Congratulations to the Russians for hosting a successful Winter Olympics. Successful in terms of no terrorism, despite threats and concerns leading up to the games. Also a victory for host country Russia, which won the medal count; gold and overall medals. Russia’s political rival, the United States, won four fewer gold and five fewer overall medals. Does this have geopolitical or economic implications for the two countries, or does it end with the Olympic closing ceremonies?
Let’s look a bit closer at some of the Russian medalists. Speed skater Victor An, who prior to 2011 was South Korean Ahn Hyun-Soo, is now a Russian citizen. He won three gold and one bronze medal in Sochi. Eight years ago, in 2006, he won the same four medals for South Korea. After being left off the S Korean short track team for the 2010 Olympics, he entertained offers from both the U.S. and Russia, accepting the better offer from Russia for citizenship and a contract to compete in the Sochi games.
Formerly American snowboarder Vic Wild also pursued better opportunities than what his home country offered. After the Vancouver Olympics, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association dissolved its underfunded alpine snowboard program, leaving Vic with two choices – retirement or defection. He chose the latter, marrying a Russian snowboarder and becoming a Russian citizen. He won two gold medals in Sochi.
If the medals won by those two athletes went to their former countries, rather than to Russia, the final medal count would be far different. With five fewer gold medals, Russia would have eight, rather than thirteen gold, tying the Netherlands and Germany for fourth place. The U.S. would have eleven gold medals, tying Norway for the most gold. Russia would have six fewer medals overall, second in total medals behind the U.S. who would now have thirty total medals and the most of any country.
Granted these revised medal counts are hypothetical, but “passport swapping” is a real phenomenon among Olympic athletes, with many other examples. The more important implication is that of lost opportunity. For Victor An it was a dispute with the South Korean Federation over training methods. For Vic Wild it was a defunded national athletic program. The point is that those who have toiled and sacrificed in pursuit of their dreams, only to have their opportunities dashed through government decisions, vote with their feet and move to places friendlier to their aspirations.
Americans are giving up their citizenship in record numbers due to ever increasingly complex tax laws and a growing compliance burden. Florida has surpassed New York in population due to migration over economic concerns. Florida has no state income tax, lower sales tax, no estate tax, lower insurance costs, and less expensive gasoline and electricity compared to New York. People are moving to lands of greater opportunity.
People are exercising one of their unalienable rights – the pursuit of happiness – enshrined in our Declaration of Independence. The human spirit leads us to follow our dreams, whether in work, finance, or athletics. Government policies that stifle this spirit always have unintended consequences, as the Russian Olympic medal count illustrates. The U.S. should take note. Only half of Americans see the U.S. as a land of opportunity. It would a shame if the best and brightest in America take the same path as some of our Olympic athletes.
Brian C Joondeph, MD, MPS, a Denver based retina surgeon, is an advocate of smaller, more efficient government. Twitter @retinaldoctor.