Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff 40

Mercy and Evasion
Recently, the Yates High School boys basketball team put a whooping on the Lee High School team by a score of 170 to 35. Since then, many have complained that the game should have been stopped at halftime to spare the Lee team additional humiliation. Indeed, last week a Chronicle editorial called for a "mercy rule":
Let's have a serious, inclusive discussion about instituting a mercy rule in high school basketball so that travesties such as this one can be stopped before they become outright embarrassments....

But, please, let's stop the totally unnecessary embarrassment that now rains down on the hapless losers. This was never what high school sports was supposed to be all about.

I have a lot of problems with this. An athletic contest is a competition in which each participant strives to perform his best under objective and uniform rules. If one team is vastly superior to another, then the outcome will and should reflect that fact. "Mercy rules", like all forms of mercy, are intended to evade the facts.

I feel for the Lee team. They obviously were no match for Yates. But why pretend otherwise? The fact is, some teams are better than others. Some individuals have more talent than others. Some work harder to develop their talent than others. And they should not have arbitrary restrictions placed on the exhibition of that talent.

Consider the lesson that "mercy rules" teach. If you are in a competition, we will make sure that you don't get beaten too badly, because that might hurt your feelings. That might not seem like a big deal in a basketball game. But apply the same principle to other realms of life, and the consequences are much more destructive.

For example, a "mercy rule" for grades would prevent the smarter, harder working student from getting test scores that might embarrass his classmates. A "mercy rule" for employees would prohibit one worker from getting a higher salary because that might make his colleagues feel bad. Such "mercy rules" would destroy ambition and punish the talented and successful.

The EPA's Moving Target
Last week the EPA announced tighter limits on ozone pollution that will impact 25 counties in Texas, including Houston. This announcement comes just as the city has met federal standards for the first time.

The EPA justifies its continually changing mandates as necessary as scientists learn more about the effects of pollution. According to the Chronicle:
Federal law prohibits the EPA from considering cost when setting air standards. It has estimated the price tag of the new program at $19 billion to $90 billion per year by 2020, depending on the standard it sets, but also said the expense could be offset by reduced health care costs.
In the midst of a recession, the federal government is going to impose more costs on individuals and businesses. Given that government officials seem to be genetically programmed to underestimate the cost and overestimate the benefits of any program, the actual costs will likely be much higher. Nor do they include the diminished quality of life that will result from more controls on producers.

The Benefits of Theft
There seems to be no shortage of people who think that they know how to spend my money better than I do. Take for instance, South Texas Chisme:
Dollars spent on infrastructure are leverage dollars. You get a benefit greater than the money spent.
Unless I am very much mistaken, Mr. Chisme does not know me, so he really has no clue as to what I spend on infrastructure, nor does he know what benefits I receive from that money. Yet, he believes that the government should take my money, because he believes that the benefits justify stealing from the citizenry. And if we really accept Mr. Chisme's premise, then government should take all of our money, so that we can have all kinds of spiffy infrastructure.

Virtually anything can, and has been, "justified" on these grounds. The wholesale slaughter of millions under communist dictators has been perpetrated on the premise that the alleged benefits make such actions necessary. Ditto for the Nazis and Islamic Fascists.

Mr. Chisme may object to be categorized with mass murderers. But the moment he claims that he has a right to use government coercion to impose his values on me, he has become their partner in crime.


Steve D said...

I agree with your comment that "Mercy rules" are intended to evade the facts but I wonder how sucessful this attempt can possibly be. After all, I am not sure being beaten 170-35 is any more embarrassing than having the "Mercy rule" invoked on your behalf.

I'm sure there would develop quite a stigma attached to this rule. Rather than being just loser you would be a loser and a quiter!

(eventually reality catches up no matter how hard you try to evade it.)

A better solution is to have a number of leagues based on level of ability and then develop a set of rules to determine where to place each team. This would make the competitions more even and enjoyable for both teams and fans and would reduce the number of boring blow outs that occur.

Brian Phillips said...

Evasion may "work" in the short term, but reality will have the final say so.

There are a number of ways to address differences in skill levels, but punishing the talented is not one of them.