August 31, 2010
The Party of Know-NothingsBy Jeffrey Folks
"Ideas may be cut loose from experience in two senses: either they have no roots in experience, or they are not submitted to the test of experience. Either way, they are free to be foolish." So wrote Jeane Kirkpatrick in the Introduction to her landmark book, Dictatorships and Double Standards (New York, 1982, p. 10).
Kirkpatrick's statement applies perfectly to the band of naïve idealists now in change of our government. The youthful dreamers guiding the Obama administration have almost no private-sector experience. Like Obama himself, the Cabinet and host of czars who direct policy have spent their lives in politics or academia, be it as Democratic political consultants, professors, nonprofit directors, or community organizers.
Lack of real-world experience may actually be the primary criterion for employment in the Obama White House. Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, for example, has no work experience outside government. He joined the Department of Treasury in 1988, three years after graduating from college and traveling about Asia, and he has continued in government service ever since. Lawrence Summers, Geithner's invisible twin on the economic team, has no more experience than Geithner. His entire work experience can be summed up in a few words: professor, World Bank advisor, government employee. Even more limited is the experience of Cass Sunstein, regulatory czar and close friend of the president. His résumé can be inscribed on a postage stamp: professor, 1981 to present.
Then there are the hardcore politicos whose relation to the private sector is not just distant, but hostile. Rahm Emanuel, Obama's Chief of Staff, worked on the Illinois U.S. senate campaign of Paul Simon even before completing his university education. From there he moved to the Daley mayoral campaign in 1989 and the Clinton White House in 1993.
For his part, David Axelrod, Obama's closest political advisor, has spent his entire career in the world of Democratic politics. Beginning as a political writer for the Chicago Tribune, he soon established himself as an independent consultant, serving on the campaigns of such leftist luminaries as John Edwards and Eliot Spitzer, as well as on the U.S. Senate and presidential campaigns of Barack Obama. No one in Obama's inner circle has less experience or appreciation of the private sector than Axelrod.
Another key figure is Obama's long-time adviser, Valerie Jarrett. Ms. Jarrett (who, by the way, was born in Iran and from childhood spoke Persian as a first language) spent most of her career in Chicago politics before following Obama to the White House. She has become wealthy by consulting with government clients and maneuvering the politicized world of Chicago real estate development.
From Geithner to Jarrett, all of Obama's advisors have one thing in common: they have devoted their lives to the expansion of government. They believe -- quite "passionately," as Axelrod has put it -- that government is the solution to America's problems. Their political DNA is deeply antagonistic to the free market and to the assumption that monetary incentives spur productivity and growth. Professors and politicos, they know nothing of how to manage a business, and they certainly know nothing of how to balance a budget.
Most ordinary human beings know a great deal more than Obama's circle of advisors. They understand that it is the private sector, not government, that produces goods and services. Instinctively, they know there's something wrong with the idea that government "creates" jobs. They understand that subsidies for biofuel start-ups and failing banks are wasteful and wrong, and they know that more subsidy is only throwing good money after bad.
They also know that government revenue comes out of somebody's pocket. Only those who have spent their entire lives in government service or in academe don't understand this. The trillion dollars in stimulus of which Obama is so proud -- he still claims it created or saved millions of jobs even as the Labor Department reports that four million jobs disappeared since the stimulus was signed -- was confiscated from the paychecks of working Americans. It was spent to expand welfare payments to those who do not work, to preserve the jobs of inefficient unionized workers, and to fund favored projects of Democratic political contributors.
Americans who have to work for a living understand that Obama's stimulus spending is political payola on an epic scale. They also understand that it is capitalism that produces wealth and that the profit motive is the key to wealth creation.
Without the opportunity to earn a profit -- to be paid for their labor and rewarded for their investment -- workers would not work, and investors would not invest. For this reason, a society that disdains capitalism will soon find its standard of living faltering. Fewer goods will be produced, supply will be constrained, and prices will rise. With prices rising, goods will become less affordable, and less will be purchased. The result is a vicious cycle of declining production and rising prices.
What I am describing is the classic state of affairs within all socialist economies. Goods become scarce, and so, as government attempts to equalize supply, they are rationed. Since rationed goods are by definition sold at below-market prices, more and more goods find their way to the black market, where they are sold to the highest bidder. Instead of creating equality, socialism always produces a two-tiered system. On the black market, for those who can afford them, goods are plentiful. For the rest of the population, they are scarce.
It is this two-tiered system toward which we are heading. In only twenty months, Obama has succeeded in shifting one hundred million Americans into greater dependency on government. One hundred million Americans now receive unemployment benefits, expanded welfare payments and child credits, food stamps, housing subsidies, Medicaid, and (soon enough) ObamaCare. In essence, they are the recipients of rationed goods within a state-run economy. Over time, they will become less well-off as wealth continues to be sapped from the private sector and the production of goods is curtailed. They will be serving life sentences in the prison of socialism.
For the political elite, of course, no such prison exists. Once it becomes apparent that the economy is not coming back, those who have engineered the miracle of Obamanomics -- long-term unemployment rates of 17%, stagnant growth, and crushing deficits -- will obtain new political appointments, move on to lucrative consulting jobs, or simply return to their tenured university positions. Comfortable and well-fed, they will continue to prosper even as they have learned nothing from the failure of their policies.
As for the rest of us, we will pay for their lack of experience.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture and politics.