Does The Economy Need a Referee?

By: Jeff Berwick | Wed, Oct 19, 2011
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I recently appeared on Max Keiser's "On The Edge" program. Unbeknownst to the viewer, we were having major communication problems. Max only could hear a small portion of what I said and I, likewise. But, right at the very end of the interview the communications worked again... that's when the interview finally got interesting. Max stated that we "need a referee" in the economy. I replied, "I disagree. We don't need a referee, I'm an anarchist..."

That was when the interview suddenly ended. It's too bad because at that point it had just gotten quite interesting.

Max was parroting a fairly typical statist argument that we need a neutral arbiter, like government, to have a monopoly of force to act as a "referee" to protect the exploited from being devoured by the exploiters, and from all of humanity devolving into eating each other. This, simply is not the case.

First: Life isn't a game, Max. And all a coercive referee does is make things worse. But, to go along with Max's analogy and to make that point, let's look at some sports and how the rules and regulations influence their participants.


Or, as they say everywhere else in the world except the US and Canada: football.

In soccer, goals could be said to be a scarce resource. Unlike a game like basketball, where there are hundreds of scores per game, in soccer there is often only one or two. Like all games, soccer has a referee, and because goals are such a scarce resource the urge to manipulate the referee through diving is very high.

Furthermore, because there are very strict rules on things like physical contact and fighting it also encourages the participants to go to extremes in their attempts to manipulate the referee without fear of major repercussions. This is what makes soccer players roll around on the ground like they just had their kneecaps blown off by a sniper rifle when even the slightest of contact occurs. See the following video to see this isn't even an exaggeration!

Conclusion: When resources are tight and the referee plays such a big role in who can access those resources AND when there are very strict laws on any sort of contact it makes the participants act completely unnaturally and in immoral ways.


In ice hockey, goals are quite a scarce resource as well, but unlike in soccer the rules are not so strict on contact and self-policing. In fact, fighting just gets you five minutes sitting in a box.

In this case there are much, much less occurrences of diving. The reason is that if you do it there is a very good chance that a man nearly twice your size will come and beat you into submission and in many cases he won't even be penalized for it.

Because of this, rather than rolling around on the ice after being hit, because the referee has a smaller amount of say on who gets the scarce resources AND because you can get beaten up pretty bad for trying to manipulate the ref, hockey players have been known to play through broken legs, having 7 of their front teeth knocked out at one time and more. In other words, by having the players police themselves there is far less "crime" and immoral action.


In Ultimate Fighting, there are almost no rules and the referee rarely has any say in the outcome of the fight. In the UFC, fighters are highly respectful and usually pick up their opponent after defeating them, make sure he is okay and then they grab the microphone to tell the crowd what a great fighter and man he is.

Here, with almost no referee and no rules the people act highly civilized, proud and humble.

Conclusion? Even in sports little or no refereeing is preferable to how the participants act.

But, does the economy need a referee?


What Max is missing here is that the referee is the cause of all the problems we are witnessing in the financial world today.

MM Joke

In Max's world, the referee is the state, and it is supposed to be a neutral arbiter of disputes between members in society. In other words, in Max's world, the state - a territorial monopoly on force that has never been used for good - is benign and good. It is the classical left wing reaction to the current state of affairs. It represents the views of many of the Occupy Wall Street protesters.

Max believes that the bankers control every aspect of our lives and the economy... and that in the end we control the state. But these are scarcely half truths. In reality, the state is used by the bankers to rig the playing field and to protect them from the real check on their affairs: free market competition.

Let's not forget, the fractional reserve banking system is centralized and backstopped by government protections, like legal tender laws or monetary policy.

The referee was used to create this artificial, non-free market financial system where profits are private but losses are socialized. There would be no investment banks that were massive and highly leveraged without the "referee" protecting them from competition and offering them the backstop to cover their losses when they do ultimately collapse... of course, all in the name of protecting the consumer.

Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard argued that the best way to prevent inflation was not by outlawing it, or by forcing the central bank to adhere to some set of standards, which they would never do anyway, but rather by eliminating the legislation created by government (the "act") that effectively cartelizes the industry (this is effectively state capitalism...aka fascism, corporatism, cronyism, etc.; as opposed to free market capitalism which precludes the use of initiatory violence or coercion).

Only under genuinely competitive free banking - where there is no central bank or legislation of any kind to help sustain fractional reserve banking - would inflation not exist. Each bank would worry about being called by its competitor if it over-inflated. There'd be no one to bail them out. Thus, they would not engage in the policy to begin with... it would be self destructive.

Instead, in today's world, the bankers set out to exchange favors with government. The banks get their protection from competition, their bailout funds, and the ability to create deposits fraudulently (none of which could happen under a genuinely competitive environment) and the government gets a blank check; and they are in it together to keep it going as long as they possibly can.

Referee? Hah.


The consumer's best protection from exploitation and other shenanigans has always been competition.

Fascism, which is not the same as militarism, though it does lead to militarism, is a marriage between the statist left and the statist right; for the left it is the most practical application of socialism; for the right it is the most efficient means to protectionism and for "conquering" markets overseas.

The "referee" is largely the problem today. It obscures the immoral reality and nature of the state. The state can never be a neutral arbiter. Life is not a zero sum game. The free market is itself the best medium for democracy. Every dollar counts in the market. You can't say that about every vote. Those evil bankers that Max so despises fear competition more than they fear the referee. And by even suggesting that the state can be a benign force for good Max is doing the bankers a great service. He is fooling many into thinking the referee works for us, not the elite.

The free market system works because it is anarchistic; not because of the quality of the referring.

An anarchistic society would be one that is free of statist coercion, economic depressions, legislative injustice, and even waste. It is not a vote for lawlessness and chaos. The statist apologists like to argue that it represents just that. But in fact it is the state itself that is the source of chaos.

We are seeing it everywhere in the world today.

Don't be fooled into thinking that the banking elite is responsible for all of it, or that anyone could be exploited in a voluntary society. If you want to check the bad guys, all you need to do is unleash the forces of competition...the people's choice.

Until we see that as a society we will continue to have wars, chaos, poverty and turmoil. In sports, the referee is often vilified and hated. We need to take this approach with life's referee, the government, if we want a prosperous future.



Jeff Berwick

Author: Jeff Berwick

Jeff Berwick
Chief Editor
The Dollar Vigilante

Jeff Berwick

Anarcho-Capitalist. Libertarian. Freedom fighter against mankind's two biggest enemies, the State and the Central Banks. Jeff Berwick is the founder of The Dollar Vigilante, CEO of TDV Media & Services and host of the popular video podcast, Anarchast. Jeff is a prominent speaker at many of the world's freedom, investment and gold conferences as well as regularly in the media including CNBC, CNN and Fox Business.

Jeff's background in the financial markets dates back to his founding of Canada's largest financial website,, in 1994. In the late '90s the company expanded worldwide into 8 different countries and had 250 employees and a market capitalization of $240 million USD at the peak of the "tech bubble". To this day more than a million investors use for investment information every month.

Jeff was the CEO from 1994 until 2002 when he sold the company and still continued on as a director afterwards until 2007. Afterwards, Berwick went forth to live on and travel the world by sailboat but after one year of sailing his boat sank in a storm off the coast of El Salvador. After being saved clinging to his surfboard with nothing but a pair of surfing shorts left of all his material possessions he decided to "live nowhere" and travel the world as spontaneously as possible with one overarching goal: See and understand the world with his own eyes, not through the lens of the media.

He went on to visit nearly 100 countries over four years and did and saw things that no education could ever teach. He met and spoke with a plethora of amazing people, from self-made billionaires to some of the brightest minds in finance - as well as entrepreneurs from a broad range of backgrounds and locations from tech companies in southern China to resource developers in Mongolia, Thailand, Russia and Chile. He also read everything he could find on how the world really works... politically and financially. A pursuit he continues to this day.

He expatriated, long ago from his country of birth, Canada, and considers himself a citizen of the world. He has lived in numerous locales since including Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Bangkok and currently lives in Acapulco, Mexico and is building a home in Cafayate, Argentina. In essence, everything he writes about here for TDV he has done or is doing.

As well, during his travels, both real and virtual (through the internet), he met some amazing people who have a similar shared vision of what is currently going on in the world and enticed them to come aboard TDV and provide their own brand of analysis.

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