Learning the rules of rugby is a struggle. The International Rugby Board website outlines the twenty laws of the game. More complicated than the written laws are the forty-odd referee signals; even the IRB video of each signal seems sometimes inadequate to interpreting particular decisions. However, being a rugby referee is not an easy task and criticism of the referee of any match from a seat in the stands a hundred metres from the play is usually ill advised. Without a thorough understanding of what is happening, no referee would be allowed by the relevant association to take charge of a game.
Striving to understand the nuances of the game and still not having grasped each of the subtle differences in signals, watching a match tends to be a reflective process, an effort to understand what is being planned in each phase of play and to discern why the whistle has been blown at unexpected moments.
Realizing the complexity of the rules and the marginal nature of some infringements, there is a sense of impatience with those who do not bother yet roar abuse at an unfortunate referee. Sitting at the RDS in Dublin one afternoon, it became clear that the man behind thought himself as having an instant grasp of the game. One of the Leinster players missed a catch, knocking the ball forwards and the referee blew the whistle for a scrum to the opposition, as the rules stipulate and as any schoolboy player would know. The man rose to his feet and roared that the referee had no idea what he was doing. It was a cringeworthy moment; those around the man had clearly become increasingly embarrassed at the man’s voluble commentary on the game and his intemperate outbursts at the officials.
Attempting to learn the rules of rugby is a leisure activity, something optional and without consequence. It is of no matter if I never learn the difference between the signal for a prop in the scrum pulling an opponent and that for a prop pulling an opponent down.
There are game rules that are of significantly greater importance, where the failure to understand those rules can have a negative impact on the lives of millions of people.
As the schoolboy rugby player would tell you that knocking the ball forward means a scrum for the opposition, so the schoolboy in an economics class will tell you that a government that takes a huge amount of tax, while at the same time severely reducing expenditure, will have a strongly deflationary impact upon the economy. Furthermore, the piling up of taxes and accumulation of spending cuts further exacerbates the problem as uncertainty about the future causes people to spend less and save more, so reducing demand, increasing unemployment and making a bad situation worse.
This is economics much less complex than the rules of rugby, yet our government persists in the belief that we can pay the private gambling debts of the banks and still grow our way out of our problems. They seem to have as much understanding of the game they are watching as the loudmouth at the RDS.