Saturday, February 14, 2009

Who “Owns” the Economy, “Owns” You

Several of President Barack Obama’s supporters, inside government and outside of it, are suffering from a severe, contagious bout of foot-in-mouth disease. The one who contracted it and passed it on was Chuck Todd, NBC’s White House correspondent.

“On MSNBC just now, Chuck Todd frames the ‘blame Obama’ narrative while interviewing Obama economic advisor Austan Goolsbee: ‘You guys (Team Obama) own the economy at 12 o’clock eastern time today, correct? When Senator Obama announces his Treasury Secretary, announces the Larry Summers position. It is now Barack Obama’s responsibility on the economy, is that not correct?’”


Goolsbee’s answer is irrelevant. Todd repeated, and George Stephanopoulos, ABC’s White House reporter, modified the “ownership” metaphor to “He owns the economy.” Stephanopoulos has repeated it more often than has Todd or any other reporter. When the “stimulus” bill has been passed and is signed by Obama, it won’t be entirely true that he will “own” the economy. He will share that possession with Congress and with every federal bureaucrat and employee. The assertion will undergo a transmutation from metaphor to “fact.”

Stephanopoulos has been caught red-handed acting as Obama’s shill to sell the plan to the American public, having had numerous personal phone discussions with Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s White House chief-of-staff, on what and what not to report. ABC has denied the allegation, claiming that Stephanopoulos’s sub rosa calls to and from Emmanuel were in the way of legitimate contacts. Charles Gibson, Dianne Sawyer and other ABC anchors are complicit in the fraudulent reporting, usually introducing Stephanopoulos to present his rhapsodic “reporting and analysis” as though he had fresh intelligence and insight to offer on what is really going on in the White House, when in fact it is nothing but disingenuous rationalizations about Obama’s difficulties.

Further, Stephanopoulos has compounded his fraudulent representations on his own website by handing Obama a “Report Card on Obama’s First Presidential News Conference” (February 10) whose wholesale theatrics and rigging were mentioned in “Rolling Out the Barrels” (February 11). One glaring tip-off of its phoniness was the teleprompter used by Obama. If the questions were authentic and not prescreened, and if Obama’s replies to them were genuinely spontaneous and extemporaneous, why would he need a teleprompter, unless it was flashing answers to prescreened questions?

First, he awards Obama an “A” for selling the stimulus package. Well, he might have sold it to the White House press corps, gagged as they were during that conference except for those privileged to ask a question. But both Obama and Stephanopoulos must know that most members of Congress have been swamped -- nay, deluged -- with protests by Americans against the package or its contents, so the notion that Obama has successfully “sold” the public on the virtues and necessity of the package is pure, unmitigated fantasy. Stephanopoulos, with his special, direct line to the White House and thence to Congress, surely must have this startling and unwelcome information but has simply brushed it off as unimportant.

Then he gives Obama a “B” for “reaching out” to the Republicans to enlist their bipartisan support for the stimulus package. Doubtless Obama, as well as George the Insider, are upset with the Republicans because most of them have, to date, obstructed passage of the package because of their objections to many of its contents. These objections were mostly arbitrary, non-objective, and rooted in partisan obstinacy -- there is too much in this pet project or too little in that specific earmark, or the earmark or set-aside is divorced from any honest idea of an economic stimulus -- but we should be thankful there were objections. Obama on February 6 called the delay “inexcusable and irresponsible.” What Stephanopoulos meant by his “B” is that he thought Obama wasn’t deceptive enough to win over the Republicans, so they could share credit for the stimulus package’s purportedly unknown consequences.

Stephanopoulos’s “report card” on Obama’s first presidential press conference is as bogus as was the conference itself. By contrast, conservative columnist Larry Elder, on February 12, in his column, “Obama in Prime Time: 7 Questions Left on Cutting Room Floor,“ helped to confirm the rigging of the press conference, and followed up with seven questions he would like to have seen posed. Obama would not have been able to answer those questions, which contrasted facts with Obama‘s fictive appraisal of the crisis. His mind would have shut down in a total blank-out, or he would have refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the questions by calling them irrelevant or hostile or instances of “fear-mongering” or of “ideological nit-picking.” The reporter or journalist asking any of those questions would have been barred from future press conferences. Obama and Joe Biden, during the campaign, blacklisted reporters who asked them “unfriendly” questions.

“He owns the economy.” A very poor choice of words. Hitler “owned” the German economy. Dictator Hugo Chavez “owns” the Venezuelan economy. The Castro brothers “own” the Cuban economy. Vladimir Putin “owns” the Russian economy. One would think that it would occur to Stephanopoulos that this is hardly a flattering thing to attribute to a man he earnestly wishes to be perceived as a “man of the people,” that “owning” an economy is the sign of a dictator.

Of course, “owning” a nation’s economy is simply a crude metaphor for commanding it. No one can “own” an economy. A primitive society whose economy is based on the barter of beads or stones is governed by the same laws of private trade or government intervention or expropriation as an advanced society’s economy whose medium of exchange based on gold, silver, copper or fiat paper. The economy is autonomous and will serve out its own justice. As King Canute of legend could not command the tides to cease, dictators cannot command economies to defy reality and fulfill their wishes, not even when they employ brute force and not stealthy fraud. Reality will always out. A major “drag” on Nazi Germany’s economy, for example, was the cost of exterminating six million Jews together with using slave labor in its war industries, aside from the cost of conquering countries it intended to loot.

Nevertheless, Stephanopoulos and his ilk in and out of government want Obama to command the economy, that is, to tell Americans to behave in ways that will accomplish their fascist ends, to compel them to make decisions and take courses of action they would not otherwise choose to take. By implication, a tyrant who claims to “own” an economy, “owns” you, the private citizen. The contempt which Obama and Congress exhibited for the American people is unbounded but disguised in the alb and cassock of “care” and “concern.”

Conservative writer Michelle Malkin on February 13, in her article “The ‘Tiny’ Trillion-Dollar Turbaconducken You Don’t Care About,” reports an instance of that contempt in Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer’s derogatory remarks in the Senate on February 10 about Americans who opposed the stimulus package. “The American people really don’t care,” he complained, about those “little tiny, yes, porky amendments,” and sneered at conservative and other unconvinced and un-corrupted political observers, calling them “chattering classes.”

And, to pour salt into the wound, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, reported Malkin, released a “fact sheet” on the 12th about the stimulus package, in which she claimed there were “no earmarks or pet projects.” Obama, Schumer, Pelosi, Harry Reid and the rest of our “social managers” in government are confident they can get away with such brazen behavior because the news media are largely on their side. Neither incident was reported by any of Stephanopoulos‘s colleagues, except perhaps on talk radio, the bane of and threat to the Democrats.

Arguably the most frightening aspects of the stimulus package not mentioned once by the news media are the socialized medicine provisions buried in the 1,100-page stimulus bill, as reported in Bloomberg News by Betsy McCaughey on February 9. Scattered throughout the package are appropriations for the establishment of controls on physicians, hospitals and patients. They are the natural end of Medicare and all the other federal, semi-socialist medical programs. In short, if you are elderly and require serious medical treatment, a Federal Council will decide whether or not that treatment is “cost effective” and a potential drain on Medicare resources. If some faceless bureaucrat decides it is not “cost effective,” you will be sentenced to endure the malady, or to “die quietly.”

Does this policy differ in any fundamental from, say, the Nazi policy of “thinning out the herd” by denying the elderly and disabled Germans medical treatment, or by cleaning out sanitariums of the mentally ill for “cost effectiveness” reasons? No.

I have dwelt on George Stephanopoulos here simply because he is the most obvious and noisome symptom of the betrayal of the news media. I do not know where he learned the basic principles of journalism, but it certainly could not have been at the Columbia School of Journalism, on whose gateway is inscribed Joseph Pulitzer’s warning:

"A cynical, mercenary, demagogic, corrupt press will produce in time a people as base as itself.”


Too many Americans have welcomed Obama and his fascist agenda, have cheered on a compliant Congress, and look forward to hearing the likes of Stephanopoulos hand in his report cards on the Obama administration. These Americans do not mind being “owned,” commanded, and given their marching orders. They are our carnivorous adversaries, as well.

I can only quote Francisco d’Anconia from Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged:

“Brother, you asked for it!”

21 comments:

Grant Jones said...

Ed, excellent commentary as usual. I can only add that this bill, now law, also recends the welfare "reform" act of 1996. The Democrats are intent on owning as many Americans as someone else's money will buy. And you are right, those who allow themselves to be bought are also the enemy.

Jeff said...

From Letter No. 34 of Cato's Letters:

"Flattery is venal, and always goes to the best bidder; and it is servile and always crouches most to those who are uppermost, let them be what they will: Adulationi foedum crimen servitutis inest [Adulation is subject to the ignoble charge of servility; from Tacitus's History]."

Michael Labeit said...

Whenever I get the opportunity to see people like Stephanopoulus and Chris Matthews comment on politics, they rarely discuss the prudence or rationality of a policy or idea. Instead they marvel at the political machinations emplyed to sell policies or ideas, regardless of whether that thing being passed ought to be passed in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Michael: Your comments are very to the point about Stephanopoulos and his ilk. I think what self-esteem they may claim stems from their being "in the know" and "on the inside" of such political events, and they derive their pitiful self-worth from being able to say they're privy to events and actions that will affect the lives of countless people. They are a form of Peter Keating.

Ed

shahnawaz said...

Great article ed.It reminds me of the the slaves of big plantation owners, in the antebellum period, who looked down on slaves of smaller plantations and the po crackers.

Neil Parille said...

Wasn't Stephanopoulos the one who "corrected" Obama's statement about his "Moslem faith" to his "Christian faith"?

Andrew E. said...

"Too many Americans have welcomed Obama and his fascist agenda, have cheered on a compliant Congress, and look forward to hearing the likes of Stephanopoulos hand in his report cards on the Obama administration. These Americans do not mind being “owned,” commanded, and given their marching orders. They are our carnivorous adversaries, as well."

How unfortunately true. I may be beating a dead horse, but... where is the way out of this? How will it end?

Anonymous said...

Thanks again for speaking out with such insight, rationality and eloquence. Your spirit and determination are inspiring. As someone else commented: “You are no summer soldier or sunshine patriot.”

Bill Bucko

Anonymous said...

Andrew asks: "Where is the way out of this? How will it end?"

Frankly, at the moment, I don't see a way out of it. John Allison of BB&T made recommendations of how how the "crisis" could be alleviated and eventually eradicated, but it isn't likely any news anchor or politician will take his ideas seriously. ARI has written extensively on the rational way out of it. But men of reason have been marginalized, or made invisible to the public.

So, I am expecting (not wanting them to, mind you) events to follow their logical, ineluctable course. It will end dramatically, tragically, some time down the road (sooner, I think, than anyone realizes), with economic collapse and possibly a civil war between the producers and men of reason (us) and the mystics of muscle, their cannibalistic minions (anyone on welfare, including the retired on Medicare, Social Security, etc.). Rand thought a civil war probable if America did not change course and accepted dictatorship.

Ed

Andrew E. said...

"So, I am expecting (not wanting them to, mind you) events to follow their logical, ineluctable course. It will end dramatically, tragically, some time down the road (sooner, I think, than anyone realizes), with economic collapse and possibly a civil war between the producers and men of reason (us) and the mystics of muscle, their cannibalistic minions (anyone on welfare, including the retired on Medicare, Social Security, etc.). Rand thought a civil war probable if America did not change course and accepted dictatorship."

My worries are the same. However, am I being naively optimistic when thinking of the infinite number of possibilities, that there must be some rational way out of this? Specifically I mean a way which avoids the troubles we all have in mind. Are we giving up too easily if we accept that the only way out is a fiery, dramatic end?

Sure, ARI and many other individuals/groups have offered clear, level headed solutions to our problems. In todays intellectual climate, few will take them seriously.

Yet I can't escape the.. feeling (for lack of a better word), that if I possessed a more powerful legal understanding (or perhaps more time), there's an alternate route to be found.
If we've been checkmated, then that's it. But have we been?
States wising up and passing resolutions of sovereignty from the federal gov. under the tenth ammendment, eg: Oklahoma, seems to be a start. Their resolution passed by a 92-3 margin in the house. My home state of Missouri among other states has similar resolutions in progress. While a resolution doesn't mean a whole lot, it is a start, no?

Anonymous said...

I don't expect an apocalypse. Rome didn't fall overnight, and neither will America. I doubt we will see a civil war. There aren't many rational people left in the US--certainly not enough to fight.

If this country proceeds far enough in the direction it has been moving lately, we will certainly see steady economic contraction here. This will harm the world economy, but it won't kill it.

Just as Rome gradually morphed into a mercantilist bureaucracy, and the lights of reason fled to the East long before the West fell, we will see the US die of brain drain before its literal collapse has any real significance left.

In Rome this took hundreds of years. Lower communication and transportation costs today might hasten this process, but they will also make it smoother.

The question now is: where are the men of the mind to go? I don't presume to know the answer to this question. It seems likely that the political map of the world would be significantly redrawn during an American collapse.

But one thing I do believe is that the view (shared by many Objectivists and even proclaimed by Yaron Brook at the last OCON) that "America is our only hope" is just plain wrong. I think this comes from an ignorant view of world history that sees a single line of reason from Ancient Greece to the American Revolution, ignoring those bursts and flowerings of rational thought--often of lasting significance--that have occurred in many other times and places.

The history of capitalism is just beginning.

Jeff said...

Where are these "bursts and flowerings of rational thought" around the world?

I find it interesting that you did not note a single one.

Andrew E. said...

"The question now is: where are the men of the mind to go?"

Absolutely. But where to go when the entire globe is being swallowed by government expansion?
And further, why pick up and leave if you truly have nowhere to go?
Perhaps this is what's meant by America being our last hope.

However, here's some food for thought:
http://www.stateofworldliberty.org/report/rankings.html

djr said...

Ed, Great perspective, as always.

I wonder when it will become fashionable to line up and kiss our king’s hand, plead our case and await the alms, like in Saudi Arabia.

Jeff said...

Anonymous said, "Rome didn't fall overnight, and neither will America."

I would not be so sure, the Roman Republic reached its peak after the Third Macedonian War and perished less than one hundred years later.

Her climb to greatness started in the 3rd century BC and died in the 1st into a sea of despotism.

Anonymous said...

Jeff said: "Where are these "bursts and flowerings of rational thought" around the world? I find it interesting that you did not note a single one."

You don't need to be such a jackass. You could just ask for examples.

For starters, try the political philosophy of Laozi, the "constitutional" philosophy of Confucius (whose ideas about the mutual obligations of government and citizenry predated the Magna Charta by over one thousand years). Take a look at the political technology of Medieval Iceland, or the mathematics of the Babylonians, who invented algebra, or the Indians, who invented the concept of zero. Arab medical advances, for example, drew not only on the Greeks, but also on these and other Persian and South Asian innovations. Take a look at the economic innovations of the Chinese, who invented not only paper money, but had a sophisticated free banking system in Sichuan province hundreds of years before either Scotland or the US. And don't forget that the first print culture was in China, not Europe. The list goes on and on, and as much as you may want me to be your intellectual babysitter, you're going to have to read about the rest of it on your own.

None of these were perfect, and none of these reflect a capitalist social system. But the same can be said about Greece, Rome, and the European Renaissance. And it is simply not accurate to characterize these non-European rational developments as any less stable, influential, purposeful, or culturally integrated as their parallels in European history.

Yes, the American founders drew on Greek and Roman political experience, but they also drew on a body of scientific knowledge that has its roots in China, India, and Persia, as well as Europe.

And my point is that ultimately, these ideas are still available to present and future generations, along with the ideas of Ayn Rand and others, and the American experience. The founders weren't Chinese, Indian, Persian, Greek, or Roman, but that didn't stop them from drawing on rational elements from all of these traditions and creating an America which, unfortunately, no longer exists today. And the nationality and geographic location of future capitalist pioneers won't stop them from learning and applying the right philosophy, either.

American constitutional republicanism is not the only hope for capitalism, any more than Greek geometry was the only hope for mathematics, or medieval Arabia was the only hope for medical science.

Anonymous said...

Andrew E. wrote: "But where to go when the entire globe is being swallowed by government expansion?"

That is a very myopic view of recent history. Democracy is more widespread now than it has ever been in human history. Dictatorship is experiencing an unprecedented decline. Millions of people around the world are lifting themselves out of poverty under receding, not expanding, government. Not to imply that you're as lazy as Jeff, but if you want two significant examples look at China and India.

Is this an unstoppable trend? No, but I think it is absurd to assume that an American collapse (if that even occurs) will loom larger in the minds of Indians and Chinese than the still recent disasters of their own socialist economies. And in any case, it is simply false to claim that the "globe is being swallowed by government expansion."

China might not look like a nice place to live right now, but it's a lot nicer than it was just 10 years ago, 20 years ago, and certainly 30 years ago. If that trend continues, who knows what the next few generations will bring? The current recession is putting a lot of budgetary pressure on the Chinese government, which means that it has the potential to be an enormous political opportunity for the Chinese people. Remember, the Magna Carta was born out of a budget deficit.

Anonymous said...

Jeff said: "the Roman Republic reached its peak after the Third Macedonian War and perished less than one hundred years later."

Rome's transition from republic to empire did not mark the end of its military or cultural significance, or the final collapse of the Roman people's standard of living.

You may argue that it marked the beginning of the end, and that's fine. But the process of decline outlasted the republic by several hundred years, and that's what actually matters.

Andrew said...

"American constitutional republicanism is not the only hope for capitalism, any more than Greek geometry was the only hope for mathematics, or medieval Arabia was the only hope for medical science."

First, as to my myopic view of history and of government encroachment... I think you're right in checking my overstatement of the case. But while violent dictatorial regimes may be temporarily on the decline, can it not be said that government expansion - as a whole - is not on the upswing? I could be wrong, perhaps what's happening here in the U.S. is tainting my perspective. Though perhaps this very very recent change in Indian and Chinese government is clouding yours. I'm not so quick to be optimistic about the new attitudes in communist China. On a large timeline, it's only a few minutes ago that the Chinese gov't was running protesters over with tanks.

Second, as to your quote, which I copy/pasted above... Think of the library in Alexandria, burned to the ground, it's thousands upon thousands of books and the knowledge they contained lost *forever*. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eh0eM4tAISQ
(watch right around 5:50 and 8:00)

A catastrophe on this scale is less likely to occur today, but it is not impossible.

It's extremely likely certain areas of knowledge did in fact die with the burning of that library and are still awaiting their rediscovery. Alexandria was unfortunately, their only hope.

If our situation in the U.S. gets worse for us during our lifetime, you have to forgive me, but the knowledge of the "political technology of medieval Iceland," will do little to help me.

It is comforting to know that rational thinking can, does and will continue to flower and perhaps grow, however sporadically. But the point here is not, "how can we ensure the survival of these ideas!"
It's as you say, "where are the men of the mind to go?"

J. Jennings said...

Anonymous said, "American constitutional republicanism is not the only hope for capitalism, any more than Greek geometry was the only hope for mathematics, or medieval Arabia was the only hope for medical science."

I find little consolation in the idea that the "American experiment" could give future peoples knowledge and hope, only to find myself living out my days in the chains of statist slavery.

While China and several other nations may be making halting progress, i.e. they are no longer machine-gunning protestors and running "re-education camps," they're light years away from freedom. Meanwhile, other countries such as the US and most of Europe are slipping further into collectivist statism. So, while the worst are getting better, the best are also getting worse. This siutuation leaves us with no free, rational society to go to in the near future. This means that we must fight off collectivism in the USA because wherever else we might go will be just as bad (or worse). I think *that* was the point Andrew was making.

Anonymous said...

Andrew said: "It is comforting to know that rational thinking can, does and will continue to flower and perhaps grow, however sporadically. But the point here is not, "how can we ensure the survival of these ideas!"
It's as you say, "where are the men of the mind to go?""

I agree. When I talk about the future of these ideas, I mean in my own lifetime. The ideas of capitalism are available to a greater percentage of the world's population than ever before. I think this is very promising for the very near future. We are already seeing the effects. That's why I pointed out the recent (past few decades) trend away from dictatorship.


J. Jennings said: "[China is] light years away from freedom"

If China is light years away from freedom, they are also light years away from communism, which means that they have traveled light years in just three decades. Where will they be three decades from now?


Andrew said: "it's only a few minutes ago that the Chinese gov't was running protesters over with tanks."

That's right. And it was only a few minutes ago that the Soviet Union was the greatest threat to our peace and security. And just a few hours ago, the entire world lived in desperate poverty, and the Industrial Revolution was beyond anyone's wildest dreams.

Things change, often quickly. In your "big picture", the American Revolution took a few seconds, and changed the world. Even the founders themselves didn't expect to succeed as well as they did.

I'm not saying the same will happen in China, but I am saying it might, and in any case it could happen somewhere where we don't expect it. On the eve of the Revolution, America was a relatively insignificant frontier colony, unworthy of world attention. What areas are we ignoring today? Take a look at Estonia and the Czech Republic today, and honestly ask yourself: "Could I have predicted this one generation ago?"

As America declines, the stakes grow larger. Anyone who can carve out a secure area and promote capitalistic economic policies will attract the men of the mind from all over the world. I am confident in the efficiency of the market for ideas. As evidence I point to the recent rise in sales of Atlas Shrugged.

On a related (and admittedly controversial) point, I believe the market for ideas might be even more efficient (e.g. Objectivist ideas would gain ground even faster) if ARI wasn't such a lumbering dinosaur of incompetence. As evidence I point to the fact that Stephen Moore, a libertarian admirer of David Kelley, has gotten Atlas more good press with one op-ed in the Journal than ARI has ever accomplished with its army of paid op-ed writers.

There are things ARI does well to promote Objectivism (e.g. the essay contests) but much of what they do looks more like the work of Associated Steel than Rearden Metal.