Striving for excellence and fair play. 2 things most Americans can agree on.

Because I spend far too much time in front of a computer screen I run 3 miles nearly every day. Yesterday I went out at about 11 AM and as I was running by the high school I saw a cluster of kids in gym class running in the opposite direction. They were all within a few feet of one another. No one seemed to be ahead significantly and only a few stragglers were walking behind.

It was gym class, so it wasn’t exactly a race but it did spark my imagination. This tends to happen every time I run and is one of the reasons I run. I highly recommend the habit for any writer. It is way better than coffee and cigarettes, I promise.

The battle between collectivism and free enterprise is quite like a foot race.

Collectivism says that everyone should make it across the finish line (a laudable goal) and that in the interest of everyone making it across the line no one or group of runners should be encouraged to lead the pack. Indeed, in a collectivist society the closer everyone comes to crossing the finish line at the same time the better.

In a free enterprise world however the goal is different. Instead of working to make sure everyone finishes with the same time, the fastest runners, those who break from the pack are rewarded. “Success” is being the first of many to cross the finish line.

The analogy is not a perfect one. In a free enterprise world for instance one might decide that success was not in fact coming in “first” but  beating a self defined goal.

But the point still generally holds. Collectivism rewards collective “achievement.” Free enterprise on the other hand rewards those who break from the pack and run an extraordinary pace.

Which is better?

If everyone finishes the race at the same time, that has to be good right?  That way everyone’s a “winner” and there is no resentment toward the leader of the race, nor shame for those pulling up the rear.

As for the free enterprise “race”  though there is glory for the victor, what of the others who fall in behind the champion? There’s no “win” for them, just “not first.”

In a compassionate society clearly the first scenario is preferable.But it’s not. Though everyone crosses the finishing line at the same time, and everyone is a “winner” the overall pace of the group is likely to be much, much, slower than the race where individual victory is the goal.

In the free enterprise “race” many who would have easily fallen in with the collectivist pack instead achieve far beyond what they would have, because a leader, probably not them, was setting a much faster pace.

This is the genius of the free enterprise system. Though individual achievement is rewarded, the good of all of society is increased because of the individual incentive. The benefits to society are vastly higher in total in a free system than a system which enforces equality of outcomes.

Though there are disparate levels of income and achievement in free enterprise, often quite disparate, the economy in general provides much more bounty to more people than a collectivist system.

However, to continue with the race analogy, what if during the free enterprise race competitors cheated? What if some took performance enhancing drugs? Or even worse yet got a huge head start on the field just by virtue of their access to the race organizers?

Then the race is no longer fair. Free enterprise has been replaced by something all together different, cronyism. And this is what we have now.

However there are many who will tell you that the only remedy to cronyism is to go back to running a race where everyone joins hands and ends the race together after strolling around the track for a half hour. But that is not the answer.

We must instead let the best runners run free, because they make those of us not born to run a 4 minute mile much better runners.  And we must weed out systematically and with prejudice those who would manipulate the rules of the race for their own benefit.

Striving for excellence and fair play are 2 things most Americans can agree on.