The Sunday Chicago Tribune sported a full page article on gambling corruption in European soccer. Seems a few of the matches, between 600 to 800, were suspected targets for game-fixing. The article goes on to speculate a bit about whether corruption of the same sort exists in American sports.
Of course it does. Just like doping and a host of other ways to cheat in the economics of sport, Americans are just as bad, if not worse, than the rest of the world.
Pro sports and the gambling obsession
Pro sports have long been beset by the language of gambling. One cannot tune into a sports radio talk show without some mention of the "over and under" or some other gambling language relative to upcoming contests. The sports world is so obsessed with gambling, it no longer really cares about the outcome of the game, match, set or championship. It's all about who won their bets.
You could argue that it's human nature to gamble on contests. The tradition goes way back to wagering on horse races and casting for lots as to who will win the cloak of one Jesus Christ. So we're not here to argue that human beings are somehow more corrupt these days. That is never the issue. Corruption is part of human nature. Sin, as it were, is everywhere.
Transcending the gambling instinct
But reasonable people, as well as those of faith, are supposed to at least attempt a transcendence of our worst tendencies. That is why we have churches, universities and governments--to name just a few institutions dedicated--we must suppose, to the betterment of humankind.
Yet we have succumbed to a certain inevitability and uncertainty if we ignore the prevalence of gambling and its wholesale approval in the last 40 years or so of American history.
It might have started innocently enough with legalized gambling in the form of state lotteries to raise funds for struggling budgets. Then came casinos, which were supposedly going to help impoverished cities achieve revitalization. But all these were ruses to deceive ourselves into thinking the gambling quotient was removed, and that no harm to society was done by institutionalizing risky behaviors. Take note that we so carefully call it "gaming" as a euphemism for the sin tax gamblers claim they like to pay, to play.
Gambling with the public trust
It wasn't much of a step in the interim for governments to begin gambling with the public trust. Politicians "borrowed" money from pensions and programs such as Social Security when they were flush with cash and no one else had money to steal. On promise to repay, these gambling politicians took that money and spent down the funds. Now those same politicians are calling programs like Social Security insolvent because they gambled away that money in hopes they could win it back some other way.
How is that not a crime? How is gambling itself not a crime, when it bilks millions of dollars out of people on hopes that someday they will be rich and well-cared-for?
Yet we know that many lottery winners blow all their dough. Few can handle that kind of instant wealth. Our government is no different. We're all playing the lottery with our national wealth, it seems. Yet we find pro-capitalists screaming that privatizing programs such as Social Security is a true sign of liberty and a better form of saving for millions of Americans. Yet when the economy crashed in 2008 and millions of people lost their life savings and retirement, the only ones who got bailed out were the banks and investment companies that were "too big to fail." In other words, the gamble of investing in the free market failed millions of Americans, yet America bailed out the casinos rather than refunding money to the people whose very lives were invested in the economics of gambling.
Insurance, not speculation
You can preach all you want that Social Security is a weak investment, returning a poor percentage rate over the lifetime of savings. But at least the Social Security insurance program promises to protect that money under the auspices of government control. Pro-capitalists like to argue that the money could be "better invested" which means, in no uncertain terms, that it would be exposed to greater risk in return for greater rewards.
But that is supposing that most Americans want to be rich, when the case may be that most Americans simply want to be secure. The two are quite different. One depends on greed as the driver, while the other is content with simpler things. Like living happily with what you have, not gambling away your hard-earned money and yes, even choosing a simpler life as part of the American Way.
The rich aren't really that important to us
It is not too much to suppose that many Americans don't really care what the rich do with their money, as long as it doesn't gut the rest of us.
A parallel statement might be that many Americans don't mind the market taking a few chances so long as the government itself is not tied or beholden to the gambling ways of the free market. The government of America was established to promote the free expression of thought, commerce, liberty and justice. But it was not designed to be a tool to fund the gamblers who inevitably rise to the surface in free markets. This is not a screed against free-market capitalism, only a complaint about the times when the capitalistic system is transplanted with a gambling orthodoxy that holds no accountability.
And what marks that lack of accountability? Why, it is rampant de-regulation and other such forms of egregiously aiding and abetting the economy's gambling factions as a matter of course, as if gambling with our future were the only way to prove our worth in the world, and here at home.
Learning from our gambles
On the quick take: Yes, there were many people who made bad decisions borrowing more money to buy homes than they could afford. And yes, Democrats were likely just as liable for the laws allowing those abuses. And yes, the mortgage crisis and toxic assets (which haven't been mentioned much lately) are still lurking in the dark background of America's tilting economy.
America is like a pinball machine right now. That big silver ball of economic responsibility is bouncing around the game table, pinging off the national debt with a jump and a ring, dinging against the debt ceiling and America's solvency worldwide and nearly draining past the urgent, straining flippers of the Treasury and Federal Reserve. We're desperate to keep our economic balls in play, both literally and figuratively.
Economic experts warn of a potential crash if the so-called Sequester were to kick in, in which government spending is slashed and whole segments of the economy start to teeter and fall. Notice, however, that it is government spending that is the catalyst. And behind the scenes, millions of dollars in lottery funds and casinos and other forms of gambling lurk like that good ole house of cards. Our loans to China fall into the same category, if we're honest with ourselves. We gambled on the good graces of a less-than-sister nation to fund a couple wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Afghan war has proven to be a 10-year gamble with little payoff. The Iraq war has cost us nearly a trillion dollars and returned very little on the bet, invented by the Bush administration, that the Iraqis would welcome us with flowers and kisses.
They did not, and even our national pride wound up being gambled away through the dichotomous practice of torture and neglect toward the Iraqi people. Meanwhile we paid billions to soldiers of fortune like Blackwater, an ugly gamble that mercenaries would represent America better than our own armies.
The Iraqis can't be blamed for seeing America as a feckless friend. We promised to pay our own debts with Iraqi oil, and couldn't make even that happen.
Gambling with our hopes
Yet there are some who want to blame the failed enterprise of the Middle East as a streak of bad luck for Americans. Leading up to 2008, it was like we were standing at the roulette wheel and had been missing the numbers for 10 straight years, yet warmongers were still digging in our pockets for loose change to make even greater bets, like attacking Iran.
At least President Barack Obama's promise for change did not follow the directives of the war gamblers. Soon we'll be done with the prolonged gamble in Afghanistan too. It really is time to stop and catch our breath. Our national interests are not being protected in any substantial way by fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the rough mountains and dry fields of that country. The gamble that it would has failed. We're really not able to stabilize the Middle East through war. That is counterproductive. So it's no wonder we've resorted to flying drones over the Middle East to shoot the people we hate. They may be inhumane in some respects, but they are far less of a gamble than putting more boots on the ground.
The Conservative gamble=political gambit
So here we stand, victims of our own worst instincts, a nation borne of risk and daring, yet incapable of recognizing the outcomes of these extremes. True conservatives, if the term had any meaning left, would recognize this dangerous propensity and pull back, investing not in global empire but in education here at home, security we can afford and a future we can manage without taking unnecessary gambles.
But I'll "bet" those other kind of so-called conservatives, the political gambit kind, will never let it happen. Not in our lifetime.
And isn't it strange how the terms "conservative" and "gambler" seem to want to occupy the same space these days? Yet only so many players get to be on the court at the same time, Supreme or otherwise. Anything to cover up the losses wrought by our gambling ways; moral, ethical, economic and otherwise.
The lessons just keep on coming, and gambling our national interests away persists, as if that were the only way to play the game. We find ourselves faced with a brand of economic sport where no one knows the rules anymore. Yet we should know better, because the only real lesson you can learn from gambling is that you never really beat the house unless you find some way cheat. It may be time for America to start counting cards.