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Obama and the American System: Who Built What?

Does President Obama need lessons in being an American? Or are some of his detractors, in challenging his Americanism, simply uninformed?

On Tuesday, former New Hampshire governor John Sununu, a leading surrogate for Mitt Romney, told reporters on a Romney-campaign-instigated conference call, “I wish this president would learn how to be an American.” Oh my, we might ask, what about Obama was Sununu referring to?

On Friday, Obama was campaigning in Roanoke, Virginia, and said [1]: “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” The whole economy, the President continued, added up to “this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.” Yet that was not, of course, the entirety of what the President said.

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But for short-term political purposes, his enemies were happy to truncate Obama’s quote, stopping at “somebody else made that happen,” thereby attacking him as some sort of anti-business socialist. That’s politics, of course. But in the political game, both sides get to play–and Obama’s supporters, joined by gatekeepers and umpires in the media, rallied to Obama’s defense, spooling out the totality of what the President had said last week.  And yet, as we shall see, a mulling over of the larger historical context and resonance of just two of Obama’s words–“American system”–might be in order, especially for politicos on the attack.

Meanwhile, Obama’s words were enough to send some on the right into polemical overdrive. On Saturday, the Friedrich Hayek Center tweeted [2] out, “Obama is directly equating ‘this American system’ with roads and bridges, rather than the rule of law & the free market.” And on Monday, the Heritage Foundation blogged [3]: “Obama pushed his policy goals of infrastructure (aka stimulus) spending and ‘government research’ as part of a collectivist utopia ‘doing things together.’ It’s simply stunning that he would tell Americans, ‘If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that.’”

In such a political environment–in which intellectual guns of the right had accused Obama of not understanding the American system and of seeking to establish a “collectivist utopia”–it’s easier to see why Sununu would say, “I wish this president would learn how to be an American.” One  problem, of course, is that Sununu was speaking for the Romney campaign, and Romney needs to win the over swing voters in the middle, the folks who are generally turned off by over-the-top  talk.

Indeed, on that same Tuesday conference call, Sununu realized that he had gone too far and quickly took back those specific words: “What I thought I said but I guess I didn’t say is that the president has to learn the American formula for creating business,” he suggested [4], adding, “The American formula for creating business is not to have the government create business.” And Sununu later apologized [5] more fully for his insult to Obama’s patriotism. Still, Sununu did not apologize for the overall attack on Obama’s economic understanding. And that’s unfortunate from Romney’s point of view, because it means that a significant line of attack against Obama is foregone.

So let’s take a closer look at what Obama said [6] last week:

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.

So we might pluck out the two fateful words from the preceding: “American system.”  And how did Obama define this “American system”? The President continued:

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.

Consciously or unconsciously, accidentally or purposefully, Obama had tapped into a main cable of American history–the “American System.” Those two words, together, are not generally known anymore; indeed, they might frequently get mixed in with arguments about “Americanism” and “un-Americanism.” And the author of those two words, “American System,” Henry Clay of Kentucky (1777-1852), is also little known today, even though he was one of the most consequential figures in US history. Clay served as a Representative, a Senator, a Secretary of State; he also ran for president three times. During that time, he authored two historic Union-saving “compromises [7],” one in 1820 and another in 1850. Finally, he set forth the economic philosophy that shaped the US economy for much of its history, from the early 19th century well into the 20th century. And as we are seeing today, the economic ideas that Clay celebrated are still very much in the policy mix even now.

Like most Americans in the wake of the War of 1812, Clay could see that the fighting, overall, had not gone well for the US; the British Army had burned our capital, and the British Navy had swept the Atlantic Seaboard of American commerce. Only because Britain was preoccupied with Napoleon in Europe were Americans able to negotiate an honorable end to the fighting that left the antebellum status quo in place. So it was obvious that our young republic needed to strengthen itself; we needed, to borrow a phrase from the future, our own military-industrial complex.

And Clay was well-positioned to do something; he was Speaker of the House for the 14th Congress and a close ally of President James Madison. Clay revived the industrial-development ideas of Alexander Hamilton, by then dead for more than a decade, and, as a result, what Clay called the American System was born. The key ideas were the development of infrastructure for industry and economic development, to be financed by higher tariffs. In addition, Clay established the Second Bank of the United States–a sort of proto-Federal Reserve–to take the place of the First Bank, which had lapsed in 1811.

This was the American System, described [8] by the late Robert C. Byrd–a US Senator for half a century and a semi-pro historian–as “one of the most historically significant examples of a government-sponsored program to harmonize and balance the nation’s agriculture, commerce, and industry.” Byrd, of course, saw himself as a latter-day champion of the American System, and while plenty of his fellow citizens disagreed strongly with him and his ways–dismissing him as simply a pork-barrel pol–it would have been foolish, and counter-productive to challenge his Americanism. For better or for worse, the American System is as American as apple pie.

So when Obama spoke in Roanoke about the value of government efforts to create the infrastructural predicate for jobs and wealth, he was speaking for what might be called the liberal wing of the American System.  Indeed, the politically minded will recall that Massachusetts Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren made made [9] much the same argument in 2011. The Obama/Warren argument chooses to prioritize the social context ahead of the entrepreneur; as Warren said last year, “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.”  Warren is a liberal, but she is hardly a socialist, as she said in the same speech:

Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

To take Warren at her word, she is arguing for a mixed economy–free enterprise and high taxes. In other words, not socialism, but, most likely, more of the same of what Massachusetts has had for the past few decades–which has left the Bay State with the third-highest per capita income [10] in the nation. (And of course, even if Warren were a socialist, that would hardly make her un-American; the author of our Pledge of Allegiance, Francis Bellamy [11], was a socialist.)

In contrast to Obama and Warren, the conservative wing of the American System would flip the sequence, prioritizing the entrepreneur ahead of the infrastructure.   And that’s exactly how Mitt Romney himself put it [12] on Tuesday:

The idea that Steve Jobs didn’t build Apple, that Henry Ford didn’t build Ford Motors, that Papa John didn’t build Papa Johns, that Ray Kroc didn’t build McDonalds, that Bill Gates didn’t build Microsoft … to say something like that is not just foolishness, it’s insulting to every entrepreneur, every innovator in America and it’s wrong.

That’s a strong argument, linking Romney and his campaign to hero-entrepreneurs who proved, big time, that business can work for the public benefit. Of course, Obama and Warren would say that none of those entrepreneurs would have succeeded without a functioning economic order, including infrastructure. And so a legitimate debate is joined, as to which comes first, the entrepreneur or the infrastructure.

The best answer, of course–in the spirit of Hamilton and Clay–is that we need both: entrepreneurship and infrastructure. And yet that’s the two-pronged argument that Romney never makes. Why? Perhaps because so many of his supporters and allies, such as the Hayek Center and Heritage Foundation, seem either not to have heard of the American System, or else think that it is part of a plan for “collectivist utopia.”

Indeed, the Romney campaign, overall, would be on much stronger ground today if it were saying, for example:

Of course infrastructure is important.  And that’s one more reason to vote against Obama, because he doesn’t understand how to build the infrastructure that American business needs to bring goods to market. In fact, the President is so naive that he squandered $800 billion on a non-stimulating stimulus plan in 2009. Only in 2010 did he finally figure out that, thanks to his no-growth green friends and all their red tape, “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects [13].” Well, there would be lots of shovel-ready projects, private as well as public, under a Romney administration!

If Romney were describing a 21st-century updating of the American System–putting business first, and seeking to use the government to aid business in creating jobs and, yes, profits–he would be in a stronger position. But Romney and his allies can’t campaign on the American System if they don’t seem to know what it was, what it did, and what it could be–in the right hands.

James P. Pinkerton is a contributor to the Fox News Channel and a TAC contributing editor. Follow him on Twitter [14].

26 Comments (Open | Close)

26 Comments To "Obama and the American System: Who Built What?"

#1 Comment By icarusr On July 19, 2012 @ 9:28 am

“To take Warren at her word, she is arguing for a mixed economy–free enterprise and high taxes.”

I am not sure how you get from Warren’s statement to this conclusion.

Be that as it may, even if one takes the Right’s interpretation of the American System – at least, one half of it, the “rule of law” – surely it stands to reason that Obama’s comment is literally true. A industrialist or a financial mogul or an “entrepreneur” does not reinvent the legal superstructure of the society in which s/he makes money, keeps it and spends it as s/he wishes. “Someone else” – the previous generation – made that happen; “someone else” – the police, the judiciary, the lawyers and the politicians, among a host of others – keep making it happen. Property rights are, regardless of what Locke said, civil constructs and require constant tending and enforcement, which is done, in most cases, by “someone else”.

That, in turn, is the essence of the social compact that Warren talks about. It is not about “high taxes” or government takeover of business; it is about the fact that property, wealth and opportunity do not exist in the abstract in Western industrialised countries. They have a historical and a current social context. We build on the shoulders of giants: the liberal argument says that it is the height of personal hubris and social ignorance to deny or ignore that.

What is of course fascinating that the frankly myopic and philosophically nonsensical interpretation of Warren’s statement, and Obama’s reiteration/recapitulation of it, finds itself in a journal dedicated, in parts at least, to demonstrating the importance of Christian values and Christian structures – historical ones – in determining who we are, and to the endless lamentation that the death of Christian institutions results in the death of Western civilisation itself. Tendentious, perhaps, but a point of view.

We are all creatures of institutions we have not created ourselves. In economics or in religion. Warren and Obama simply ask the rich to acknowledge that.

#2 Comment By Matt On July 19, 2012 @ 11:05 am

“Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.”

Ah, I see the source of the confusion now…Obama doesn’t know how to speak English.

#3 Comment By icarusr On July 19, 2012 @ 12:13 pm

@Matt:

Full quote:

“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.”

“that” refers to “the American System”. Evidently, the source of the confusion is not Obama’s English. As to your snippet – some might argue that selective reading is either a mental illness or disingenuous politicking; I couldn’t possibly comment.

#4 Comment By Matt On July 19, 2012 @ 1:18 pm

This is probably not worth it, but Obama still does not know how to speak English. The particular case involves confusion about what exactly ‘that’ refers to–because Obama isn’t clear. If he does refer it to “American system”, then he equivocates ‘create’ and ‘build’ to make it even more confusing. On top of this, he then says that ‘Somebody else’ made that happen when just before he was describing it as a great cooperative endeavour that everyone is in on–presumably including ‘you’.

So no, either Obama has no idea what he is actually trying to say, or he lacks the language skills to express it adequately. You’re probably too much of an Obamaphile to care.

#5 Comment By icarusr On July 19, 2012 @ 3:31 pm

@Matt

“he equivocates ‘create’ and ‘build’ to make it even more confusing”

This is weak and silly, even by Rightwing standards. I don’t think “equivocate” is the right verb here, nor do I think there is an intent to confuse or a confusing effect.

First, elementary schools debating and public skills: “vary your terms”, unless, of ourse, for poetic reasons, you repeat them. “Build” and “Create” are not so distinct as to create confusion. There is no attempt here at “equivocating” because he is not going to be called on either: that is, whether someone else ‘built’ or ‘created’ the American System is irrelevant; the point is, each business operates within a context that is built, or created, by people outside the business – someone else, that is. (Please see my note above.)

Second, I suggest you talk for ten hours a day, seven days a week, and in most cases, off the cuff, and then we figure out if, when all of the hundreds of hours of recordings are put together, you will not make a few pronoun or relative noun mistakes.

Third, be that as it may, here is the quote again, but this time in distinct sentences:

“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 bit between the asterisks is part of a list, as one sets out lists when one is making a point. And then he comes back to the point: the American system – which is what Pinkerton picks up on – the American system was built by someone other than any specific business owner. To insist that an entrepreneur does everything himself is idiotic. To suggest that an entrepreneur thereby contribute to the “system” that makes him possible is not unAmerican or socialist.

I know, I know, the boy’s got uppity and you want your White House back … the problem ain’t with his English, and to keep writing about that is just silly.

#6 Comment By Orthodoxdj On July 19, 2012 @ 5:11 pm

The biggest problem is that Obama is employing the classic “bait-and-switch” scam, and he does so by equivocating on “Government can build roads and bridges” and really meaning “My progressivist platform (high taxes, punish the rich, have a government program for everything) is the only way.”

#7 Comment By Harrison H.M. Elfrink On July 19, 2012 @ 6:11 pm

There’s a big difference between banking, capital and investment companies such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Bank of America, etc and companies that actually produce; such as Ford Motors, Boeing, Microsoft, etc.

If Obama is strictly referring to banking and capital giants, he is correct.

#8 Comment By Peter913 On July 19, 2012 @ 7:31 pm

Balanced & worth the read.
No! I’m not going to split infinitives nor perform an exegesis on what you wrote … except to say:
Great job Jim. You are at your best when you teach.

#9 Comment By John McAdams On July 20, 2012 @ 12:12 am

Conservatives interpreted what Obama said the way they did because they know Obama. It’s sort of like a Klansman says something that might or might not be construed as racist, but since the fellow is a Klansman, he doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt.

Obama simply does not like the private sector, and he loves the public sector. He wants to spread the wealth around.

Pinkerton is simply being too generous. He’s attributing to Obama an understanding that there is no evidence the president actually has.

Just because one can interpret Obama’s remarks as something other than hostility to the private sector does not mean that’s the most plausible interpretation.

#10 Comment By SteveM On July 20, 2012 @ 9:27 am

Obama has proven himself to be stupid and naive on multiple occassions. Fronted by his fellow numbskull Power Elites from the Ivy League, this is just another example.

“Investing” in infrastructure to jump start the economy may have made sense 76 years ago when the Hoover Dam was built, but that was because the United States was essentially a closed economy domestically. I.e., it produced almost everything that it consumed. So the economic multiplier of an invested dollar was huge. Everything required to construct the dam was made in the U.S. And everything the workers consumed with their paychecks was made in the U.S.; tools, clothes, cars, everything.

But globalization has crushed the economic multiplier to next to nothing. Tools, steel, machinery, most of it is imported. Workers wages for their consumer goods are quickly injected into the one way super-highway to Asia. Building a bridge to Nowhere fills the coffers in China:

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Just like Obama didn’t get why Solyndra had to collapse, (off-shoring was inevitable), he doesn’t get why government driven infrastructure growth driven by debt is now a myth.

Both Obama and Romney are first class Nitwits only for different reasons…

#11 Comment By icarusr On July 20, 2012 @ 9:34 am

John: Your comparison to Klansmen is, I find, apt, in a way you did not perhaps intend.

I put it to you conservatives “know” Obama much in the same way Klansmen “know” all Blacks. What they read into Obama’s actions and statements is, in that sense, based on “knowledge” that is at best coloured. No pun intended.

#12 Comment By tbraton On July 20, 2012 @ 9:36 am

“Indeed, the politically minded will recall that Massachusetts Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren made made much the same argument in 2011. The Obama/Warren argument chooses to prioritize the social context ahead of the entrepreneur; as Warren said last year, “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.” ”

I believe it is beyond dispute that Elizabeth Warren could not have made it without the aid of her Cherokee tribe.

“This was the American System, described by the late Robert C. Byrd–a US Senator for half a century and a semi-pro historian–as “one of the most historically significant examples of a government-sponsored program to harmonize and balance the nation’s agriculture, commerce, and industry.” Byrd, of course, saw himself as a latter-day champion of the American System”

Doesn’t Byrd illustrate the absurdity of using Henry Clay’s “American System” as a model? Byrd’s idea of promoting economic growth was moving federal bureaucrats from the Washington, D.C. area to the backward state of West Virginia. Obama appears to be a chip off the old block, not of Clay but of Byrd.

#13 Comment By icarusr On July 20, 2012 @ 9:40 am

Harrison: Ford Motor Company relies on the rule of law – courts, contracts, lawyers, judges, the police – in much the same way as the financial system does. Boeing needs defense contracts and research money and roads and an educated workforce, as well as the panoply of intellectual property laws – whether patents or trade secrets or whatever. All of these stand outside the specific company itself.

It is a manifest falsehood that individuals “build” companies in the abstract. The notion of a company itself is a creature of the law; laws passed by Congress or the several states; laws enforced by the State. The banking sector, the investment sector, that fund entrepreneurs; the laws that protect entrepreneurial investments; our pension systems who invest in companies – all of these stand outside the specific individual and prop him or her up.

Hobbes observed this four hundred years ago; Locke, on the basis of whose theses these United States were founded, identified property laws as the foundational elements of civilised societies – and property laws are not self-enforcing or self-evident, they need the State, governments. They stand outside the entrepreneur.

This is what the American System consists of. To observe this is not anti-private sector.

#14 Comment By Clint On July 20, 2012 @ 11:40 am

“Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan,”

According to a study by the U.S. Small Business Association, only 2/3 of all small business startups survive the first two years and less than half make it to four years.

#15 Comment By Red Phillips On July 20, 2012 @ 1:24 pm

Those of us who have been involved in the renewed debate over the virtues of Lincoln are well aware of the term “American System” as one of the chief criticism of Lincoln by his new antagonists is that he essentially remained a Clay style Whig intent on maintaining Clay’s “American Sytem,” which is why he couldn’t let the South leave. So I was a bit surprised that this terminology seemed new to so many people, but I guess if you haven’t been following the Lincoln debate it could be.

Of course for conservatives and constitutionalist, the American Sytem is un-American. According to the Constitution there should be virtually NO federal infrastructure. Roads and bridges are a state and local concern.

(Of course there is always the issue of what was intended and authorized by the term “post roads” in the Constitution, but the defenders of the interstate system did not try to justify it on the basis of “post roads,” but on national defense grounds.)

#16 Comment By BobPM On July 20, 2012 @ 2:52 pm

Your ending comments regarding the design of the stimulus is both correct and misdirected. The use of the funds on construction projects and similar infrastructure would have been more effective than tax cuts, but the bias towards such cuts was not, I think, Obama’s. Rather, it was political calculation to obtain enough support to get it passed.

I would also argue that the third of the stimulus that went to state aid to staunch state and local government lay-offs was not poorly designed. It turned out to be necessary to address what has turned into the most disingenuous part of arguments against the effectiveness of the stimulus–the failure to consider how conservative governors sabotaged the recovery by orchestrating massive layoffs at the state level the likes of which did not occur when Reagan, Clinton, or Bush II were trying to climb out of their early term recessions.

#17 Comment By tbraton On July 20, 2012 @ 3:17 pm

“Of course for conservatives and constitutionalist, the American Sytem is un-American. According to the Constitution there should be virtually NO federal infrastructure. Roads and bridges are a state and local concern.”

The first major infrastructure project in the newly created U.S. of A. was the Erie Canal, which was started in 1817 and completed in 1825. It was financed by the State of New York, after fruitless attempts were made to secure federal financing of the project. New York State incurred the cost and reaped the benefits of the project. Although Henry Clay advocated an American System, the third leg of which contemplated federal spending on infrastructure projects, the fact of the matter is there were no major federal expenditures on “infrastructure” until after the Civil War. It is my understanding that the railroads which were built prior to the Civil War and which contributed to the North’s victory were built almost entirely on private and state financing.

#18 Comment By Victory over Eurasia On July 20, 2012 @ 10:37 pm

President Obama makes the fairly ordinary observation that success in America (and indeed anywhere except places such as Somalia etc) is dependent on the infrastructure (physical/political) of the country, and it apparently turns him into a statist marxist socialist hater of the wealthy. Really, the TAC can do a little better than this fairly inadequate effort.

For those of us who travel the world with some regularity it is quite depressing to see the state of American infrastructure (physical, education, gamed and captured political system), and any effort to challenge the defenders of this indefensible situation is met with hysteria.

We have an extraordinary situation of massive unemployment, with associated misery across the country, the government able to borrow at essentially 0%, and the so-called conservatives dragging up any bizarre historical refernce or mendacious commentator to justify doing nothing but pretecting the rights of the have-alls and the rentier class.

It is a great shame that people do not realise that there is a new competition in the globalised markets, a competition of governments. States such as China, Singapore etc pour massive amounts of government funding into education and infrastructure, to attract jobs and investment. They are not under any delusion that the mythical businesses of US lore realy exist, and know full well that to businesses to start, to grow and to thrive they do not happen on their own, but require the nurturing of the society in which they form.

Please, TAC, no more from anyone with any association with Fox!

#19 Comment By Clint On July 21, 2012 @ 8:29 am

“The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), the nation’s leading bipartisan small-business advocacy group, has released a statement criticizing President Obama for saying that it’s only through the grace of government that anyone has ever succeeded.

“What a disappointment to hear President Obama‘s revealing comments challenging the significance of America’s entrepreneurs,” NFIB President Dan Danne said in a statement to Mail Online.

“His unfortunate remarks over the weekend show an utter lack of understanding and appreciation for the people who take a huge personal risk and work endless hours to start a business and create jobs,” he added.”

#20 Comment By Michael On July 21, 2012 @ 11:17 am

It’s ambiguous, sure, but there’s enough to condemn him for in his comment, just as there’s enough to condemn Warren for in hers. Without actually voting for Obama, I’ve made enough excuses for him over the years to be able to say, no, you don’t simply get to skate on this, you do have to bear some responsibility for the way your comments can be fairly construed.

Between Clay and Lincoln on the one hand, and Confederate cavedwellers on the other, though, I have to go with Clay and Lincoln. Those Southern “Jeffersonians” weren’t opposed to using the government to get their own way. They just didn’t want government to do anything that would threaten their own power.

#21 Comment By Fran Macadam On July 21, 2012 @ 6:44 pm

“If Romney were describing a 21st-century updating of the American System–putting business first, and seeking to use the government to aid business in creating jobs and, yes, profits–he would be in a stronger position.”

There’s no doubt that the current and recent governments, bought and paid for regardless of party with a few singular individual exceptions – Ron Paul, Peter Defazio et.al. – has indeed put big business before anything else. It has worked spectacularly well for big business’ interests to the detriment of everyone else. He is in a very strong position by virtue of this, regardless of whether this is destructive to interests outside of those financial elites’.

#22 Comment By TheProtectionist On July 22, 2012 @ 12:05 pm

James, All three parties need a fast lesson on what it means to be an American, along with new theory of economics. Karl Marx suggested free trade as the fastest means to destroying capitalism, while Daniel Webster claimed the primary reason we have our US Constitution was to stop the economic chaos unleashed by free trade with Britain under the Articles of Confederation. Yet, astonishingly we have three political parties which have adopted unwittingly Karl Marx’s advice, while the Chinese have adopted Webster’s advice. The Tea Party seems to be oblivious to Webster’s claim, and the average Republican has no idea that Lincoln was a protectionist, and that his party remained protectionist until the 1960s when it became an economic mirror image of the Democrats who have historically been free traders. The dangerous error therefore the modern politician makes is the failure to make a critical distinction between free international markets and free domestic markets. The reason for this, as the new website rescuingeconomics.wordpress.com suggests, is that there has never been a sound theory of economics. Explaining the intricacies of this failed dynamic is the goal of the sites’ associated book, The Un-Republican, by Geldstone. It is possibly the first time in the history of economics that a sound theory has been proposed to make sense of the long-forgotten history of American protectionism. Take a chance on the site. It needs a public voice such as yorus to move the debate forward.

#23 Comment By Red Phillips On July 25, 2012 @ 4:01 pm

My thoughts on the American System are expanded here.

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#24 Comment By Robert Rosencrans On July 27, 2012 @ 7:59 pm

When an article tells you we need to take a closer look at what was stated get ready for hair splitting. Obama meant what he stated. Per capita income does not derive from the government. The sentiments expressed in the article are neocon not conservative. Yes we need roads and bridges but Romney tapped into a theme and he’s not losing ground contrary to the title.

#25 Comment By Steven Hales On August 15, 2012 @ 2:42 pm

If all government did was offer incentive prizes for new inventions, fund basic research, provide for the common defense, regulate commerce by enforcing standards like weights and measures, adjudicate contracts, provide for infrastructure and education and protect life and property government would be affordable. But simply stating the obvious as Obama did serves little purpose except demagoguery. It might make for good campaign rhetoric but it goes little of the distance toward justifying jettisoning ‘presumption of innocence’ in the protection of the homeland, or the provision for redistribution of income, social justice or even providing all the basic services of modern life, food, housing and healthcare. By what foundational principle are these things provided on a permanent basis?

If modern economies are that unstable where government needs to intervene in the minutae of everyday life I would like to understand these private sector forces that lead to de-stabilization. It seems to me all of our current problems trace directly to government and rest ultimately at the feet of electoral demand for more government services. Are government services a superior good? Certainly at the local level we see through history an increasing demand for many city services e.g., sanitation and health services and at the national level, pollution abatement services. These are all variations of public goods i.e., the private sector will underprovide them.

It is desireable for the electorate to demand such public goods but at the same time if the government can contract with the private sector for their provision at a lower cost and higher quality then that should be done. But let’s not kid ourselves of the diminishing marginal returns from government services in a developed economy.

#26 Comment By Jack Tracey On August 17, 2012 @ 6:24 am

Wow. A lot of people have a lot to say on this. Humbly, I submit yet another man’s viewpoint:

Obama is right and wrong.

The prosperity of the Western world is the result of cooperation and specialization. No business is built and no product is delivered without the cooperation of many people.

The question is whether government is the best means for organizing this cooperation. To answer that question Obama and other socialists (it’s not a dirty word; they should just own it) resort to fallacious reasoning such as, “Roads and bridges are good. Government builds roads. Therefore government is good, because roads would not be built without government.”

That line of thinking leads this man’s mind to other questions.

Would roads and bridges not exist had their construction been left up to private, voluntary, and/or more localized means of organizing capital?

How long has it been since we questioned just how well the Federal government has performed as a builder and maintainer of vital infrastructure?

How has its involvement impacted communities and the environment?

Is “our” infrastructure conceived and maintained for the benefit of the consumer of these conveniences, or is it more often the realization of a (rarely agreed upon) vision of national greatness?

Are users of the roads and bridges better off with the massive and inflexible structure that our polluting and dangerous vehicles travel?

Are we stuck with what we’ve got: An almost unfathomable structure that stretches from the “bridge to nowhere” to my garage?

When was the last time you complained about traffic?

Has anyone else read Blue Highways?