IN THE end, there will be only umpires, no players. The rule makers, coaches and managers will sit on the grandstand, watching replays from the good old days of hard-fought battles on the field, while the former team members will hang around the change rooms, playing a game of yellow cards.
Scrums used to start with an "Umph!" as the muscled front rows pounded into one another to fight for the ball (and maybe throw a punch or spit on the grass). Now we have "Crouch, touch, pause, engage, asseblief!" Yes, it's safer and that's good, but why was the word "touch" ever allowed into the game? And I'm sure "engage" won't be allowed much longer. We'll be left with "crouch" and "pause" while we make sure everything is politically correct and equal. The rules will protect the weakest players.
So it is also in financial markets at present. All roads lead to some sort of government intervention, by those who have never played the game. As it was once famously shouted from a crowd gathered for a papal address on contraception: "If you don't play the game, don't make the rules!"
The European Securities and Markets Authority (Esma - have you ever heard of it?) is investigating the resources and methodologies employed by rating agencies Fitch, Moody's and Standard & Poor's, for which it is the registrar. It wants to determine whether they are sufficiently competent to continue rating debt all over the world.
Let me join the chorus in saying that rating agencies have blown their credibility in spades since 2008. I know only of AAA-rated debt that failed. Yes, they got it wrong, but I doubt Esma would have done any better. Was it really their fault? Their mandate is to analyse facts, not anticipate government pronouncements and actions, which nowadays have the most influence on market prices, defaults, rescues, volatility and price fixing.
Is the European Central Bank going to move rates? Will the International Monetary Fund provide the support? Will the Bundesbank come to the party? Will France's new tax regime drive business and people back to London? Will the US tax rules leave billionaires little choice but to leave? Will Ben Bernanke announce QE3? Every day the markets wait for government pronouncements. It is ridiculous. What's the difference between the ECB's judgment on rates and banks influencing rates? Government actions are seen as considered and virtuous, but those of banks as scurrilous?
The debate over the London interbank offered rate (Libor) now covers the entire financial world. It seems Bob Diamond will be exposed as a common liar, and if so, he'll get what he deserves. But so many may have just become subjects of the government's whispered wishes. I am convinced (without any evidence yet) that this started at the top, perhaps even more innocently than the outcome suggests: "Don't you think rates are a tad high at the present, old chap?"
Are all the central banks and their governments innocent of any influence? I doubt it. Should they go on trial? Who will grill them for the truth? What do they have to lose? Barclays has already quit the Libor panel in the United Arab Emirates, and I expect many will follow in leaving similar panels around the world.
Let's not forget the fines: £290m for Barclays and a wild estimate of £22bn that 12 global banks linked to the Libor scandal could eventually face. That could have been loans to businesses and people. Instead it is a tax that will be used to prop up the next bank that misprices the risk in its mortgage loan book.
This is not happening only in finance, of course. French President Francois Hollande is becoming personally involved in the decisions of car maker Peugeot. What does he know about the motor industry beyond the information he is fed by politically biased analysts?
"Shareholder spring" is the new game in town: object to everything, erect more boundaries and fence in the players. Some want to give governments even more say. Wells Fargo is proud of being the biggest donor bank to the US government. It spent $7,8m last year on seeking favours from Washington, lobbying for influence on mortgage lending rules. Other banks aren't far behind. Why is this acceptable?
In South Africa, we've outdone ourselves. Business Day reported this week that the government is considering legislation to limit the amount of salt we're allowed in our food. We're no longer allowed differing taste buds? Forget about the Hawks - here come the salt and pepper cops. They prowl restaurants at night in strange outfits, searching for the restaurant thugs that move among us, openly serving salt and pepper in flagrant disregard of the law.
Of course we need governments and rules, but after that, markets must have room to breathe. There must be winners and losers, bankruptcy and billionaires. Capital and talent must be allowed to find their own way.
Who would go to the Olympics if there were a staggered start with the objective to end the race together? Without failure there can be no success; without second place there is no first. Tax the millionaires and you'll reduce their number systematically.
The world is dangerously close to being over-governed by people who are expanding their influence beyond their competence. In such a world, we will all end up tightly squashed together in the middle of ordinariness with no place for the independent mind. God forbid.