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October 11, 2007
The liberal mentality revealed
Gregg Easterbrook is the liberal author and commentator who writes the popular Tuesday Morning Quarterback ("TMQ") column on ESPN.com. Easterbrook's liberal credentials are impeccable: He is a contributing editor to The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Washington Monthly, and a resident scholar at the Brookings Institute.
Easterbrook is an entertaining and insightful football analyst. I enjoy reading his weekly columns. Like too many ESPN writers, however, he insists on inserting his personal political beliefs into his sports commentaries. Always from a left-wing perspective.
In his TMQ columns, Easterbrook regularly bemoans what he sees as "economic inequality" and the "ever-widening gap between rich and poor" in this country. Like all liberals, Easterbrook believes that it is fundamentally unjust that some people should have more money than others, regardless of differences in ability, effort, luck, or any other non-discriminatory factor. Indeed, for liberals like Easterbrook, human differences are, by definition, discriminatory. At least when it comes to wealth.
Perhaps the clearest example of Easterbrook's thinking on this subject is found in his latest column, in which he criticizes state-run lotteries. Granted, Easterbrook makes some good points. He notes, for example, that most of the money received by lotteries goes to prizes and "administrative expenses," not to support public education, which is their alleged purpose. He also argues, and I agree, that most of the people who play lotteries would be better off if they spent their money on other needs.
Yet I would not go so far as to assert, as Easterbrook does, that "for the average person, gambling only brings sorrow." On the contrary, for most people, gambling is a form of entertainment, no different in principle than going to a football game. After all, people can fritter away their hard-earned money on all sorts of things that cost a heck of a lot more than $5 scratch-off tickets. Easterbrook's disdainful and paternalistic attitude towards gambling reveals little more than his own lack of interest in playing games of chance for money.
The most important reason Easterbrook dislikes lotteries, however, is because they make some people very rich, while the vast majority of lottery players win nothing at all. As Easterbrook writes:
Amazing, isn't it? This is the liberal mentality boiled down to its essence. Winners win "at the expense" of those who lose. In other words, lotteries, like the economy, indeed life itself, is a zero sum game in which the success of some people can only be obtained by the failure of others. Despite the fact that every person who plays the lottery does so voluntarily, despite the fact that every lottery player has the same chance of winning the jackpot, despite the fact that no lottery player is made worse off because someone else wins -- Easterbrook darkly hints that those who win the lottery somehow are exploiting those who don't.
I'm surprised Easterbrook didn't complain that wealthier people are able to buy more lottery tickets than poorer people. Except he knows that most people who play, and win, lotteries are not particularly well off. He also knows that buying numerous lottery tickets has a statistically meaningless effect on one's chances of winning. If anyone is exploiting the predominantly working class people who play lotteries, it is the government -- but, being a liberal, Easterbrook refuses to acknowledge that the state can do any wrong.
Easterbrook's zero-sum mentality leads, ineluctably, to the defining feature of collectivists (which includes modern liberals) throughout history: the leveling impulse. Hence, Easterbrook writes that lottery winners receive "far more money than they could ever possibly need." What does this mean? Quite simply, it means that these people win more money than Gregg Easterbrook thinks they should be allowed to have. There is no other standard or principle by which this statement makes sense.
When Easterbrook further states that there are some people in our country who are "much too wealthy" (who? Bill Gates? Oprah Winfrey? Barbra Streisand? Senator Rockefeller?), it is clear that if Easterbrook had his way, he would impose -- through the legal and coercive powers of the government -- a wealth ceiling, above which no person would be allowed to go. I'm quite confident, of course, that this ceiling would be set higher than his own present and foreseeable income levels! But even if Easterbrook were prepared to sacrifice his own wealth for the sake of some distorted vision of the public interest, this would never give him the right to require others to sacrifice their wealth for that same vision. Yet this is precisely what liberals like Easterbrook, and their political benefactors in the Democratic Party, seek to do.
Interestingly, Easterbrook appears to apply an entirely different set of standards to professional sports. Sure, he frequently complains in his columns about the "rich" owners and the "greedy" players. Yet it is plain that Easterbrook truly respects, indeed cherishes, those few human beings whose superlative athletic ability allows them to accomplish feats of strength, speed, endurance, and skill that the rest of us can only dream about. Easterbrook never suggests that it is unjust that only the best athletes play in the NFL. He never argues that roster spaces on professional teams should be reserved for less talented individuals. He never argues that journeyman players should be paid the same salaries as superstars. Or even that professional athletes in general should be paid substantially less money. Why not?
Perhaps Easterbrook realizes that his readers would see through his marxist nonsense in a heartbeat, if it were framed in terms they are familiar with and about which they hold strong opinions. But I believe that Easterbrook actually appreciates the competitive, achievement-oriented culture of the NFL.
It's a shame that he doesn't appreciate that this is the exact same culture that made this country great.