Is Britain's recent Olympic success a triumph of central planning?
I disagree. Britain's whopping great medal haul reveals exactly what central planning is good at and exactly why central planning is undesirable. When it comes to meeting specific production targets central planning tends to get you over the finishing line (at least in the short term), but when it comes to actually giving people what they want central planning falls short of the mark. You can find a good example of this in Jose Ricon's post on food production in the Soviet Union. The Soviets produced nearly as much food as the Americans, but what they made was completely out of whack with what consumers actually wanted.
Similarly, while the Government's massive investments in elite sport (some £547m over 4 years), certainly has netted medals, those medals aren't turning into increased participation for your average joes. At least that's according to a paper by Weed et al, who found little evidence that elite sport lead to increased sporting participation. In fact, sporting participation actually fell following the 2012 Olympics.
Now there is an alternative and it sits at the very top of the medal table – the United States. Unlike its competitors, the United States Olympic Team receives almost* no state funding. Instead, they rely on a mix of charitable donations and corporate sponsorship. They show that it's possible to fund a successful Olympic team without leaving the taxpayer** on the hook.
Centrally planned UK Sport might have delivered the goods in Rio, but investing in elite sport is a bad deal for the taxpayer. We'd be better off copying the best and taking America's lead with a privately funded Olympic team.
* There's a bit of money on offer for veterans to compete at the Paralympics.
** Most UK Olympics funding comes from the National Lottery (a tax on the innumerate perhaps), but a substantial amount does come from general taxation.