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In Gov. We Trust

March 31, 2009

The French Cowboy used to think that Monsieur Obama doesn’t like private businesses because he believes in the greed-and-decadence image that the left tries to paint on them. But I have developed a new theory on what actually stands behind the President’s antipathy for entrepreneurs and Wall Streeters. It is a much broader belief in the supremacy of government. It doesn’t matter whether it is a private company, a non-profit organisation or a family, in Obama’s worldview all those institutions are underperforming until government steps in and takes them over in part or in entirety.

“French Cowboy, you have lost your mind.”, you say. Mais pas du tout! Just try this theory as an explanation for Obama’s policies and you will see that it fits quite well. In particular, the French Cowboy finds that Obama’s speech on his introducing his appointee for the Food and Drug Administration is representative of this perspective. Let me quote from it (my emphasis):

I’ve often said that I don’t believe government has the answer to every problem or that it can do all things for all people. We are a nation built on the strength of individual initiative. But there are certain things that we can’t do on our own. There are certain things only a government can do. And one of those things is ensuring that the foods we eat, and the medicines we take, are safe and don’t cause us harm.

[…]

And [we had problems with food] also because the FDA has been underfunded and understaffed in recent years, leaving the agency with the resources to inspect just 7,000 of our 150,000 food processing plants and warehouses each year. That means roughly 95% of them go uninspected. That is a hazard to public health. It is unacceptable.

Ignore the first two shallow sentences. They’re as sincere as Obama’s promise to find “common ground” on the abortion debate. The President says here that “only government” can ensure that food and medicine are safe. He is implying, of course, that if government doesn’t make a sufficient number of inspections (5% being not enough), food producers and drug companies will sell poison to their customers. Never mind that those companies and the people working for them depend on consumers willing to buy their products and therewith would be hurting their own interest if they allowed unacceptable quality standards. Those companies would go out of business if they exposed consumers to preventable health risks and therefore would do their best to avoid that even if they were exclusively staffed with unethical misanthropes. And just as an example of how great the government’s efforts to keep consumers ‘safe’ are working, look at the disaster the beautifully named Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act is.

“But you never know, there might be individuals who try to sabotage the company and enjoy the idea of harming people. They could have themselves employed by a food company and then wreak havoc. Better to have them checked by public servants.”, you say. Oh oui, but the same is true about government agencies. Why would you expect the average lower-echelon public employee to be more trustworthy than the average food or drug company worker? You would do so if you were like President Obama: a true believer in the virtue of government above any other institution. For him, it appears, the mere fact that someone is working in the public sector makes him or her more reliable than someone working in the private sector.

But of course, food and drug companies are profit-making businesses and if Obama mistrusts them it is not helping my argument that Obama mistrusts any non-government institution. So to see my point, consider exhibit B: the reduction of tax-deductibility of charitable contributions. (Forget about Obama’s claim that he doesn’t think that this will affect charitable giving negatively. It’s as sincere as his promise for bipartisanship.) Obama has presented himself as the friend of the ‘weak,’ as every Democrat loves to do. So why would he come up with a tax that represents a disincentive for charity which tends to be especially helpful for the ‘weak’? Because it is private charity. It is money that slips away from government into an untaxable sector which, in Obama’s view, is competing with the public sector. As I have argued in a former post, for Obama, government is the most important charity. So it makes sense for him to reduce the flow of money that private individuals give on their own free will into areas that government can’t control. A simple change in the tax code can transform money that might go to some non-profits which Obama doesn’t like into funding for his vision of The New America. It’s a power grab after private charity, if you will.

When it comes to families and private life, there is evidence that Obama and his friends want to introduce government into those, too. For instance, once the programme Obama has proposed during his campaign is in place, all you need to do if you want help to finance your college education is to enlist with ACORN or some such group and follow in the footsteps of the Great Obama himself by ‘organising communities’ for a few months. And Democrats, and Obama in particular, are close enough with groups like ACORN to say that they are virtually working for the (current) government. Another example is the GIVE act that the House passed a few days ago. It wants to establish – and I kid you not – mandatory ‘volunteerism.’ If you think that’s an oxymoron, you are right. But I don’t know for how long you will be allowed to say so. And you should probably rather not appear critical of this in front of your kids once they have been enrolled.

From private for-profit businesses to charities to families, there is no area that Obama thinks is good as it is without some government programme. And keep in mind that all those activities have to be financed with money taxed out of the private sector and that government is inherently inefficient so that you pay too much and you get unwanted results. There is a role for government but the problem is that government institutions tend to be established and to grow, never to be ended or to shrink. The expansion of government Obama is currently working on is unlikely to be reversed by his successors. All of the initiatives in the so-called stimulus bill and in Obama’s budget will have to be paid for and sustained in the future. The alternative is to go through painful cuttings that hardly ever get realised because they are politically costly. Imagine the next president would want to undo Obama’s increase of the FDA’s food plant inspections. Can’t you already hear political activists crying: “The President doesn’t care about our health and safety!” – especially if it is a Republican president, of course. If reasonableness doesn’t check the growth of government then national debt will have to do it. If debt doesn’t do it then bankruptcy will.

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