Obama Says Things That Are True

It seems many political disagreements on the internet are about style, rather than substance and who am I to buck the trend? Elizabeth Warren caused a lot of knee jerk reaction with her offhand remark on why no one got where they are on their own. But for a fresh round of teeth-grinding, here Obama goes saying things that are true:

…look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.  You didn’t get there on your own.  I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.  There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.  Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.  (Applause.)

Nothing he’s saying here is controversial. I, too, am struck by those hypothetical idiots who think that we live in some sort of perfect meritocracy where humans don’t interact with other humans. If I could just find one of those people, I’d pound so much sense into them…

Look (there I go talking like Obama), we don’t have a meritocracy and it’s just as well. It’s not like it’s morally any different for someone to succeed because of the parents and location they were born with or for someone to succeed because of the intelligence they were born with. None of us deserve what we have. I benefited from things invented ages ago. My industry benefits from the hollowed out corpses of failed startups that left behind good technology. And that’s why… why what? Here Obama goes conflating society and the state:

     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 Internet didn’t get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

Here is how these arguments go: you have what you have because [some thing that people in your life did] and/or [some thing that people you've never met did] and/or [some thing the government did], therefore… [insert pet conclusion]. All these different things are lumped together so your patriotic duty to pay taxes and your duty to give back to society are one in the same.

But it’s not like we couldn’t have roads or bridges without government. More importantly, it’s not like when your parents or your friends help you with your business that’s really government doing it. It’s like the state is Jesus. It forgave your sins… even though your sins weren’t against it in the first place.

Obama is arguing for slightly higher taxes on some against those who want slightly lower taxes overall. Both sides in question agree on some taxes and neither side has a magic formula to determine how much. And neither do I. And that’s the thing. What he’s presenting isn’t purely substance, it’s largely style. And here I am responding in kind.

The Yeller Menace

There’s a good chance you’ve seen this ad that Pete Hoekstra ran during the Super Bowl. If not in between watching brain trauma ball, then likely on the intertubes. The ad was immediately recognized as racially insensitive (sure, but political incorrectness doesn’t really bother me) and just plain stupid (there we go, that bothers me!) But is it really exceptional or unprecedented? Or is it just a more clumsy delivery of the rhetoric that politicians spew anyway?

China is a recurring subject in the Republican debates. National debt is given a sinister character by the suggestion that the Chinese own much of it (they own some of it, but by far not most). Here’s Romney from one of the debates:

China is playing by different rules. One, they are stealing intellectual property. Number two, they’re hacking into our computer systems, both government and corporate they are manipulating their currency, and by doing so, holding down the price of Chinese goods, and making sure their products are artificially low-priced. It’s predatory pricing, it’s killing jobs in America I would do something this president should have done a long time ago, which is to label China a currency manipulator. And then I would bring in action at the WTO level, charging them with being a currency manipulator.

Romney’s China rhetoric is relatively more sophisticated and fact-based than many other Republicans’ and yet here we have bad economics. They’re stealing our intellectual property? You mean they refuse to strangle their progress with our monopolies and artificial scarcity? What predators. And here we have the false notion of zero-sum trade, coming from the party that is ostensibly for free trade.

Obama isn’t much better. In his last SOTU, Obama mentioned China 5 times and counted blocking Chinese tires from entering our market as a victory for American workers. Sure, it’s a victory for some workers but on the whole, it’s not a benefit for the American people. Obama knows better and his economic advisers certainly do. But appealing to peoples’ [false] intuitions and paleolithic fear of outsiders is always a politically winning strategy.

The growing consensus, as far as I can tell, among those on the mainstream Left who understand economics is that we shouldn’t stop free trade but rather ensure an ample safety net for the minority who does suffer from the workings of the global market.

China sacrifices her citizens’ subjects’ wealth to make products cheaper for us. This isn’t to the benefit of the Chinese people over the American people. It’s to the benefit of certain Chinese manufacturers over the Chinese people. Countering that with tighter trade restrictions won’t restore the balance in favor of the American people, but rather benefit domestic producers at the expense of everyone else. Tariffs should be seen for what they are – a regressive tax.

Pete Hoekstra may be stupid and he may be blatantly playing off of xenophobia and discredited folk economic beliefs, but he is far from alone.