Streetwise Professor

July 18, 2012

Huey Obama

Filed under: Economics,Politics — The Professor @ 7:44 pm

Obama’s Roanoke Field of Nightmares speech (“You didn’t build it, so we will come and take it”) is attracting considerable attention, at least from the conservative and libertarian sides of the blogosphere: MSM, not at all.  As it should.  It is arguably the most radical speech given by a US president; whereas (the progressive) Theodore Roosevelt’s “Malefactors of Great Wealth” speech was focused at a relatively narrow group (the 1907 version of the 1 percent), Obama’s speech questions the legitimacy and contributions of entrepreneurs and strivers.

In trying to think of a similarly radical vision by a major political figure in the US, the closest I could come was Huey Long, who advocated the “Share Our Wealth” program.  But even that was focused on the ultra-wealthy.

So the Obama vision reflects change, all right.  Hope, not so much.

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  1. In fairness, Obama’s speech looks different in print than when spoken:

    “Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that [the roads and bridges]. Somebody else made that happen.

    The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”

    Don’t get me wrong. What Obama says is bad enough.

    Obama actually says that the collective is a partner in your business because it provides roads. You would have no customers without roads. So, you are only in business because of what the collective did for you.

    Then, Obama pre-emptively attacks the idea that a business doesn’t need roads if it has the internet. Too bad, the government also developed the internet.

    By the way, the “internet” was a small, high speed network run by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) connecting government laboratories. Tim Berners Lee designed and implemented the communication protocol HTML (HyperText Markup Language), and his idea took off.

    This early network prohibited commercial use and advertising. The government had almost nothing to do with the modern design, expansion, and use of the Internet.

    Obama is repeating a vicious excuse for expropriating the work of citizens.

    Leftist:  We would all be better off if you would be reasonable. Please give us all of your money for the greater good.
    Citizen:  No way, I earned my wealth. I created my wealth.

    Leftist:  Do you understand that you would be nothing without government? We built the streets, kept the law, regulated away the things that would have killed you as a child, and supported your education. You are lucky to be smart, unlike most others, yet you won’t share what we supported in you.
    Citizen:  You already take 40% in taxes.

    Leftist:  As you can see, our society is in decline. We need the rest.
    Citizen:  No way.
    Leftist:  You are a selfish and ignorant man. Why can’t you meet us half way?

    Your Dog Owns Your House

    Government agencies protect us, but we don’t therefore owe the government everything. A free man can arrange a better deal than that. Of course, a slave has no such option.

    Comment by Andrew_M_Garland — July 19, 2012 @ 12:07 am

  2. Assassination jokes in 3, 2, 1…

    Comment by So? — July 19, 2012 @ 1:22 am

  3. @So? The only reservation I had about comparing Obama to Long was exactly what you mention. Obviously I abhor assassination. I would note that Long’s assassination was not ideological in motive. The assassin was the son-in-law of one of Long’s enemies in the cutthroat world of Louisiana politics.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 19, 2012 @ 5:28 am

  4. Yeah, I was dimly aware of this story; how the assassin was “innocent”, “amateur bodyguards screwed up”. Remember seeing it on TV aeons ago. Glad wikipedia has cleared it all up for me now. Anyway, too much weight is assigned to the importance of an individual in history, especially places where the power is so distributed (United States). For example, to my great shame I’ve only recently learned of this Had Little Nicky been dispatched right there and then, would things have been any different? Only in small details.

    Comment by So? — July 19, 2012 @ 6:35 am

  5. @So? Willie Stark in All the King’s Men bears striking similarities to Huey Long (including death by assassination on the capitol steps), although Earl Penn Warren denied it. That is how most people my age, and perhaps a little younger, became acquainted with Long. Otherwise he has largely disappeared from American historical memory. Which perhaps speaks to your point re the unimportance of individuals.

    Otsu incident-interesting. I am not a big fan of alternative history, precisely because things are so contingent. I leave that crap to Newt Gingrich.

    My mathematical metaphor for the relative contribution of individuals and underlying socioeconomic forces to the trajectory of history is an OU process. Individuals, and individual events displace the sample path (they are the random shocks) but the underlying forces pull things back to the mean. The hard question to answer is how fast is the speed of mean reversion? Also, to extend the metaphor, you can characterize the volatility of the error term as being a stochastic process as well. That is, idiosyncratic volatility is higher at some times than others.

    Your “in the small details” comment would be interpreted as a statement about mean reversion: you believe the speed of mean reversion is very fast.

    A question for you: do you believe things would be any different, beyond small details, if Archduke Ferdinand had not been assassinated?

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 19, 2012 @ 8:12 am

  6. @Andrew-Yes, you could interpret the “that” in the “you didn’t build that” to be bridges, etc. If so, this is another example of Obama’s inability to speak grammatically. Plural noun, so it should have been “you didn’t build *those*”, whereas “a business” is singular and goes with “that”. He is a serial offender on this-in speech, but also in his unedited writings.

    But the “you didn’t build the business” interpretation makes sense in context of the entire paragraph. As you note, even under the roads and bridges interpretation, his claim is breathtakingly expansive: if government touches on your business in any way, it has an unlimited claim on your property and the fruits of your labor. The government Doberman owns all our houses.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 19, 2012 @ 8:23 am

  7. @Andrew-I think we are in agreement that the “All your businesses belong to us” interpretation is the correct one. The only potential difference is, pardon the pun, the road that one takes to reach that destination. The shortcut is to interpret “You didn’t build *that*” to refer to businesses. The longer route is to claim that because virtually every business benefits, in some way, from government (and who really denies that?-another Obama straw man), government has an unlimited claim on your business. Since the destination is the same, it is an immaterial difference. And I think that the common shortcut interpretation of Obama’s remark reflects that fact. It is a good soundbite that captures the collectivist implication.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 19, 2012 @ 8:31 am

  8. Ahem… I must say, dear Professor, that Earl Warren was quite a different person than Robert Penn Warren…

    Comment by LL — July 19, 2012 @ 11:19 am

  9. @The Professor,

    I agree that there is little difference between what Obama actually said (giving all benefit of the doubt) “The government built the roads which helped your business”, and what he really meant, “You should give the government more and more of what you earn, because you needed the help of the government”.

    But, the Left takes remarks out of context all the time, with no benefit of the doubt. In those cases, there may be a huge difference between the interpretation and the real meaning.

    Ideally, we would fight misinterpretation on all sides and challenge politicians on their best arguments, not their weakest.

    The strong (flawed) argument is that the government provided the fertile soil in which all enterprise grows. So, don’t be selfish.

    The retort is that governments are established by men to provide some of that fertile soil, but that does not make us slaves, owing more and more to our benevolent masters. A free people can change the government. Only a tyranny sets out to change the people.

    Comment by Andrew_M_Garland — July 19, 2012 @ 11:40 am

  10. Good catch LL. LOL.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 19, 2012 @ 3:02 pm

  11. Professor,

    the 3rd para of you reply sums it up nicely. The Archduke assassinated or not, Germany is the most powerful state on the continent 100 years later. I know that many feel that WWI was a stupid war that happened by accident, but with all that gear arrayed, something was bound to happen.

    Comment by So? — July 19, 2012 @ 5:00 pm

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