Spelling Bees and Cronyism


June 2, 2014 11:25AM

Another year of the Scripps National Spelling Bee has come and gone and in a rare occurrence, I left disappointed, and it’s probably not for the reasons you think. While I do think that two spellers tying for the championship is a bit ridiculous (there’s like a million words in the dictionary, just keep going until someone gets a word wrong), that’s not the reason I’m upset. The true reason I am upset is because for the second straight year, spellers were eliminated from the Bee without spelling a word wrong. I am glad to see that the media covered this. Nate Scott from USA Today (not to be confused with the One Tree Hill legend) wrote a great piece on this injustice.

A picture of me at last year's Spelling Bee

A picture of me at last year’s Spelling Bee

The basic gist of the story is that all of the spellers were asked to take a vocabulary test before the Bee. About halfway through the competition on Thursday, they decided to just kick half of the spellers out of the Bee based on how they scored on the vocabulary test because there were too many spellers left in the competition. While those rules were set beforehand and every speller knew that could happen, it’s hard to come away feeling anything but devastated for those spellers who got cut without spelling a word wrong. After all this is a spelling bee, not a vocabulary bee.
A picture of the Spelling Bee Stage before the spellers came on.

A picture of the Spelling Bee Stage before the spellers came on.

This whole spelling bee debacle made me think of something that is comparable in our everyday lives: cronyism and corporate welfare. Most small businesses play by the rules and do everything right, but like the spellers who were eliminated unjustly, they are punished by something that should have nothing to do with success. Because many big businesses have money and power, they can acquire unfair advantages due to their robust lobbying operation and knowing the “right people.” Every time a corporation gets a bailout, tax break, or government contract, they are gaining an unfair advantage over their smaller competitors who don’t have the luxury to do that. Similar to the way that kids with a better vocabulary shouldn’t have an institutional advantage at the Spelling Bee, those businesses with more employees and money shouldn’t have an institutional advantage in business. If Scripps decides to keep the current Spelling Bee rules, they should rename it the Academic Bee, just like a more apt name for the government’s current rules in business would be the Unfree Market. -Mark Cunningham Enjoy the Beacon blog? Help us keep it going with a tax-deductible gift.