Friday, July 13, 2012

Much Ado About ... Clothing?!

So, apparently Congress has nothing better to do than worry about what the U.S. Olympic Team is wearing.  So much so, in fact, that John Boehner crossed the aisle to join Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid in speaking out yesterday, attacking the USOC’s choice regarding the athletes’ outfits.

One can just picture Gopher and Doc
standing on the podium.  (AP Photo)
So what has their collective panties in such a bunch?  Is it that they prefer American athletes to not look like French athletes (a la berets)?  Is it that they object to the athletes looking like part of the crew of the Love Boat??  No, what is apparently so absolutely unconscionable, on a level warranting the scorn and condemnation of federal policymakers is that their outfits were manufactured by Ralph Lauren…in CHINA!

Setting aside the numerous follies and fallacies of mercantilist protectionism, what strikes me about this is these people’s ignorance of the basic economic principles of tradeoffs.  This doesn’t surprise me, mind you, given their repeated demonstration of ignorance and/or stupidity regarding any number of basic economic principles.  But even a very basic thought-experiment that follows from the huffing and puffing of these Congressional blowhards shows the shortsightedness of their suggested remedies.

First thing to note is that the USOC is a private, non-profit organization.  They face very real economic tradeoffs on how to spend donors’ contributions.  So, when one examines Harry Reid’s suggestion to burn these outfits and start over (or even if one wants to examine the generalized, hypothetical case of “The USOC should have known better and bought American from the start”), one must ask the question, “At what cost?”

So what is the opportunity cost of going with American-made outfits?  The short answer is:  whatever else the USOC could have spent the money on that they saved by going with the CHinese-made outfits.  The most obvious and impactful example is training.  Should the USOC forego some valuable athlete training in order to pay more for outfits??  That strikes me as a dubious tradeoff, but regardless, if that's what the USOC wanted to do, then good for them.  But I don't have any problem with them choosing to use their money as wisely as they see fit (just like any other private citizen or group).  And before anyone in Congress criticizes what a private organization or person spends their OWN money on, they really should think about that old adage regarding glass houses and throwing stones, given the frivolous things they choose to spend OTHER PEOPLE'S money on!

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