It's the Job of LeBron James to Be the Best at Basketball, Not To Fix China

It's the Job of LeBron James to Be the Best at Basketball, Not To Fix China
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“I refuse to go to movies anymore. I don’t want to support Hollywood’s politics.” How many readers have heard or uttered a variation of the previous sentence over the years?

Oh well, annoying and uninformed as the politics of Hollywood’s leading lights may be, they’re great at their chosen profession. Too bad they don’t keep their politics to themselves as they all-too-often know not of what they speak. But it says here that the movies and television shows produced by the left-leaning entertainment industry are way too good to miss all because of policy and/or political disagreements. It seems many share this view.

Indeed, as evidenced by the market capitalization of Netflix alone, Americans in big numbers want what the U.S. entertainment industry produces. And while it's probably true that some on the right refuse to watch what Hollywood produces out of principle, it's apparent that all too many forget the politics in order to be entertained. It's high quality stuff. If only they’d keep their politics to themselves Netflix might be even more popular, and movie theaters even more crowded...

Which brings us to LeBron James, and his short-arming of the situation in China. Ever since James’s somewhat incoherent response to what’s happening on the other side of the world, he’s been under attack. What a hypocrite, what a coward, all he cares about is selling shoes. Shame on James for kowtowing to the “communist” regime? Not so fast.

While criticism of James has been bipartisan, the endless outpouring of outrage from the right has been more than a bit puzzling. Conservatives and libertarians rightly can’t stand when celebrities presume to talk U.S. politics, but somehow want them on the frontlines of the freedom fight in China? Something is wrong with this picture. Actually, a lot is wrong.

For one, for members of the right to browbeat James is for them to insult individual genius that they’ve historically cheered. Why do they want James to be politically active? This was a similarly reasonable question to ask when the politically focused left essentially demanded that Taylor Swift pick political sides. Why? Can’t the critics stop and think for a moment just how much blood, sweat, tears and thought James and Swift put into being respectively the best basketball player in the world, and one of the most popular singer/songwriter/entertainers in the world?

Implicit in the outrage expressed at James is that having worked tirelessly to become the best in the world at one of the world’s most popular pastimes, and a billion-dollar pitch man for one of the world’s most important brands, he should also be well schooled on what’s happening in China; so much so that he can comment articulately on it. Such a view insults what it took for LeBron James to become LeBron James

The perpetually outraged would be wise to wake up to the basic truth that success is exceedingly difficult. Looked at in terms of what James has accomplished as a player and pitchman, it’s a miracle. And it’s once again a consequence of enormous amounts of hard work. For critics to then pretend that there’s time to understand Chinese politics and policy is for them to be more than unreasonable. It’s also for them to miss the point of being in business.

Stating what should be obvious, it’s not the job of businesses and businessmen to help achieve political or policy aims. Instead, it’s the job of businesses and businessmen and women to make profits. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less. Business exist to make money, not to influence political outcomes.

No doubt such a blunt statement (one that’s only blunt insofar as some people are so sensitive about everything at the moment) offends the sensibilities of those prone to triggeration, but it’s true. This should particularly ring true to conservatives and libertarians who’ve at least rhetorically always sided with the more commercially minded, and the investors who make their commercial ideas a possibility. Crucial here is that once businesses and/or businesspeople wade into politics, they potentially imperil their profitable purpose. Think about it. Box office receipts would likely be higher and Netflix even more valuable absent all the preaching from the celebrity set. 

It’s no reach to suggest there’s a bit of a political divide at the moment, and because there is, a poorly timed political statement could possibly offend customers. Along these lines, one guesses that agents and managers in Hollywood and in the entertainment world more broadly frequently tell their clients to lay low on the politics. “Republicans buy shoes too,” and all that.

Ok, so is China any different in this regard? Are we supposed to believe that the Chinese people are all up in arms in the way that that privileged Americans are about what’s happening in Hong Kong such that they would cheer any criticism of China’s regime by James? Stop and think about that for a moment. And in thinking about that, please remember that just forty years ago Chinese per capita income was $175 dollars; the latter lower than what the intensely impoverished people of sub-Saharan Africa were earning.

Since then, and thanks to growing amounts of economic freedom, the Chinese people have more and more erased their poverty. And as a consequence of the erasure born of immense production, they’ve become voracious consumers of all things American. This being true, is it any wonder that the individuals and businesses benefiting from rising economic freedom in China would perhaps like to avoid the political commentary that so often turns off American consumers?

Hard as it may be to imagine for those who are only happy when they’re mad at something or someone else, it’s very possible that the Chinese people are very happy with their lot. No doubt they’re not as free as we are here, but few are. The main thing is that compared to before, they’re prospering. The “Communist Party” that has so many on the right on so up in arms can count all manner of capitalists in China as members simply because per author Evan Osnos in his spectacular book, The Age of Ambition, the Party is increasingly a “professional network” as opposed to being a promoter of a murderous ideology.

Is “it’s the economy stupid!” only operative inside the U.S.? Are the Chinese people too primitive to want what we want? Not very likely. Though the Chinese political class surely has warts, as does the U.S. political class, the people in China are increasingly free to create immense wealth. Because they can, one guesses they’re not as up in arms as the scholar class is stateside. They're proud people who probably would prefer to not have U.S. celebrities minister to them about how to do things. Maybe LeBron James understands this. He didn’t become a billion-dollar pitch man because he doesn’t understand markets, rather he became that way because he does. And he’s doing his job, or at least trying to, while leaving politics in China to those who do politics in China. He’s right. His critics are wrong.

John Tamny is a speechwriter and writer of opinion pieces for clients, he's editor of RealClearMarkets, Director of the Center for Economic Freedom at FreedomWorks, and a senior economic adviser to Toreador Research and Trading (www.trtadvisors.com). His new book is The End of Work, about the exciting explosion of remunerative jobs that don't feel at all like work.  He's also the author of Who Needs the Fed? and Popular Economics. He can be reached at jtamny@realclearmarkets.com.  

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