What is “Government help” anyway?

I was recently visiting some family near Melbourne, Florida when I came upon the sign pictured above. It was apparently intended to overlap with the Republican convention in Tampa, and its sentiment seems to be a dig at President Obama and the “You didn’t build that” remark. I addressed the willful and misleading interpretation of Obama’s words here, but the people who put this sign up apparently didn’t read it. So I’ll address their baseless claims here, instead.

The only reason that I was able to access their facility was by driving on Florida State Route 518. That means it’s a public road, and any of their employees who use that road are, in fact, receiving government help. What’s more, the Eau Gallie Causeway is a rather large bridge that crosses over the Indian River in Florida. Without that bridge, which was built and maintained at public expense, this business would be cut off from the Florida mainland and the rest of the outside world. Good luck maintaining a business without regular, dependable access across that river.

The building itself appeared to be shut down for the day, so people who might want to knock on their door to discuss this sign weren’t able to do so. I could have tried to break into the building if I wanted to, since no police officers would come to arrest me. They’re government help, you know, and this business apparently doesn’t accept such help.

Maybe, in the absence of government police protection, they use a private security company. That’s better, after all, since it’s the free market, which of course is more efficient than the government could ever be. Let’s say the private security firm comes out, catches me in the act, and takes me into custody. But even if they could arrest me, this means I’d have to go to jail, which is another government service. Sending me to jail would mean accepting government help, and they quite clearly don’t do that.

But maybe they would change their minds, just to teach me a lesson. If they did send me to jail, the Constitution would then give me the right to a fair and speedy trial. And where would this trial be heard? In a government courthouse, of course. The prosecutor who would bring charges against me, and the judge who would oversee the trial, would both be government employees, too. Even the jury, if it came to that, would be composed of people being summoned, and paid for, by the government. What’s a non-government -help-accepting company to do, if they want to bring me to justice?

All right, all right, let’s imagine that they allow themselves to accept the government’s help in putting me on trial, but only because justice must be done. So then I would be found guilty by this government-supplied jury, and sentenced by the government judge to do time in a correctional center somewhere in Florida. What’s that? More government help? Nooooooo!

Or maybe, just maybe, the threat of being captured, tried, convicted, and detained, all at government expense, is enough to make me realize that whatever I might find on the inside isn’t worth all of that risk. Just the threat of all this government help is a form of help from the government, all by itself.

But let’s take it one step further. This business makes commemorative memorabilia for a variety of sports leagues, including Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NBA, and many major colleges and universities. When the University of Kentucky won the national championship in NCAA men’s basketball last spring, this outfit got to make the kind of “In your face, losers!” materials that a Kentucky alum might want to have. Their list of client schools includes the University of Alabama, the University of Oregon, the University of Michigan, and even the U.S. Military Academy. It’s an impressive list, to be sure.

But here’s the problem, and I hope that you’ve recognized it already. With just a couple of exceptions, the schools on this list are all publicly funded. To put it another way, the University of Kentucky was created, and now sustains itself, with funding from the government of Kentucky. When all of Kentucky’s investments pay off, and the school wins a championship for its fans and alumni to brag about, this company can then come in and sell their products. But this can never happen without the initial outlays made by the governments of Kentucky, Michigan, and even the U.S. government in the case of the Military Academy.

So yes, I’m afraid that this outfit does receive government help, whether they realize it or not. It’s indirect, in the example of the colleges, and it’s direct in other cases, but for this company to assert that they receive no government help at all is absurd on its face, and it deserves to be called out as such.

Go Cats!

As a Northwestern alum, sports are not always a happy topic of conversation. Yes, the football team is a long way from the days of marshmallow fights in the stands. That, and tailgating, used to be the only thing to look forward to on a Saturday afternoon when I went to school there. But they can’t quite get over the hump when it comes to winning a bowl game. It’s great to play in bowl games in the first place, but the annual losing of a game to start the new year off is tiresome.

And the basketball team, well, let’s say if you can’t get to the NCAA tournament after having two very good four-year starters (Michael “Juice” Thompson and John Shurna), it’s not looking good for the near future. Every year they win a game against a ranked opponent, and get the conversation going about whether this will finally be THE YEAR, and every year there’s a flameout in the Big Ten tournament, followed by an NIT berth, and sometimes not even that. That, too, is getting to be very old now.

But what’s not old is the success of the women’s lacrosse team. They’ve won six national championships in the last seven years, and are going for their seventh title in eight years tonight. (UPDATE: They won. It’s now seven titles in eight years). If winning is important, I suggest this is a better place to focus attention than football or basketball.

To be better than every other team in college athletics, in any sport, is a tremendous feat. There are many more schools playing the games than there are championships to be had. So why does Kentucky and their One-year-and-then-off-to-the-NBA basketball team deserve so much attention? Or the Whichever-school-from-the-SEC-wins-this-year football champions mean more than all the others? Colleges weren’t meant to be a developmental league for the NFL, the NBA, or any other sport. So why have they become that, over the years? It’s only because we have allowed it to be such.

I’m not a lacrosse fan, in the least. But I’m happy that, whenever someone wants to hold out athletic success as a gauge of a college’s worth, that I can point to a program that hasn’t just won over the past few years, but has dominated their sport to a degree that few others have ever done before.

So I wish the best to the Wildcats’ lacrosse team as they take on Syracuse for the national title this evening. Win or lose, they’ve already represented my alma mater quite well to the sporting world, or at least the part that cares to look in that direction.