There's a somewhat lighthearted debate on right now over whether Tiger Woods has become history's first billion-dollar athlete.
Forbes magazine estimates he is. Woods denies it. Golf.com says it's only a matter of time, if he's not already -- especially after Woods' recent $10 million check for winning the season-long FedEx Cup points race.
"We'll never know when it happens," the Web site says. "He likely won't know right away either, and when he does learn, the only acknowledgment of the fact will probably be a private smile behind the tinted windows of a Buick SUV."
He's earned every penny of it. His tournament winnings have come fair and square. He's also got a golf course design business and millions and millions from endorsements and speaking fees that other consenting adults have willingly parted with.
The point is, who would begrudge him any of it?
Well, some folks would.
Some think athletes are overpaid, especially considering the relative importance to society of other professions. Others, like a protester at the recent G20 summit in Pittsburgh, argue: Why should anyone make over "X" amount?
For the lady protester, that amount was $500,000. For someone else it might be $1 million. Or $10 million.
That, of course, begs the question: Who should decide how much is enough?
Some think the government should. In fact, the federal government is increasingly thinking exactly that, as it tries to set maximum wages at bailed-out companies.
So how much is Tiger Woods worth? How much should he earn?
We don't think anyone has the right to decide that in a free country except Tiger Woods and the people he does business with.
As for people being "overpaid": You are worth what you're paid. The free market determines that. If a team owner thinks you're worth tens of millions, that's his right. You are worth whatever someone else decides they want to pay you.
We realize free-market capitalism isn't exactly the trendy fall color this year. There's a movie out denigrating capitalism (while it continues to make the filmmaker filthy rich). And the Pittsburgh protester's view -- that people should have their incomes capped -- is gaining a foothold, as we have a president and Congress who want to use their exaggerated sense of power to "spread the wealth around."
Certainly capitalism isn't perfect. We've all been horrified by some of its excesses.
Free markets and free people have elevated mankind to a standard of living never before seen on this planet. Yet, because not every boat has been lifted at the same rate -- and because some captains of industry have overindulged in their successes -- capitalism is on the run.
But the alternative -- government fiat -- is infinitely worse.
Indeed, though this story isn't getting out much, last year's economic collapse was caused in large part precisely by fiat: government pressure to load Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac up with bad loans in order to puff up home ownership statistics to make the politicians feel and look good.
Moreover, how could there possibly be any room under the Constitution for capping salaries?
And think of what kind of world we'd have if the lady in Pittsburgh had her way -- if all compensation were capped at $500,000. Where would human ambition and striving go to breathe? Why would people work hard or invest in the uncertain business climate, if the fruits of their labor were somehow capped or carted away?
To most of us raised in freedom, it seems a silly discussion to even have. But today's young seem not to appreciate the dangers of socialism and communism that their fathers and mothers worked so hard to defeat on foreign soil and keep at bay at home. Nor do they appear to be as immersed in free-market education as they ought to be. Otherwise, there'd be no market for movies about the evils of capitalism.
There can be no freedom without financial freedom.
If America forgets that, whither the world?