Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Reformers Want to Save Regulated Capitalists, Not Destroy Them

A Lesson in Regulation from Sports, Theodore Roosevelt and the Power of Rules

Saving Capitalism in Spite of Conservatives

The genius of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal was that in introducing regulation to economic activity Mr. Roosevelt helped saved capitalism.  Left unregulated, capitalism evolves into something like a football game without referees or rules, a bloody battle that results in a short term victory for the few strong players, and ultimate losses for everyone when the game is banned.

This analogy is brought to mind with the review of a new book about football, and the role of Franklin’s cousin Theodore in saving the sport from being banned.  The book is

How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football
By John J. Miller
Illustrated. 258 pp. Harper/HarperCollins Publishers. $25.99.

Football Then

Football in  its early incarnation was a dangerous, and frequent fatal activity.  In the early 1900’s a battle took place over whether or not to reform the game, or ban it altogether

Roosevelt’s protracted feud over football with the president of Harvard, Charles Eliot, reveals the fundamental split in opinion that existed among America’s elites at the time. Eliot transformed Harvard into a pre-eminent research university but disliked competitive sports, and his distaste for football in particular led him to call for the suspension of intercollegiate play.

The issue was ultimately resolved when Roosevelt

Football Now

convened a White House summit with football’s leading coaches and thinkers; even Elihu Root, the secretary of state, attended. Miller argues that this was the moment when Roosevelt put his stamp on the sport by imploring the men to crack down on dirty play and reform the way the game was coached. With Roosevelt’s encouragement, Miller says, a series of rules changes was set in motion — among them, increasing the number of referees and strengthening penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct — that ultimately quieted the critics enough to allow the colleges to play on.

The conclusion that the book review comes to

As Roosevelt demonstrated, it is possible to love football, but still want to reform it for its own good.

is applicable today. If one would substitute the words “America and its economic system” for football in the above quote one would get the statement

“As Roosevelt (in this case, Franklin) demonstrated, it is possible to love America and its economic system, but still want to reform it for its own good.”

which neatly sums up what much of the current economic and political battle is all about and what radical Conservatives just don't understand.

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