Saturday, April 26, 2014

What Basketball Strategy Can Tell Us About the Growth of Government

I believe there is a fundamental flaw in the U.S. Constitution and federal government structure. As foresightful as the founders were, they failed to appreciate the tenacity and momentum of government's reach for power. Allow me to illustrate with an analogy:

Some time ago basketball coaches realized there was a strategy they could employ to give them a systematic edge over opponents. What they realized was that while physical contact to gain an advantage over the opponent is generally prohibited in basketball, not all fouls as such were called. What's more, the referees exhibited reluctance to call fouls beyond a certain threshold. So a game with 100 fouls in it would only result in perhaps 40 fouls being called (40%) whereas a game with 50 fouls in it might result in as many as 30 fouls being called (60%). Therefore, a team that was naturally more aggressive would have an advantage as aggression escalated--sure they'd be called for fouls more often, but they would also get away with more fouls and they would create a more disruptive environment more suited to their style of play. To take the strategy further these aggressive teams would be built to accommodate the more aggressive style having athletes with more strength than finesse. As a result the officiating landscape of college basketball shifted to the favor of the aggressive teams. Because this was an emergent and unforeseen development, it can be said the rulemakers in basketball failed to appreciate the risk of this.

Similarly, the founders failed to appreciate how more and more government would overrun the checks and balances system created to prevent undesired government growth. Ultimately it is the role of the Supreme Court to prevent government behavior that is prohibited by the spirit or letter of the Constitution. And generally the hallmark cases brought to and decisions made by the court have been to limit government encroachment of freedom. But as the landscape of legislative spending and action and executive regulatory zeal has developed in favor of more not less, liberty has given ground. To wit, when we are debating if Obamacare imposes a fee or a tax, we have already lost.

The implications of this are sobering. We cannot depend on the Supreme Court to undo that which we as a society have evolved to allow--that is, a belief that government rightly and pragmatically provides solutions. Reversing the tide of government growth requires both changing our understanding of the role of government as well as recognizing that stronger impediments to government growth are needed.

Cross posted at

PS. This topic dovetails with the highly recommended recent Econtalk with Steven Teles discussing the "Kludgeocracy".