Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Sport and Democracy

It is easy to confuse the coexistence with causation.

In his SMH column last Saturday Michael Duffy advanced the view that investing in sports and sports infrastucture might help develop democratic institutions in the nation states now struggling - notably in the Pacific.

Duffy points to the high correlation between participation in team sports and thriving democracies. He considers for a moment that both might have a common cause in the British Empire, but then identifies European democracies with the same feature.

There is a sense in which Duffy is right. In most team sports people volunarily "play by the rules", which is ultimately what you need to make democracy work. You need the (up to) 49% of people who didn't win to respect the decision, largely get on with life, protest occassionally and plan for the next occassion (or at least some of them). You don't need them rioting.

But it is my contention that both behaviours are ultimately driven by a value, one that is sometimes called the Golden Rule (also known as the principle of reciprocity) that says treat others as you would like to be treated. This rule is actually essential to get economies/societies to develop the "rule of law" seen as a precondition to the operation of capitalism. Yet your average "economic libertarian" will sign up to the "objectivist" ethos espoused by Ayn Rand that an individual should only act in the individual's own interest.

To make these states thrive they need to first be able to consistently meet the economic needs of their people. The creation of individual rather than collective rights in land may be an essential, though unpalatable, solution.

But also let us not forget that the trigger point in the Solomons was an accusation of corruption. As Wolfgang Kasper discusses in his January paper for CIS corruption is at the core of much misery in the developing world. One of the greatest outrages in the whole sorry tale of AWB has been the near universal "nod and wink" in Australia that paying bribes is OK to make exports happen. They never are, they should be outlawed.

The fight against corruption is far more important than developing sports - and we can begin at home.

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