The 2008 Olympics ended with a surprise. Before the Olympics, forecasters predicted confidently that China would surpass the United States in the total medals count. Since re-entering the Olympics in 1984, Communist China had steadily advanced and come close to passing the United States in 2004. With the Olympics in Beijing, it was a sure bet that the Chinese would be on the leader stand when it came to total medals.
While they did surpass the U.S. in gold medals, the results are in: the United States garnered 110 medals, and China was second at 100. And that doesn’t take into account all the medals won by foreigners who train in the United States.
In sum, the decentralized free enterprise model of the United States won against the centrally planning government controlled model. China and many other governments spend millions, if not billions, funding their Olympic athletes, but not the United States. As Michael Jay Friedman notes, "Creative financing secured from a variety of individual, corporate and community sources underpins the U.S. Olympic effort, a feature that sets American amateur sports apart from amateur athletic programs in much of the world."
This is an important lesson for Americans. Lately we’ve been hit with a series of doomsday scenarios — a real estate bust, a financial crisis, an energy crunch, a bear market on Wall Street, a never-ending war costing trillions and massive deficit spending by a spendthrift Bush administration….and the possibility that a new Democrat will enter the White House with an explosive agenda to tax and spend on an unprecedented scale.
Yet despite all the naysayers and Cassandras, we won the Olympics! By “we” I mean Americans, not our government. I say we won despite our government.
In this regard, I’m reminded of Adam Smith’s famous remark, “There’s much ruin in a nation.” He went on to say:
“The uniform, constant, and uninterrupted effort of every man to better his condition [sounds like US Olympic athletes!]….is frequently powerful enough to maintain the natural progress of things toward improvement, in spite both of the extravagance of government, and of the greatest errors of administration.” Not surprisely, the ever optimistic Adam Smith wrote these words in a book, “The Wealth of Nations,” published in 1776 — the year of America’s independence.
America’s unique status in the world has been chronicled in the past. Several years ago, I came across a delightful book that confirms my view that America is once again on top of the world: the fifth edition (2001) of The Illustrated Book of World Rankings, edited and compiled by George Thomas Kurian. Out of some 100 positive listings, the United States received top billing in 33 categories (most are still valid.) Among them:
o Most powerful nation (based on military and economic capacity), way ahead of number 2 Russia.
o Largest gross domestic product (GDP), way ahead of number 2 Japan and number 3 Germany.
o World’s highest per capita income based on purchasing power parity, ahead of number 2 Switzerland.
o World’s biggest exporter and importer, ahead of number 2 Germany and number 3 Japan.
o World’s leader in retail sales.
o Leader in production of electricity, timber, and milk.
o Number 1 in airline travel, passenger cars, and commercial vehicles.
o Primary country of destination based on tourist expenditures.
o Number 1 in mail, telephones, faxes, and e-mail addresses.
o Tops in number of scientists and engineers, patents in force, and Nobel Prize winners (three times more than number 2 United Kingdom).
o Number 1 in televisions and radios per capita, number of movie theaters, museums, botanical gardens, and zoos. (India produces more films per year, but the United States dominates in movie revenues.)
Lest you think America can do no wrong, the United States is also ranked number 1 in several negative categories: teen pregnancies, divorce rate (among industrial nations), sulfur and carbon emissions and nuclear wastes, AIDS cases, and number of prisoners. However, it is way down the list in several crime statistics.
Overall, I think America can be proud of winning the 2008 Olympics. Freedom wins!