Did the State Make You Great?

From Charles Krauthammer:

“If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

— Barack Obama, Roanoke, Va., July 13

And who might that somebody else be? Government, says Obama. It built the roads you drive on. It provided the teacher who inspired you. It “created the Internet.” It represents the embodiment of “we’re in this together” social solidarity that, in Obama’s view, is the essential origin of individual and national achievement.

To say all individuals are embedded in and the product of society is banal. Obama rises above banality by means of fallacy: equating society with government, the collectivity with the state. Of course we are shaped by our milieu. But the most formative, most important influence on the individual is not government. It is civil society, those elements of the collectivity that lie outside government: family, neighborhood, church, Rotary club, PTA, the voluntary associations that Tocqueville understood to be the genius of America and source of its energy and freedom.

Moreover, the greatest threat to a robust, autonomous civil society is the ever-growing Leviathan state and those like Obama who see it as the ultimate expression of the collective.

Obama compounds the fallacy by declaring the state to be the font of entrepreneurial success. How so? It created the infrastructure — roads, bridges, schools, Internet — off which we all thrive.

Absurd. We don’t credit the Swiss postal service with the Special Theory of Relativity because it transmitted Einstein’s manuscript to the Annalen der Physik. Everyone drives the roads, goes to school, uses the mails. So did Steve Jobs. Yet only he conceived and built the Mac and the iPad.

Obama’s infrastructure argument is easily refuted by what is essentially a controlled social experiment. Roads and schools are the constant. What’s variable is the energy, enterprise, risk-taking, hard work, and genius of the individual. It is therefore precisely those individual characteristics, not the communal utilities, that account for the different outcomes.

The ultimate Obama fallacy, however, is the conceit that belief in the value of infrastructure — and willingness to invest in its creation and maintenance — is what divides liberals from conservatives.

More nonsense. Infrastructure is not a liberal idea, nor is it particularly new. The Via Appia was built 2,300 years ago. The Romans built aqueducts too. And sewers. Since forever, infrastructure has been consensually understood to be a core function of government.

The argument between Left and Right is about what you do beyond infrastructure. It’s about transfer payments and redistributionist taxation; about geometrically expanding entitlements; about tax breaks and subsidies to induce actions pleasing to central planners. It’s about free contraceptives for privileged students and welfare without work — the latest Obama entitlement-by-decree that would fatally undermine the great bipartisan welfare reform of 1996. It’s about endless government handouts that, ironically, are crowding out necessary spending on, yes, infrastructure.

What divides liberals and conservatives is not roads and bridges, but Julia’s world, an Obama-campaign creation that may be the most self-revealing parody of liberalism ever conceived. It’s a series of cartoon illustrations in which a fictional Julia is swaddled and subsidized throughout her life by an all-giving government of bottomless pockets and “Queen for a Day” magnanimity. At every stage, the state is there to provide — preschool classes and cut-rate college loans, birth control and maternity care, business loans and retirement. The only time she’s on her own is at her gravesite.

Julia’s world is totally atomized. It contains no friends, no community and, of course, no spouse. Who needs one? She’s married to the provider state.

Or to put it slightly differently, the “Life of Julia” represents the paradigmatic Obama political philosophy: citizen as orphan child. For the conservative, providing for every need is the duty that government owes to actual orphan children. Not to supposedly autonomous adults.

Beyond infrastructure, the conservative sees the proper role of government as providing not European-style universal entitlements but a firm safety net, meaning Julia-like treatment for those who really cannot make it on their own — those too young or too old, too mentally or physically impaired, to provide for themselves.

Limited government so conceived has two indispensable advantages. It avoids inexorable European-style national insolvency. And it avoids breeding debilitating individual dependency. It encourages and celebrates character, independence, energy, and hard work as the foundations of a free society and a thriving economy — precisely the virtues Obama discounts and devalues in his accounting of the wealth of nations.

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You Didn’t Build That

From James Taranto:

“If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.” If the World’s Greatest Orator turns out to be a one-term president, it is likely to go down as the most memorable utterance of his career. Mitt Romney certainly hopes that happens. HotAir.com’s Ed Morrissey has highlights of Mitt Romney’s response, in a speech yesterday at Irwin, Pa.:

The idea to say that Steve Jobs didn’t build Apple, that Henry Ford didn’t build Ford Motor, that Papa John didn’t build Papa John Pizza, that Ray Kroc didn’t build McDonald’s, that Bill Gates didn’t build Microsoft, you go on the list, that Joe and his colleagues didn’t build this enterprise, to say something like that is not just foolishness, it is insulting to every entrepreneur, every innovator in America, and it’s wrong.

And by the way, the president’s logic doesn’t just extend to the entrepreneurs that start a barber shop or a taxi operation or an oil field service business like this and a gas service business like this, it also extends to everybody in America that wants to lift themself [sic] up a little further, that goes back to school to get a degree and see if they can get a little better job, to somebody who wants to get some new skills and get a little higher income, to somebody who have, may have dropped out that decides to get back in school and go for it. . . . The president would say, well you didn’t do that. You couldn’t have gotten to school without the roads that government built for you. You couldn’t have gone to school without teachers. So you didn’t, you are not responsible for that success. President Obama attacks success and therefore under President Obama we have less success and I will change that.

I’ve got to be honest, I don’t think anyone could have said what he said who had actually started a business or been in a business. And my own view is that what the President said was both startling and revealing. I find it extraordinary that a philosophy of that nature would be spoken by a president of the United States. It goes to something that I have spoken about from the beginning of the campaign. That this election is, to a great degree, about the soul of America. Do we believe in an America that is great because of government or do we believe in an America that is great because of free people allowed to pursue their dreams and build our future?

There’s a website called didntbuildthat.com with a variety of hilarious treatments of the Obama philosophy. Of course, whoever’s running the site didn’t build that. As he acknowledges, Al Gore did. And hey, remember Julia, Barack Obama’s composite girlfriend? At 42, she starts a Web business. Under President Obama, she didn’t build that.

Obama may be God’s gift to comedy, but Romney is right that the philosophical stakes here are serious. The president’s remark was a direct attack on the principle of individual responsibility, the foundation of American freedom. If “you didn’t build that,” then you have no moral claim to it, and those with political power are morally justified in taking it away and using it to buy more political power. “I think that when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody,” Obama said in another candid moment, in 2008.

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Burst of Ideological Candor

From the WSJ:

The Presidential election has a long way to go, but the line of the year so far is President Obama’s on Friday: “You didn’t build that.” Rarely do politicians so clearly reveal their core beliefs.

Speaking in Roanoke, Virginia, Mr. Obama delivered another paean to the virtues of higher taxes on the people he believes deserve to pay even more to the government. “There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans,” he observed, and many of them attribute their wealth and success to their own intelligence and hard work. But the self-made man is an illusion: “There are a lot of smart people out there,” he explained. “Let me tell you something—there are a whole bunch of hard-working people out there.

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help,” he continued. “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.”

This burst of ideological candor is already resonating like nothing else Mr. Obama’s said in years. The Internet is awash with images of the President telling the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs and other innovators they didn’t build that. Kevin Costner’s famous line in “Field of Dreams,” as adapted for Mr. Obama: “If you build it, we’ll still say you didn’t really build it.”

Beneath the satire is the serious point that Mr. Obama’s homily is the soul of his campaign message. The President who says he wants to be transformational may be succeeding—and subordinating to government the individual enterprise and risk-taking that underlies prosperity. The question is whether this is the America that most Americans want to build.

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13,000 pages of regulations, and they’re not even done yet

Despicable:

With the Supreme Court giving President Obama’s new health care law a green light, federal and state officials are turning to implementation of the law — a lengthy and massive undertaking still in its early stages, but already costing money and expanding the government.

The Health and Human Services Department “was given a billion dollars implementation money,” Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg of Montana said. “That money is gone already on additional bureaucrats and IT programs, computerization for the implementation.”

“Oh boy,” Stan Dorn of the Urban Institute said. “HHS has a huge amount of work to do and the states do, too. There will be new health insurance marketplaces in every state in the country, places you can go online, compare health plans.”

The IRS, Health and Human Services and many other agencies will now write thousands of pages of regulations — an effort well under way:
“There’s already 13,000 pages of regulations, and they’re not even done yet,” Rehberg said.

“It’s a delegation of extensive authority from Congress to the Department of Health and Human Services and a lot of boards and commissions and bureaus throughout the bureaucracy,” Matt Spalding of the Heritage Foundation said. “We counted about 180 or so.”

There has been much focus on the mandate that all Americans obtain health insurance, but analysts say that’s just a small part of the law — covering only a few pages out of the law’s 2700.

“The fact of the matter is the mandate is about two percent of the whole piece of the legislation,” Spalding said. “It’s a minor part.”
Much bigger than the mandate itself are the insurance exchanges that will administer $681 billion in subsidies over 10 years, which will require a lot of new federal workers at the IRS and health department.

“They are asking for several hundred new employees,” Dorn said. “You have rules you need to write and you need lawyers, so there are lots of things you need to do when you are standing up a new enterprise.”

For some, though, the bottom line is clear and troubling: The federal government is about to assume massive new powers.
According to James Capretta of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, federal powers will include designing insurance plans, telling people where they can go for coverage and how much insurers are allowed to charge.

“Really, how doctors and hospitals are supposed to practice medicine,” he said.

The health department is still writing regulations, which can be controversial in and of themselves. One already written, for instance, requires insurance plans to cover contraception. It has been legally challenged by Catholic groups in a case likely to end up in the Supreme Court.
So, there are likely to be many more chapters to go in the saga of Obama’s health care law.

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