By Mr. Curmudgeon
“U.S. Recovery Slowly Gained Speed in Late ’11, Data Show,” said the headline in Friday’s New York Times. “U.S. Stocks Decline as Economy Grew Less Than Forecast in Fourth Quarter,” said the headline at Bloomberg.com. As the conflicting headlines show, for some, reality is simply a matter of perception. One of two things governs that perception: seeing the world as it should be, or seeing the world as it is.
When the labor department released data showing a one one-hundredth of a percent drop in unemployment, President Obama said, “The economy is moving in the right direction. We’re creating jobs on a consistent basis.”
By “We,” Obama was not referring to American business; he was speaking in the royal tense – that his herculean efforts to transform America were moving the nation in the right direction. In other words, the plan – his plan – was working. But with unemployment hovering above 8 percent, he grudgingly acknowledged the plan’s shortfalls, “There are a lot of people that are still hurting out there … we have a lot more work to do.”
“So, what distinguishes a garden-variety welfare state from a system that well and truly deserves to be identified as socialist?” asks Kevin Williamson in his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism. “Economic central planning,” insists Williamson, is “crucial to identifying and understanding what differentiates real socialism from the normal mishmash of welfare-state policies typically found in Western liberal democracies and affiliated forms of government.”
Whether it’s “stimulus spending” or the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing, both policies are expressions of socialism’s central tenant: with the right tools for gathering information and the right people to interpret this data, utopian paradise is attainable with the right plan. Utopian mysticism is the cornerstone of the Federal Reserve’s dual mandate. It promises price stability and the maintenance of high employment through a combination of interest rate and money supply manipulations. And yet, America has witnessed two economic depressions and wild swings in inflation as well as employment. The Fed, then, is a proven century-old bad joke. And the joke is on us.
When it was clear Obama’s stimulus failed back in June, NBC’s Ann Curry asked the president, “Since the recovery began, businesses have spent just 2% more on hiring people, while at the same time spending 26% more on equipment. So why at a time when corporate America is enjoying record profits have you been unable to convince businesses to hire more people, Mr. President?”
“We are now in a process where the economy is growing again,” insisted Obama, “We created 2 million jobs over the last 15 months. But it’s not as fast as it needs to be … there are some structural issues.”
According to the president, the “structural issues” blocking the president’s central plan were machines. “You see it when you go to a bank and you use an ATM,” Obama explained, “you don’t go to a bank teller, or you go to the airport and you’re using a kiosk instead of checking in at the gate.” Of course, these automated technologies predate the housing collapse and existed at a time when America enjoyed an unemployment rate of 3.5 percent.
With that explanation out of the way, the president talked up another of his nifty central planning innovations – the White House Jobs Council. “… This [Jobs] Counsel is identifying where the jobs of the future are going to be, how do we make sure there’s a match between what people are getting trained for and the jobs that exist, how do we make sure that capital is flowing into those places with the greatest opportunity. We are on the right track. The key is figuring out how do we accelerate it.”
The encounter above is reminiscent of the impatient child (played by Ann Curry) asking her father (played by Obama) when they will arrive at Disneyland. Obama, weaving through traffic and dealing with a host of detours along the highway, yells over his shoulder, “Be patient! You may not get there, but with my driving skills and superior sense of direction, your children – maybe your grandchildren – will enjoy all the benefits the Magic Kingdom has to offer.”
Socialism is nothing if not forward looking. To the socialist, the future is the goal, the destination that is just around the corner. And that future, the socialist tells us, more than makes up for central planning’s present failings.
In 1938, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin wrote a humdinger of a page-turner, Dialectical and Historical Materialism. You see, Stalin’s brand of socialism was getting a little competition from the German and Italian varieties practiced by national socialists Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. He needed to explain to anyone who would listen that Soviet socialism was backed by science.
“Marxist philosophical materialism holds that the world and its laws are fully knowable,” wrote the Russian mass murderer, “that our knowledge of the laws of nature, tested by experiment and practice, is authentic knowledge having the validity of objective truth, and that there are no things in the world which are unknowable, but only things which are as yet not known, but which will be disclosed and made known by the efforts of science and practice.” And with that, “scientific socialism” was born.
Since, as Stalin insisted, there are “no things in the world which are unknowable,” he set his know-it-all state planners to organize the production of everything from the number of overcoats to the output of steel. He broke the scheduling into segments called five-year plans.
But a funny thing happened on the way to utopia. There were never enough consumer products to meet public demand and, on occasion, factories pumped out more steel than was needed. The Russian people either waited in long lines outside state stores or paid the Russian mafia high prices for plentiful black market goods. All-knowing scientific socialism died without a whimper on January 1, 1991. The all-knowing Stalin forgot to mention that scientific inevitability in 1938.
Obama, imbued with all the scientific certainty of Stalin, thought he – and his Czars – possessed all the knowledge necessary to plan America’s economic recovery and produce jobs. His trillion-dollar stimulus, his economic advisors told the press, would keep unemployment from rising above 8 percent. And Obama moved on to create the new industries of the future. And that future had a name – solar power. The solar-panel-making Solyndra was part of that future. And like Stalin’s Soviet Union, Solyndra went bust.
In the end, the Achilles heel of socialism is that it tries to plan the future. Most adults know that fortune telling is at best a form of entertainment; at worst, it’s a scam intended to fleece its gullible victims.
Capitalism has never been under attack as it is today. And its modern defenders are less than eloquent. Back in 1949, the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, who escaped to America when Hitler annexed his homeland, published a defense of human freedom and its creative byproduct – capitalism. In his book Human Action, von Mises wrote:
“The captain is the consumer … the consumers determine precisely what should be produced, in what quality, and in what quantities … They are merciless egoistic bosses, full of whims and fancies, changeable and unpredictable. For them nothing counts other than their own satisfaction … In their capacity as buyers and consumers they are hard-hearted and callous, without consideration for other people…Capitalists…can only preserve and increase their wealth by filling best the orders of the consumers … In the conduct of their business affairs they must be unfeeling and stony-hearted because the consumers, their bosses, are themselves unfeeling and stony-hearted.”
Obama’s obsession with “millionaires and billionaires” is more than an expression of class envy or class warfare. It’s anger at men who have become successful through their understanding that the consumer – the individual – is king. Billionaire Warren Buffett owes his success, as von Mises said, to his “stony-hearted” bosses – the freethinking American consumer. He gives them what they want least his holding company, Berkshire Hathaway, ends up on the ash heap of history … next to Obama’s Solyndra.
Obama’s war, his socialism, is not against Republicans or the wealthy. It’s an attack on the sovereignty of every individual American unwilling to follow his twisted, unworkable plans.