Are the Olympics fair?


Kurt Bouwhuis, Mackinac Center Intern

After watching the Olympics, I was blown away by the performances of the athletes from around the world. World records were broken and individual athletes brought home multiple medals.

I do, however, feel that in the presence of all these accomplishments, we may be overlooking something. What about all the countries that brought home only a few medals. Is it fair that some countries win so many medals, while others win so few? What are these successful countries going to do with all the medals? Why not allocate the medals to those who won less? Can you imagine being a country that received the least amount of medals?

Maybe these “less fortunate” countries did not have equal opportunities with other countries. What if some spoiled American child had their rich parents pay large sums of money to make them a great athlete? What if some countries tend to have taller or stronger citizens than others? Is this really fair to those countries that are less fortunate?

Before we change the rules of the Olympics, we might want to examine what makes these athletes so great. There are certainly many factors involved, but the largest factor is undoubtedly competition. Competition is what offers incentives for athletes to continually improve.

Ever since the Olympic athlete was a child, they had to compete to win. If the athlete lost their competition, they had train and work hard to improve for the next competition. Their competitors constantly improve, which means that an Olympic athlete must improve more that any other individual in the nation.

What would the Olympics be like if their were an entity that could allocate unfair advantages to those who complained the most? In this example, we will call the entity “government.” In track, for example, the government could subsidize a country’s time by 3 seconds to give them an “equal” chance at a gold medal. The more the countries complain, the more advantages they obtain. This leaves an athlete with two ways of being the best: practicing or complaining (competition vs. rent seeking).

Which of the two will generate better results? I can’t say for sure, but I can make an educated guess. If you complain, you are either artificially dragging other competitors down to make yourself “improve”, or artificially making yourself better to make the others appear worse. If you practice, however, you are actually making yourself better. My prediction is that a system of practicing would outperform a system of complaining.

When looking at a country’s economy, I see no difference. Just imagine if government were not involved in the economy. There would be no way businesses could seek unfair advantages. Instead of having businesses that are artificially the best, you would have businesses that actually are the best.

The same would be true with individual wealth. Those who have a lot of money would not have their money taken (taxed) away because there are others who did not have an equal opportunity. If an individual succeeds (whether it be winning eight gold medals, or having a net worth of $40 billion), they should be able to keep what they have earned.

I’ll leave the decision up to you for the next Olympics. Should we advocate of system of practice (competition) or complaining (rent seeking)?

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