Golf and Governance
Golf is simplicity itself. All that it consists of is the face of the golf club smacking a little white golf ball in order to send it flying down the fairway toward the green.
That’s it. Except that the angle of the impact of the golf club will determine the direction of the golf ball as well as the spin of the ball. The speed and power of the club will affect the rate of spin. Aerodynamic forces of the air over the spinning ball will determine if the ball is lifted higher in the air (good) or turns sharply to the right (a slice – bad) or to the left (a hook – bad). The speed, power and angle of the golf club is determined by the golfer’s posture, the golfer’s grip on the club, the angle of the back swing, the angle of the swing, the movement of the feet, the movement of the hips and the follow through.
The golfer’s ability to control all these factors is determined by the overall health and physical abilities of the golfer, the amount of time dedicated to practice in order to create muscle memory and the mental attitude of the golfer at the time of play. So, in order to play golf well, one needs to take into account the physics of hitting the ball, the physics of the weather conditions, the topography of the land and the chemistry of the human playing the game.
Most professional golfers will tell you that the mental aspects of the game are the most important in winning tournaments. The golfer that is confident in his (or her) physical abilities and his ability to properly hit the ball will prevail over an opponent wracked with self-doubt. I can attest to the importance of psychology in playing the game. On the driving range my balls are usually well struck and fairly straight. On the course, my game is completely different. I mishit balls, shank balls and slice all over the place. The eleventh hole at my local golf course is a downhill par three that should be an easy seven iron (my favorite club). But, invariably, I pull it left and lose balls out-of-bounds all the time. I know it is in my head but can’t seem to fix it.
It seems to me that golf is a lot like governance. Good governance is pretty straightforward. In America, the goals of good governance are laid out in the Preamble and the basic rules of the game laid out in the Constitution. Of course, the rules of golf take 99 pages while my handy pocket Constitution needs only 10 pages (the Racing Rules of Sailing – my previous sport – needs 185 pages).
And while conceptually both golf and governance are straightforward and understandable, the application of both is extremely complex. In the case of golf, even though the physical sciences dominate the flight of the ball, human frailty limits the golfer’s ability to control those forces. In the case of governance, it is our humanity that dominates.
Although Newtonian physics controls the flight of the golf ball, it is the psychology of human beings that determines the trajectory of government. It was Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist who won the Nobel Prize for Economics, who asserted that humans do not always make rational economic choices. Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor at NYU, asserted that a similar lack of rationality pervades our political decision making.
Even though the Founders lacked access to the research of Professors Kahneman and Haidt (and others) they came up with a pretty good system of governance. Fearing the power of a strong authoritarian government, and cognizant of human frailty and the lust for power, they built in checks and balances to keep government from amassing too much power.
And just as golfers are never satisfied and are constantly trying to improve their game with professional instruction, new equipment and practice; our system of governance has improved over time. We have extended the voting franchise to more and more people, we have ended slavery and Jim Crow Laws, we have made discrimination of the basis of race, gender and many other factors illegal.
All the psychological forces of our citizens have led us and our system of governance to where we are now. Many people don’t like where we are right now despite all the progress we have made. Just like golfers. But just like golfers there are many things we can do to improve our performance. In order for golfers to improve, they must analyze (or have an expert analyze) what is the cause of their problem so that they can fix the problem. The hope is that by fixing a particular problem they can come closer to achieving the outcome they prefer. But because the circumstances keep changing, it is a never-ending process.
We, also, need to be constantly improving our system of governance. One obvious way we do that is through elections. We have also amended the Constitution from time to time when a broad consensus of the people supports a certain issue. And while golfers have their own psychological quirks and physical limitations, government has regulations and procedures inserted by particular interests that interfere with good governance. Like a golfer eliminating a twitch that causes the golf ball to go awry, we need to do more to eliminate the capture of government processes by individuals and groups such as corporations and unions that causes governance to go awry.
Of course, golfers have a handicap system to level the playing field so that players of differing abilities can play more or less evenly. And our system of governance also tries to level the playing field (that being the essence of the social contract) by providing public education, retirement security and other benefits. We need to do a better job of leveling the playing field. But the purpose of the playing field is to play, or in this case, to go out and work hard to achieve your own unique American Dream. There is not a golfer out there that doesn’t try to lower their handicap and won’t stop trying to become a scratch golfer. And in the end, it is the golfer that plays to the best of his or her ability that will win the day.
The socialists and social democrats campaigning for office in the upcoming election do not want to modify how we implement the rules of the game, they want to play a different game. It is a game created by Karl Marx. And it is not actually a game. There is no competition. There is no striving to improve your performance. Only orders from above.
You may not be a golfer. You may not compete in any sport. Maybe you only sit on your couch and play video games. But you want to win. Even if you are only playing against the computer. Winning makes you feel good. Golfers practice out on the driving range. Softballers play catch in order to improve their game. Gamers play and replay until they can reach the next level. This is an inherent property of our human nature.
But there is no opportunity for self-improvement in socialism. Your role is only to work as ordered by the state and produce goods and services for others (also known as “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”). The state only considers your material needs. It cannot know your inner thoughts and desires. But under socialism, the state determines your profession. The state determines when and where you work. And it gives you a quota that you must fulfill. Your ambition to improve your life and achieve your dreams is sacrificed to the needs of the state. Why, you might ask, would anyone want to live in such a centrally planned socialist economy as so many of our young appear to favor?
In his latest book, Jonathan Haidt (along with Greg Lukianoff) states that the current generation of college students (he calls them iGen because of their addiction to social media) were over-protected as children such that they have not matured properly and suffer from a condition of safetyism where even words or thoughts can be considered physically dangerous. This need for safety has been abetted by college administrators (creating safe zones, trigger warnings and cancelling speakers talking about dangerous ideas) to the extent that they are creating psychological responses in students that are similar to (if not symptoms of) mental illness. It may be this culture of safetyism that has caused young people to reject free markets (that require a level of risk taking) in favor of the safety of a planned economy. In other words, they are willing to sacrifice liberty for safety which, as foreseen by Ben Franklin, will result in them not having liberty or safety.
In the free market economic system, there are many millions of economic decision makers. If you shank a work project or slice an important job interview, it may have a major impact on your life, but it will have an insignificant impact on the economy as a whole. But if an apparatchik in a centrally planned economy shanks or slices something, the impact will affect many millions. The dismal economic record of socialist economies, plus ever-present secret police, reeducation gulags and the death of millions, proves the unfitness of this ideology.
There was no golf in the Soviet Union.