The Department of Almost-Free Enterprise

By Chris Chocola
12/08/2009

It was a foregone conclusion that the nation ignored the White House’s “Jobs Summit” last Thursday. Even the presidents’ allies acknowledged the afternoon confab of friendly CEOs, labor bosses, and economists was a publicity stunt. And so it was.

But if you watched cable news at all that day, you probably saw live interviews of administration officials repeating a new and not unwelcome talking point from the Obama White House. Both the vice president and president made the point in their opening remarks.

Biden: “[The government] can help create the conditions that make for a stronger economy, make a stronger economy possible. But it’s you, all of you in this audience here, who are in the position to make it a reality.”

Obama: “While I believe that government has a critical role in creating the conditions for economic growth, ultimately true economic recovery is only going to come from the private sector.”

A pro-growth, economic conservative could hardly wish for a more market-oriented, downright supply-side perspective, especially from the authors of the stimulus, cap-and-trade, ObamaCare, and the Detroit takeovers. The White House’s most disciplined spokesmen left it there. Alas, though Messrs. Biden and Obama are many things, disciplined spokesman they are not.

Notice how each fleshed out the point.

Biden: “None of it can be done without your [the private sector’s] full buy-in and your leadership in the private sector.”

Obama (closing remarks): “And there was considerable amount of discussion about how we can leverage the private sector to boost our infrastructure spending.”

Buy in?  Leveraging the private sector?

These comments offer a clear — and deeply unsettling — view of the way Barack Obama and Joe Biden see the world.  They indicate the president and vice president see the private sector primarily as a tool of the federal government, a loosely controlled agent of the state, whose purpose is to meet political goals set by elected officials and their bureaucratic appointees.

Call it the Department of Quasi-Free Enterprise.

Seen from this perspective, the administration’s agenda suddenly makes sense.

The $787 stimulus was never intended to spur investment and private sector hiring.  Most of the spending has been in the form of transfers from Washington to deficit-riddled state and local governments, now shielded from having to shed thousands of extraneous (and public-employee union dues-paying) bureaucrats.

General Motors and Chrysler were taken over not simply to prop up broken companies, but because President Obama needs someone to build his little green cars.  As he put it in April, defending his Detroit takeover and plans for the auto industry: “If the Japanese can design an affordable, well-designed hybrid, then, doggone it, the American people should be able to do the same.”

As it happens, neither GM nor Chrysler has ever been able to do any such thing.  Now they will, doggone it, because Democrats in Washington wish it.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have not been disbanded, but continue to operate.  Indeed, congressional liberals are already urging them to get back in the business of making the ludicrously risky loans that just last year brought the global economy to its knees.

So too with health care.  The president is not advocating a Canadian-style single-payer health care system.  He’s perfectly willing to allow big insurance companies to do the job, so long as they do it exactly as Congress and the Department of Health and Human Services prescribes.

Energy?  The cap-and-trade plan would not replace the energy industry, but simply bring it entirely under the umbrella of the federal government.  Charge this much, not that much.  Burn this coal, but not that.  Drill here, but not there.

Banks?  The bailouts didn’t destroy the banks, after all.  They just brought their business operations under the direct supervision of congressional committee chairmen and White House czars.

Net neutrality regulations recently proposed by Obama’s Federal Communications Commission would not eliminate broadband internet providers, but merely ensure their business decisions conform to the “public interest,” as determined by federal policymakers.

On and on and on, Obama’s vision clarifies around this theme.  In his ideal world, corporate giants like GM, Chrysler, Citi, GE, and the big insurers would still be publicly traded on stock exchanges, report profits and losses, and pay (lots of) taxes.  They would simply operate as a seamlessly integrated engine of social improvement, a giant machine whose knobs and levers would be in the steady hands politicians, academics, and community organizers.

Once companies “buy-in,” then Washington can finally “leverage the private sector” to meet the enlightened economic goals set by experts in Washington.  And in no time, prosperity will return in the form of government mandated consumer goods, from green cars to fluorescent light bulbs to health insurance.

Imagine the possibilities.  The economy as an arm of the state.  The Department of Quasi-Free Enterprise.

Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?

Cartoon by Brett Noel.

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Categories: America, Cap & Tax, Climate Change, Democrats, Jobs, money, politics, taxes | Tags: | Leave a comment

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