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A “chaotic and unforgiving capitalism” is exactly what we need right now.
By Mark Steyn, National Review columnist, author of America Alone
Writing in the Chicago Tribune last week, President Obama fell back on one of his favorite rhetorical tics: “But I also know,” he wrote, “that we need not choose between a chaotic and unforgiving capitalism and an oppressive government-run economy. That is a false choice that will not serve our people or any people.”
Really? For the moment, it’s a “false choice” mainly in the sense that he’s not offering it: “a chaotic and unforgiving capitalism” is not on the menu, which leaves “an oppressive government-run economy” as pretty much the only game in town. How oppressive is yet to be determined: To be sure, the official position remains that only “the richest five percent” will have taxes increased. But you’ll be surprised at the percentage of Americans who wind up in the richest five percent. This year federal government spending will rise to 28.5 per cent of GDP, the highest level ever, with the exception of the peak of the Second World War. The 44th president is proposing to add more to the national debt than the first 43 presidents combined, doubling it in the next six years, and tripling it within the decade. But to talk about it in percentages of this and trillions of that misses the point. It’s not about bookkeeping, it’s about government annexation of the economy, and thus of life: government supervision, government regulation, government control. No matter how small your small business is – plumbing, hairdressing, maple sugaring – the state will be burdening you with more permits, more paperwork, more bureaucracy.
And don’t plan on moving. Ahead of this week’s G20 summit in London, Timothy Geithner, America’s beloved Toxic Asset, called for “global regulation.” “Our hope,” said Toxic Tim, “is that we can work with Europe on a global framework, a global infrastructure which has appropriate global oversight . . . ”
“Global oversight:” Hmm. There’s a phrase to savor.
“We can’t,” he continued, “allow institutions to cherry pick among competing regulators and ship risk to where it faces the lowest standards and weakest constraints . . . ”
Just as a matter of interest, why not? If you don’t want to be subject to the punitive “oversight” of economically illiterate, demagogic legislators-for-life like Barney Frank, why shouldn’t you be “allowed” to move your business to some jurisdiction with a lighter regulatory touch?
Borders give you choices. Your town has a crummy grade school? Move ten miles north and there’s a better one. Sick of Massachusetts taxes? Move to New Hampshire, as thousands do. To modify the abortionists’ bumper sticker: “I’m Pro-Choice And I Vote With My Feet.” That’s part of the self-correcting dynamism of capitalism: For example, Bono, the global do-gooder who was last in Washington to play at the Obama inauguration, recently moved much of his business from Ireland to the Netherlands, in order to pay less tax. And good for him. To be sure, he’s always calling on governments to give more money to Africa and whatnot, but it’s heartening to know that, when it comes to his wallet as opposed to yours, Bono – like Secretary Geithner – has no desire to toss any more of his money into the great sucking maw of the government treasury than the absolute minimum he can get away with. I’m with Bono and Tim: They can spend their money more effectively than hack bureaucrats can. We should do as they do, not as they say.
If you listen to the principal spokesmen for U.S. economic policy – Obama and Geithner – they grow daily ever more explicitly hostile to the private sector and ever more comfortable with the language of micro-managed government-approved capitalism – which, of course, isn’t capitalism at all. They’ll have an easier time getting away with it in a world of “global oversight” where there’s nowhere to move to. Unfortunately, even then it won’t work. Think about it: It takes extraordinary skill to create and manage a billion-dollar company; there are very few human beings on the planet who can do it. Now look at Obama and Geithner, the two men currently “managing” more money than any individuals in human history: not billions, but trillions.
Notwithstanding the Treasury secretary’s protestations that the Yes/No prompt buttons of Turbo Tax were too complex for a simple soul such as himself, it’s no reflection on the hapless Geithner that he’s unable to fix the planet. When the Bolsheviks chose to introduce Russians to the blessings of a “command economy” 90 years ago, they were dealing with a relatively simple agricultural society largely contained within national borders. Obama and Geithner are trying to do it with a sophisticated global economy in which North American consumers, European bankers, Asian suppliers, Saudi investors, and Chinese debt-holders are more tangled than an octopuses’ orgy. Even with “global oversight” – with the Toxic Tims of Germany, Argentina, and India all agreeing on how to fix the game – it can’t be done.
Barack Obama, even when he’s not yukking it up on 60 Minutes, barely disguises his indifference to economic matters. He is not an economist, a political philosopher, a geopolitical strategist. He is the president as social engineer, the Community-Organizer-in-Chief. His plan to reduce tax deductions for charitable giving, for example, is not intended primarily to raise revenue, but to advance government as the distributor of largesse and diminish alternative sources of societal organization, such as civic groups. Likewise, his big plans for socialized health care, a green economy, universal college education: They’re about extending the reach of the state.
Unfortunately, all of it costs money he doesn’t have. So he has to borrow it, in your name. Where does the world’s hyperpower go to borrow more dough than anyone’s ever borrowed in human history? More to the point, given that, partly at the behest of Obama and Geithner, almost every other western government is ramping up national debt to cover massive bank bailouts and other phony-baloney “stimuli,” is there enough money out there to buy up the debt that’s already been run up? Last week, at the official British Treasury auction, investors failed to buy the full complement of so-called “gilt-edged” 40-year bonds. Two such auctions have already failed in Germany. The U.S. Treasury, facing similar investor reluctance to snap up $34 billion of five-year notes, was forced to increase the interest it will pay on them. The Chinese and the Saudis have long taken the view that it’s to their advantage to own as much of the western world as they can snaffle up, but it’s unclear whether even they have pockets deep enough for what America and the many Bailoutistans of Europe are proposing to spend.
In their first two months, Obama and Geithner have done nothing but vaporize your wealth, and your children’s future. What began as an economic crisis is now principally a political usurpation. And, to return to the president’s “false choice,” that “chaotic and unforgiving capitalism” is exactly what we need right now. It’s the quickest, cheapest, fairest, most-efficient route to economic stabilization and renewal. A regimented and eternally forgiving global command economy with no moral hazard will destroy us all.
By Clifford D. May, NationalReviewOnline
It’s what’s coming – unless we commit to remaining an “Exceptional” nation.
The question posed by social scientist Charles Murray at the American Enterprise Institute’s annual dinner this month could hardly have been simpler: Do Americans want the United States to be like Europe?
He asked as someone who likes and admires Europe and Europeans. He asked also because it is becoming increasingly apparent that restructuring the U.S. along the lines of the European social-democratic model is the change many in the new administration – perhaps including President Obama himself – believe in. Such a redirection surely deserves consideration.
Murray is convinced that Europeanizing America is a bad idea, and not only because the European model creates chronically “sclerotic economies.” More significant, he says, is the fact that embracing the European model means discarding the Founders’ revolutionary reinvention of government, and of the relationship between the state and the citizen. Murray argues this would inevitably “enfeeble” the habits and institutions that have been singularly responsible for making America “robust and vital” – an “exceptional” nation.
The intent of the modern European welfare state, Murray says, is laudable: to take “some of the trouble” out of life. Dealing with troubles, he concedes, is not always easy or pleasant, but it can lead to satisfactions accessible through no other means. It is how people’s lives “make a difference.” By contrast, those relieved of important responsibilities tend to while away their days “as pleasantly as possible.”
If amusement becomes “the purpose of life, why have a child, when children are so much trouble – and, after all, what good are they, really? If that’s the purpose of life, why spend it worrying about neighbors? If that’s the purpose of life, what could possibly be the attraction of a religion that says otherwise?” And so, in Europe, one sees a diminishing work ethic, catastrophically declining birth rates, a dwindling sense of nation and community, and empty churches.
I would add this: Such a society is no match for the challenge of radical Islam, a surpremacist and aggressive political/religious movement with ironclad convictions about every aspect of life, and adherents willing – in many cases eager – to kill and die in pursuit of their vision.
Murray has not explored the national-security implications of Europeanization but, coincidentally, John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, addresses precisely that topic in a new essay in Commentary magazine. He notes in particular that “foreign-policy eminences here and abroad, including former Secretaries of State of both parties as well as defense officials from the Clinton and first Bush administrations” are now advocating to Obama that the United States emulate “the European Union (EU) as the new model.”
Such an approach would require that Washington achieve “transnational consensus” for foreign policies it wishes to implement. It would mean replacing the traditional American concept of sovereignty – U.S. citizens governing themselves within the framework of the U.S. Constitution – with something called “responsible sovereignty,” a euphemism for ceding sovereignty to the United Nations in the interest of building a “cooperative international order” and, in time, “global governance.”
Bolton argues that following this course would make America, by design, weaker, while strengthening “international organizations, which have, time and again, proved inefficient and ineffective.”
More fundamentally, this would mark a historic break with “the understanding of the U.S. Constitution, which locates the basis of its legitimacy in ‘we the people,’ who constitute the sovereign authority of the nation.”
Emulating the experiment now underway in Europe, in which nations “share” sovereignty even with non-citizens, Bolton adds, “by definition will diminish the sovereign power of the American people over their government and their own lives, the very purpose for which the Constitution was written. This is something Americans have been reluctant to do.”
But that’s the direction in which we now appear to be heading. Bolton contends that only “concerted action” can prevent it. The possibility that “irreversible damage will be done to the American project over the next few years is real,” Murray warns.
“The drift toward the European model can be slowed by piecemeal victories on specific items of legislation, but only slowed,” he adds. “It is going to be stopped only when we are all talking again about why America is exceptional, and why it is so important that America remain exceptional. That requires once again seeing the American project for what it is: a different way for people to live together, unique among the nations of the Earth, and immeasurably precious.”
Do a sufficient number of Americans still believe that? Given the failures of America’s educational system, do most people even understand the choice that is about to be made? And, even if they do, how many are willing to fight to prevent such a counter-revolution? There may be no questions of greater consequence asked and answered over the years ahead.
It is now spring; the vernal equinox was reached Friday morning. To celebrate, Barack Obama sent a video of himself to Iran.
This was one of several end-of-week media performances, as Mr. Obama went back into “campaign mode” after a break of several months. The message of the polls is that he had better start selling his policies harder, because they are showing signs of not going over very well. Moreover, the unpolled elites, including those within the Democratic Party, have started to ask questions aloud about whether their man is competent; and as we know from painful history, such uncertainties from an elite tend to “trickle down.”
What the polls can’t say directly, and thus perhaps the White House can’t yet hear, is that the policies themselves are diminishing Mr. Obama’s appeal. There are indications of this in the polls themselves, but they are subtle. On one issue after another, from bail-outs to the environment, Medicare, life issues, foreign policy, the polls now tend to confirm what this pundit and a few other incorrigible reactionaries knew from the outset: that a plurality of American voters had embraced Mr. Obama not because of, but despite the policies he was signalling. They most certainly liked the man and his “temperament,” and they most certainly wanted the Republicans out. But it did not follow that they wanted their government to lurch to the left.
To my analytical mind, such as it is, they wanted Obama the man, but not Obama the agenda, except for the uplifting rhetorical bits about “hope,” “change,” and so forth. The idea that the man could not be separated from the agenda never fully fixed; John McCain and company actually avoided riding home on this point, once the media made clear it would be reported as “scare tactics.”
Again, to my mind — and it is the only one I have with which to write this column — we would be wrong to think of Mr. Obama as an ideologue. I think he was perfectly sincere in denying that he was anything of the sort, and in claiming that he would be looking for bipartisan consensus. I also think he is sincere in proceeding with an agenda — on bail-outs, the environment, Medicare, life issues, foreign policy, etc. — that leaves most Republicans, and quite a few of the more conservative Democrats, utterly aghast.
How to explain this apparent contradiction? I’m afraid it is easy. As I mentioned during the presidential campaign, Mr. Obama was seriously unqualified for the job of president. He had no practical experience in running anything, except political campaigns; but worse, his background was one-dimensional.
All his life, from childhood through university through “community organizing” and Chicago wardheel politics, through Sunday mornings listening to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, to the left side of Democrat caucuses in Springfield and Washington, he has been surrounded almost exclusively by extremely liberal people, and moreover, by people who are quick and clever but intellectually narrow.
He is a free soul, but he is also the product of environments in which even moderately conservative ideas are never considered; but where people on the further reaches of the left are automatically welcomed as “avant-garde.” His whole idea of where the middle might be, is well to the left of where the average American might think it is. To a man like Obama, as he has let slip on too many occasions when away from his teleprompter, “Middle America” is not something to be compromised with, but rather, something that must be manipulated, because it is stupid. And the proof that it can be manipulated, is that he is the president today.
It is at this point that the phenomenon known as “too clever by half” sets in. Technically, it is indistinguishable from arrogance and hubris, but it is unnecessary to stress the point. Sixty days into his first term (and I begin to doubt there’ll be a second), he would seem already to have dug a hole from which no rhetorical skill can lift him.
The video to Iran is the latest catastrophe. Mr. Obama simply does not understand how his “olive branch” will be received, not only by the mullahs in Iran itself, but wherever else on the surface of the planet the United States has enemies. It “reads” — to people who do not share anything like America’s aspirations — as an unambiguous confession of weakness. He has moved the American position towards Iran from offensive to defensive, for no defensible reason.