Obama’s False Choice
A “chaotic and unforgiving capitalism” is exactly what we need right now.
By Mark Steyn
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.
— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is author of America Alone. © 2009 Mark Steyn
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