Streetwise Professor

July 15, 2012

Obama’s Creepy Collectivist Vision

Filed under: Economics,Politics,Regulation — The Professor @ 9:11 pm

Obama’s speech in Roanoke, VA, contains this bit of creepy collectivism:

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back.  They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.  You didn’t get there on your own.  I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.  There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.  Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.  (Applause.)

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.  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.

You know the latent message here: You didn’t earn it.  So you have no right to it.  Since you have no right to it, “we”-the government-will take what we want.

Let’s consider that Internet example from the perspective that Obama routinely applies to private wealth.  Putting aside the question of whether the Internet is truly the child of the government-funded ARPANET, the Federal government has recouped in taxes on income and capital gains from Internet-related economic activity many, many times what it spent in developing ARPANET.  Indeed, I would wager that the government will collect more in taxes from the Facebook IPO than it spent on ARPANET, even taking into account inflation/compounded interest.  When private fortunes are concerned, Obama’s philosophy is “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money”, meaning that you should pay more-much more-in taxes.  But that doesn’t apply to government investment, evidently.  If it did, it would be greedy to cash those tax checks from Internet businesses and workers.

What’s more, whatever the contribution of government initiatives like ARPANET to the Internet, it is blindingly obvious that virtually all the value generated by the Internet is the result of private initiative, private innovation, and private investment.  So when you are cashing that government benefit check, realize that the government didn’t get there on its own.

And the last statement (“[g]overnment research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet”) is a flagrant lie. This statement implies intent: that government research on ARPANET had, as its explicit purpose, the encouragement of private economic activity.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Obama then fired up the Wayback Machine for further examples of the pivotal role of government:

So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together.  That’s how we funded the GI Bill.  That’s how we created the middle class.  That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam.  That’s how we invented the Internet.  That’s how we sent a man to the moon.  We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for President — because I still believe in that idea.  You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.

Uhm, who is this “we”?  A pitch-perfect illustration of the collectivist mindset.

At least he spared us a disquisition on the Intercontinental Railroad.  (Now that would have been a feat!).  As for the things he did mention:

Man on the moon?  NASA is a tragic shadow of its former self-with Obama’s approval.

Hoover Dam?  Please.  You think it could be built today?  Really?  The enviros* and progs hate dams.  Hate them.

And even something seemingly more benign, like the Golden Gate Bridge, would never be built today, or certainly not as quickly or cheaply as the original. The environmental impact statements, the legislative log rolling, the designs and redesigns to meet the objections of this constituency or that, all make such project a thing of the past.

No, nowadays, infrastructure projects aren’t shovel ready.  They are rent seeker ready.  Lawyer ready.  Bureaucrat ready.  Just look at the train wreck (literally) that is high speed rail in California.  Or the Big Dig in Boston, as Walter Russell Mead reminds us:

It turns out that Boston’s “Big Dig” construction project cost taxpayers much more than expected — and enormous bills for interest payments and mass transit are still rolling in.

Hailed at its inception as an example of “smart government” and proof that “government can still get things done,” the project was originally estimated to cost $2.8 billion. Thanks to corruption, construction mishaps and the usual friction on projects of this kind, the project took a decade longer than planned to complete, and was said at the time (December 2007) to have cost a total of $14.6 billion.

There was much shock and finger-pointing when these numbers came out, but as reports, those cost estimates were still much too low. By the time the whole mess is finished and accounted for, this beautiful proof of governmental competence and efficiency, this magnificent testimony to the ability of big infrastructure projects to turn the US around will end up costing about twice that much: at about $21 billion, the final cost will be about seven times the original estimate — an original estimate, by the way, so large that it blew peoples’ minds at the start.

Government today is all about transfer payments, rather than investment in public goods.  When it tries to build stuff, it soon engages in a Bacchanal of waste and incoherence.  Its greatest efforts are directed at redistribution via cashing checks from some and writing checks to others.  That, and controlling via regulation economic activity large and small.

Interesting, isn’t it, that Obama couldn’t find an example of a seminal contribution of government post-1969?

If you are paying attention to what Obama says, it is clear that his vision is inherently a collectivist one that is deeply hostile to private enterprise and wealth creation.  A vision that credits the government for the lion’s share of wealth creation if government has touched the creative process, however slightly or indirectly.  A vision that cannot see Bastiat’s unseen-the wealth not created because of the very visible strangling hand of government.

* WordPress’s auto spell kept wanting to replace “enviros” with “enviers.”  That works.

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  1. I’ve been busier than ever these days but never miss a post. All I can say is “Amen brother.”

    Comment by Howard Roark — July 15, 2012 @ 9:20 pm

  2. Good to hear from you Howard. Glad that you are busier than ever. Also glad you take the time to keep reading. Very much appreciated. I hope all is well, and that your busy is a good busy.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 15, 2012 @ 10:18 pm

  3. It works indeed, i.e. envy – the lowest of the human qualities – the fundamental premise underlying the whole argument. In other words – coveting. It makes no less of a sin, when it is coveted under the disguise of the collective desire for the sake of the common good. Which historic ill was not committed for the sake of the common good? In the same manner, robbery committed under the seal of the approval of the government is just another way of raiding.
    This distortion of categories has been legitimized since the times of the French revolution perhaps. Prior to that, human wisdom qualified it as oppression of ruling circles. If not for the legitimating of it by the French revolution, it would’ve probably been despised the same way the Mongol-Tatar yoke.
    But in the case of Mongol-Tatar yoke as brutal as he was, at least Genghis Khan was an outstanding leader and his rise was due to his leadership skills.
    The rise of this one is due to the stupidity of the electorate and the mass coveting. What can be despised more?

    Comment by MJ — July 16, 2012 @ 3:56 am

  4. Same situation as Howard. SWP is definitely on my must read list!

    Comment by Surya — July 16, 2012 @ 7:04 am

  5. Count me in your amen corner, Prof. as to the O, he really is beginning to look like the villian from a Classic Comics edition of Atlas Shrugged. Some of this may be is that he is speaking as though he is at a faculty night drinks session, and assumes he is speaking to the inner circle – in other words, if these beliefs are honestly held he has no idea how they sound to anyone who hasn’t drunk the KoolAid. How pathetic – his “honesty” is nothing more than a lack of imagination.

    Comment by Sotos — July 16, 2012 @ 8:42 am

  6. so all “enviros” hate dams? “Hate them”? Ever been to Norway? (ironically an oil rich Nation, FWIW) or Scotland even?

    I guess it’s easier to be rabidly against renewable energy when you know *your* kids aren’t going to serve in the Gulf

    Comment by PK — July 16, 2012 @ 9:49 am

  7. Hm. Somehow I think PK isn’t in the amen corner along with Howard and Surya. (Also thinking that PK isn’t the ex-owner of the Cubs:-P).

    Well, PK. First, it’s obvious that I was referring to enviros in the US, where it is clear that my statement is correct. Second, umm, your last sentence puzzles me. As in, it makes no sense. I have no objections to building dams; it’s the enviros and progs who do, and hence per your logic, condemn somebody else’s kids serve in the Gulf. But it also means that I am not rabidly opposed to renewables. I just want them to make economic sense, which in most cases they do not, especially in a fracked world. By a mile. Even if you take into account the security/defense/war costs associated with fossil fuels. And with regards to that last point, the renewables that are least economically insane produce electricity, rather than motor fuels, meaning that their effect on how many of anybody’s sons and daughters are in the Gulf is approximately zero.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 16, 2012 @ 2:58 pm

  8. who really invented the internet? I thought it was Xerox Parc.

    Comment by Jeff — July 17, 2012 @ 7:04 pm

  9. […] Obama and government have never helped me in the last three years. As a matter of fact, government never has helped me. I am public school educated, had some good teachers-but my parents paid taxes. Absent public education, I would have gone to private school. People that say they want a hand up, really want a hand out. Here is an economist’s perception. […]

    Pingback by Breakfast Links | Points and Figures — July 18, 2012 @ 4:18 am

  10. DARPA – then ARPA and the funding for the research was signed by President Johnson. the www is something else. The objective was to WEB communications so no one line cut would prevent messages in packets from eventually get through.

    Comment by sotos — July 18, 2012 @ 9:06 am

  11. […] conservative cry is that Obama’s remarks tell us his true vision for America. Obama’s Creepy Collectivist Vision: You know the latent message here: You didn’t earn it.  So you have no right to it.  Since you […]

    Pingback by American Collectivism | — July 18, 2012 @ 10:35 am

  12. @Sotos-Absolutely. I was giving Obama every benefit of the doubt, no matter how unearned. But even giving him that benefit of the doubt-your point about President Johnson signing the funding reinforces my remark about Obama’s inability to come up with a post-1969 example.

    It amazes me that no one is hammering the point that government spending now is all about transfer payment and entitlements. Infrastructure, basic research, and even defense is small beer now.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 18, 2012 @ 11:20 am

  13. Government funding takes the FORM of transfer payments. It is all ABOUT power or the creation of dependent populations perpetuating our pseudo-meritocracy. The irony of thecreation of the Internet is that its original application was for the military!

    Comment by sotos — July 18, 2012 @ 4:17 pm

  14. For funding read spending. Sorry.

    Comment by sotos — July 18, 2012 @ 5:39 pm

  15. Obama said that the ‘internet didn’t get created on it’s own’; Government research created it’.

    This defines the collectivst mindset.

    But let’s truly analyse the word’s being used here.

    Firstly, where did the concept of the ‘internet’ originate? How did it come into being?

    The concept originated with the ‘individual’ whereas government research enabled further development of that concept.

    Furthermore, what is this thing called ‘Government’? Can you ‘see’ a ‘Government’? Can you ‘touch’ a ‘Government’? NO. You can see individuals. You can ‘touch’ individuals.

    There is essentially no such thing as a ‘Government’ – because individuals make up the government as they do everything else.

    In addition, what is meant by ‘Government research’?. This basically means that individuals in positions of power who control the flow of money decide which other individuals to give it to.

    All of these various words and phrases are self-cancelling by defintion because they render themselves down to the individual. For example, individuals make up ‘teams’, Individuals make up ‘Groups’. Individuals make up ‘society’, Individuals make up the ‘state’, Individuals make up the ‘Government’, etc.

    Only individuals exist. Only individuals are real. Everything else is an abstraction.

    Comment by Alfie — July 25, 2015 @ 2:47 pm

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