It is not quite as catchy as Karl Marx's similar dictum concerning capitalism; nonetheless, I have been reminded of the good baron's observation in recent weeks while scrutinising the UK's elite performance funding strategy.
Readers will know that this has been instrumental in boosting Great Britain's medals tally to undreamt of heights over the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympiads.
We at insidethegames have been fulsome in our admiration; almost the first person I rang when I got off the plane from China was the UK Sport communications head to set up an interview with the system's architect-in-chief, Peter Keen, and his terrier Lucy.
In recent months, though, the so-called "No Compromise" system has been applied to dash the Olympic and Paralympic hopes of scores of GB athletes, particularly those practicing team sports.
Having brooded over this for some weeks now, I keep coming back to the same question: why oh why did Britain set such an elevated – and public - medals target for Rio 2016, and why oh why did it set it so early, with the London 2012 Paralympic Cauldron scarcely cold?
It seems at best naïve, at worst hubristic.
Contrast this, at any rate, with the approach last time around, when the official target was set at 48 medals, a figure most observers felt would, with a fair wind, be comfortably exceeded (as indeed it was) - and set prudently late in the day on July 4 2012.
Unlike some peers, I do not think the new target of becoming the first nation to be more successful in both the Olympic and Paralympic Games post hosting is unattainable.
Britain, after all, won eight fewer Paralympic gold medals in London than Beijing, even though its overall tally was higher.
I do, however, think that the Rio 2016 goal is pitched at the absolute upper edge of what is realistically feasible – and that is with two extra Olympic sports on the programme compared with London, and on my assumption that individual track cycling events may be opened to more than one athlete per country.
The point is rather a) that we seem to have passed up an opportunity in the post-London 2012 glow to assess in depth whether No Compromise remains appropriate to the best interests of the nation now that Britain has been transformed from Olympic also-ran to podium fixture; and b) that UK Sport is subjecting itself to heaps of unnecessary pressure.
It is interesting that while high-performance funding was completely removed from six sports, including five team-sports, in the recent annual investment review, more cash was ladled into medal-rich areas such as sailing, canoeing, judo and taekwondo.
Supporters of the continued application of No Compromise will argue that that is exactly the point: that funding should be focused where podium success is most probable.
I wonder whether officials would have felt the need to act quite so brutally towards sports which, though not realistic short-term medal prospects, have steadily established themselves as skilled and respectable international performers without this target hanging over them.
I wonder too how it can be in the national interest for teams that are ranked let's say from about 10th to 20th in the world to face abrupt decline or disbandment because all their elite performance money has been yanked.
I shall be interested to see the funding reaction to the recent failure by Britain's men to win a single medal at the 2014 Track Cycling World Championships: will the team be penalised, with more cash directed to successful performers (such as Britain's track cycling women); or will the conclusion be that more money is needed to keep up with French triple gold medallist François Pervis and stand a chance of maintaining the phenomenal strike rate of recent years?
In the meantime, Britain is effectively contracting out of true Olympic team sports – all but – with only hockey remaining on UK Sport's high-performance funding list.
(The country will presumably also field a rugby sevens team in 2016, but this venture does not benefit from UK Sport Rio cycle money.)
Look at things this way and this situation will perhaps not surprise you.
UK Sport is spending somewhere around £272 million on Olympic sports over the cycle and needs to bag 66 medals to hit its target.
That averages out at just over £4 million per medal.
Even if hockey wins both possible medals, they will have cost more than £8 million each, about double the average.
Measured in this way, team sports are expensive.
One way of transforming this picture is to switch the focus from the number of medals to the number of medallists/potential inspirational role models.
Hockey was responsible for 16 of Britain's 114 Olympic medallists at London 2012 – 14 percent.
The proportion of Britain's female Olympic medallists contributed by the sport is significantly higher.
These role models are particularly important because of the role team activities have traditionally played in attracting children to sport and keeping the country active.
Baroness King of Bow made this point particularly powerfully this week in a House of Lords debate on Olympic and Paralympic legacy that you might easily have missed as it took place on Budget night.
"Team sports are the ones that kids are most likely to play," she said, "the sports we all remember playing as kids.
"They are the sports where you get the most bang for your buck in terms of grass-roots participation.
"They are the sports kids want to play.
"These sports will arguably do most to keep the London 2012 flame alive.
"How perverse would it be for our elite medal quest to reduce the sporting participation of British kids and shrink our sporting talent pool?"
It seems plain to me that a portion of UK Sport's £350 million for Olympic and Paralympic performance funding should be ring-fenced for pure team sports.
This would enable them to compete against each other for cash, rather than to be thrown in with individual sports under a system which, I am satisfied, is biased, inadvertently, against them.
Yes, as someone suggested to me this week, this would – in the short term – take money out of the pockets of potential medallists.
But it would help to ensure that we support as broad a range of sporting role models as possible to inspire people around the country.
And it would counter what seems to me a potentially pernicious trend that might take root if No Compromise acquired the status of an unquestioned long-term fixture: that we would slowly become more and more adept at fewer and fewer disciplines, winning every possible rowing, cycling, equestrian and sailing medal and scarcely bothering to enter anything else.
Success comprises in itself the seeds of its own decline and sport is not spared by this law. Baron Pierre de Coubertin
David Owen worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing, including covering the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 2010 World Cup and London 2012. Owen's Twitter feed can be accessed here.