develop abiding sympathy for the players. I hoped they couldn’t hear my father yelling at them. After all, he wasn’t playing the game. He would have died after one play. Instead, he was sitting on a comfortable chair. They, on the other hand, were getting beat up, crashed into, bashed, and exhausted, all while being yelled at by fans.

What’s more, my father was only denouncing or praising them for things the players had already done. The players, on the other hand, had to make decisions about an uncertain future. They had skin in the game. He was just sitting there without having to bear any consequences at all for his lounge-chair coaching.

I sometimes wished some magical voice would appear and say, “Okay, Dr. Tucker, you are obviously very smart, to the point of high expertise. It’s 4th and 10. Please call the next play and bear total responsibility for the results.” I wonder how he would have reacted. Most likely, he would have said, “No way. That’s the coach’s job, not mine.”

Or maybe a voice would say, “hey, why don’t you try being a quarterback on the next play?”

The New Nafta

My mind raced back to those days when I saw the following report on the new trade negotiations with Mexico. Two leaders have reached an agreement on dozens if not hundreds or thousands of products — how and where they should be produced, what kinds of fees are applicable, what workers are to be paid, and so on. Here is the paragraph that struck me:

Under the changes agreed to by Mexico and the United States, car companies would be required to manufacture at least 75 percent of an automobile’s value in North America under the new rules, up from 62.5 percent, to qualify for Nafta’s zero tariffs. They will also be required to use more local steel, aluminum and auto parts, and have 40 to 45 percent of the car made by workers earning at least $16 an hour, a boon to both the United States and Canada and a win for labor unions, which have been among Nafta’s biggest critics.

Keep in mind that the people who are declaring all this aren’t making cars, or steel, or aluminum, or auto parts. They aren’t paying the workers either. They are on the sidelines, meeting in boardrooms, declaring what should be done with other people’s businesses and property. Their decisions are ultimately a power game between them, and the specific results that emerge are basically arbitrary. Why 75 percent and not 78 percent? Why $16 and not $30? Why cars? There are so many questions.

Ultimately these people are in the same position as my father watching football. But of course there is one critical difference. They are granted the power to impose their decisions. As for the voice that came down and invited them to call the plays, they obey it and then tell people what to do. They enforce their decisions at the point of a gun.

The Fan From Hell

Government here is behaving like a pathological sports fan, a person with no real skill or skin in the game who pretends to know all and is empowered to enforce the decisions. My father had the humility to know it was not his job to either play or coach; he was just doing what fans do.

It’s the same with music or book critics: they are neither singing nor writing but delighting themselves in having vast opinions about both.

Nothing wrong with that, even if it can be annoying. What’s objectionable is when such people are given the power to actually dictate the results.

Think how much government does this. This tendency touches everything in life these days. That worker is underpaid. That lightbulb uses too much energy. You can’t transfer that much money at once. That toilet tank uses too much water. That gasoline should include a healthy dose of corn in it. That milk is hereby banned because it is raw. You can’t import or sell that many things from that country.

And so on for millions and billions of items, services, actions, and words. Government presumes the right to manage everything, even though it is not actually doing the things it is demanding control over. It is not paying workers in private firms. It is not making light bulbs. It is not trying to make a profit trying to persuade consumers to buy things.

Actually, government has no money of its own. It takes its money from people who create wealth. Then it presumes that it knows better how to do things than the people from whom it extracts the wealth.

Fans will be fans. Peanut galleries will always be with us. It’s entertainment, and a major reason why we actually like sports, music, and books. Everyone is a critic. That’s all fine. But let’s not forget the profound difference between those who do and those who pretend to do, nor the difference between those whose wealth rests on creativity and human volition and those who bully others to get their way.

Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey A. Tucker served as Editorial Director for the American Institute for Economic Research from 2017 to 2021.

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