Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Who built it?

kw: business, politics

I have been watching the Republican Convention on C-SPAN. The theme of the event is "We Built It." With this statement and the sentiment behind it, I heartily agree.

When President Obama said, "You didn't build that," he ignited a firestorm that threatens to burn steadily through November and beyond. Oh, I know what he was trying to say, that the national highway system, the air traffic control system, and bridges and so forth, that business takes advantage of, were government programs, and businesses "couldn't do that."

In the movie Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, there is a very enlightening scene. The character played by Sidney Poitier has been drawn aside by his parents, who are trying to convince him of their viewpoint (that he shouldn't marry a white woman). His father uses the old, "We gave you life, we raised you, we educated you" argument. He answers, "You did what you were supposed to do. Parents all do that. But parents aren't supposed to choose my job or my wife. Only I know what will make me happy."

By constitutional provision, the government is supposed to provide for interstate commerce (highways and bridges and air traffic control systems). A government that will not provide infrastructure for its citizens is doing them a disservice. But a government cannot  and must not tell you what kind of (legal) business to go into, or how many employees to hire, or where you must borrow (if you need to) and so forth. Government cannot tell a farmer when to plant; the failure of Soviet agriculture for 70 years proves that, as does the continued failure of North Korean agriculture. Government cannot decide for you what kind of supplies your company might need, nor set your alarm clock for you, nor stipulate how few or how many hours you must work in a week. When you have a business, it is your business.

Businesses were succeeding for centuries before "government" built anything. The old roads, that may have started out as cow-paths, not just in colonial America but in Europe and Asia, the old roads that are still the main arteries of travel in much of the Third World, were not government projects. Wherever the government has, rightly, provided infrastructure, the country's economy has prospered as compared to former times. This is a 5,000-year-old principle. But in old Assyria, if Mr. Sathrop had a chariot-building cottage industry he runs out of his house, there was nothing the imperial officials could do to "help" him run that business. It is also a 5,000-year-old principle that micromanagement by government guarantees failure (which is why American education began to go downhill with the creation of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and has fallen even faster since the split-off of the Department of Education).

Mr. Obama, I know what you thought you were saying. I reckon it was even well-intentioned. But you simply put your foot in you mouth up to the knee. You have no clue what it takes to build a business. You have never done so, and I suspect you have very, very few you would call friends who have; maybe none. We are very fortunate as a country that, in the 1950s and 1960s, government did a few things that government is supposed to do. The decades of "the good life" were a result. But then government began meddling in things not enumerated in the Constitution. As a result, for more and more of us, the good life is over.

President Obama and VP Joe Biden might be re-elected. I hope not, but they might. If so, four more years of pathological mismanagement of America will certainly lead to a Republican landslide in 2016. But if Mitt Romney is elected, and both houses of Congress shift to the right, there is a chance that the huge inequities and injustices and enormous deficits of the past three-plus years can be reversed. Dear God, I hope so!!

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