Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Arms Control for Sports 

Ben McGrath unleashes his wrath at Congress for scheduling the steroids hearing on Saint Patrick's Day.

The great thing about Congressional hearings is how effectively they disabuse us of the notion that politicians can be divided into two classes, and that one of those classes is made up of good ones. The only good to come from watching the committee abuse those who played in our national pastime was the certain knowledge that for once the scoundrels were not engaged in their preferred pastimes of plunder and destruction.

It would be a shame, however, if the taint of politics poisoned public discussion of steroids. Let us grant that this really isn't the proper business of Congress, that the government's war on drugs is a colossal failure and that reasonable adults should be free to pick their poisons. These libertarian arguments are almost as persuasive as they are irrelevant to the topic of steroids in sports. I might be willing to accept the right of every ordinary citizen of the Republic to steroids but I'd still deny them to professional athletes.

The argument that individuals shouldn't have their liberty restricted by public judgment about steroids is simply unavailable to ballplayers. Sports are rife with rules intended to prevent players from gaining certain sorts of advantages over others. Pitchers cannot grease the baseball; batters may not cork their bats. Steroid use is similarly about gaining a comparative advantage over other players.

Why have these rules at all? The reason is that we don't want our professional sports to deteriorate into arms-races of various sorts--contests between the best baseball greasers, bat-corkers and steroid users. Since the name of the game in steroids is comparative advantage, as use becomes more common, more players will tend to use more steroids. An individuals choice about whether to use steroids gets annihilated in the competitive pressure to keep up or get run over. The ban on steroids is simply arms-control for sports.

Attempting to resolve every public dilemma through individual choice is simply a lazy habit of mind.

[Lots more from Steve Sailer on the subject in his sports archives.]