It’s because voting is an intrinsic good, not merely an instrumental good.
In other words, even independent of your vote’s affect on the outcome of the election, voting is a good thing that matters in itself.
This is because when you vote, you are exercising your rights, and doing so for the good of the nation. Exercising your rights, when done for the good of others, is a reflection of the image of God and his plan for human government.
Therefore, voting is good in itself and there is much more going on here than simply determining the outcome of the election. In one sense, voting is an expression of what it means to be human — namely, the fact that we are all equal before God and the law and that God put us on earth not to be tyrannized over by government, but rather for government to be the servant of the people.
So, if you haven’t yet, go vote! And do so even if you think the outcome for your state is already set.
From an article in the Wall Street Journal last week; the points are still relevant and helpful now that the downgrade has actually happened:
Even without a debt default, it looks increasingly possible that the world’s credit rating agencies will soon downgrade U.S. debt from the AAA standing it has enjoyed for decades.
A downgrade isn’t catastrophic because global financial markets decide the creditworthiness of U.S. securities, not Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. The good news is that investors still regard Treasury bonds, which carry the full faith and credit of the U.S. government, as a near zero-risk investment. But a downgrade will raise the cost of credit, especially for states and institutions whose debt is pegged to Treasurys. Above all a downgrade is a symbol of fiscal mismanagement and an omen of worse to come if we continue the same habits.
The rest of the article gives a good summary of how we got here, recounting the road all the way back to FDR. It’s worth a look.
The core principle for effective government is to protect life and then preserve and uphold individual freedom to the maximum extent consistent with law and order. Thomas Jefferson stated this well in his 1801 Inaugural Address:
A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.
He also stated it well in the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed [emphasis added].
Freedom is not simply a good idea, but stems from the nature of people, who are created in the image of God and thus ought to be free. Freedom is a right, not a privilege granted by the government.
As a result, the primary way to evaluate any policy is to first ask: Does this policy increase or decrease individual freedom? Policies that tend to decrease freedom will not just tend to get bad results. Rather, they are also contrary to the fundamental purpose of government.
And it is the same with candidates. A good question to ask about the candidates as we go to the polls is: Is this candidate generally for policies that increase individual freedom or policies that increase government control?
In other words, we need to think not only about specific issues, but also about the overall philosophies and principles that govern those who are running for office — and thus the positions they will take on not only current but also upcoming issues. The candidates who will lead best are those whose own political philosophy is in line with the purpose of government itself: to preserve and uphold freedom to the greatest possible extent.
- Individual liberty
- Personal responsibility
- Rule of law
- Limited government
- Separation of powers
- Free market economy
- Cultural norms
Well stated by Thomas Jefferson in his first Inaugural Address in 1801:
A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.
The core principle of wise governing is very, very simple and very, very clear.
Moral clarity — and the willingness to speak it — brought the Berlin Wall down back in 1989.
That’s the point made by two fantastic pieces in the Wall Street Journal from last month on Nov 9 (the day the Berlin Wall fell). I highly recommend them. I’m mentioning them now because they are relevant beyond simply the anniversary of that date. For woven throughout them are some of the core principles that are at the center of any sound theory of government. The pieces are:
Here are a few key excerpts from the articles, which I’ve categorized underneath headings that state some of these core principles:
1. The biggest threat to freedom is not military aggression, but moral ambiguity and sophistry.
The reason for this is that moral ambiguity serves as a mechanism to cloak the practices and principles that oppress people. In the twentieth century, this resulted in the enslavement and death of millions. Without moral clarity, you will not have action and people will not organize together.
(That’s not a quote from the articles, but that’s the underlying theme, and that’s how I would say it.)
2. You do not follow the principles of “how to win friends and influence people” with criminal regimes. They are different.
Reagan had the carefully arrived at view that criminal regimes were different, that their whole way of looking at the world was inverted, that they saw acts of conciliation as weakness, and that rather than making nice in return they felt an inner compulsion to exploit this perceived weakness by engaging in more acts of aggression. All this confirmed the criminal mind’s abiding conviction in its own omniscience and sovereignty, and its right to rule and victimize others.
3. The most powerful weapon against criminal regimes is publicly spoken moral clarity.
Accordingly, Reagan spoke formally and repeatedly of deploying against criminal regimes the one weapon they fear more than military or economic sanction: the publicly-spoken truth about their moral absurdity, their ontological weakness.
This was the sort of moral confrontation, as countless dissidents and resisters have noted, that makes these regimes conciliatory, precisely because it heartens those whom they fear most—their own oppressed people. Reagan’s understanding that rhetorical confrontation causes geopolitical conciliation led in no small part to the wall’s collapse 20 years ago today.
4. There are often opponents to moral clarity from within our own walls — including people with a narrowly pragmatic view of the world and people who simply should know better.
Yet it bears recalling that even these obvious political facts were obscure to many people who lived in freedom and should have known better. “Despite what many Americans think, most Soviets do not yearn for capitalism or Western-style democracy,” said CBS’s Dan Rather just two years before the Wall fell. And when Reagan delivered his historic speech in Berlin calling on Mr. Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” he did so after being warned by some of his senior advisers that the language was “unpresidential,” and after thousands of protesters had marched through West Berlin in opposition. [Which, of course, takes us back to point 1.]
In honor of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, here is the critical segment from Reagan’s famous “tear down this wall” speech:
Patrick Lencioni has a great article over at The Simple Wisdom Project on the problems that come from the fact that members of congress often do not have to live with the consequences of the laws they pass. Universal health care is the latest example.
Here’s a great quote:
As it stands today, Congress is considering legislation that would substantially change the way health care in America is paid for and delivered. And regardless of how one feels about that, one thing is certain: members of Congress won’t have to participate in it. The bill expressly states that they are exempt, and as we know, they have a much better, richer plan.
Regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman, a liberal or a conservative, a teenager or a senior citizen, this just doesn’t make any sense. It gives one the impression that politicians are masters of the people rather than public servants, and that they see themselves as being more important than the people they are supposed to represent. Otherwise, why would they choose to exempt themselves but not firefighters or teachers or police officers or doctors?
This is a fantastic visualization of how the deficit spending projected by Obama compares to past presidencies.
Really incredible. This video converts the deficit spending since 1900 into miles per hour. Bush was going 63 mph, the fastest yet. Obama’s own projections put him at 173 mph for the next eight years.
The video is well worth watching.
(HT: Steve Orris)
With the fourth of July coming up, it’s a good time to review the Declaration of Independence.
The Two Best Paragraphs in the Declaration
The first two paragraphs in the document give you an entire philosophy of government in themselves:
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Fundamental Principles of Government from the Declaration
A few of the principles of government that we see here are:
- All people are created equal.
- Therefore all people have certain unalienable rights. Chief among these rights are life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the ability to own property (not stated here, but in the original draft).
- These rights are given by God.
- Therefore, our rights are not “privileges” granted or controlled by the government. They exist prior to and apart from the government, and the government must respect them.
- Therefore, government exists for the sake of the people, not the people for the sake of the government. Government does not have a right to lord it over the people.
- Instead, government exists to preserve and protect these rights. Government is not ultimately about control.
- The government cannot do anything it chooses. There are certain things that are wrong for a government to do, even apart from impressively stated arguments for their pragmatic value.
- The rights of the people are more important than the desires of the government.
- Government derives its powers from the consent of the governed; the people do not derive their rights from the will or choice of the government.
- People have the right to abolish their government when it becomes destructive of these ends.
This is simply radical. Really, we should be stunned and immensely grateful that our society came to recognize these truths. In a world where so many people seek after power, it is incredible that a government should come to exist which acknowledges that the power of government is not ultimate.
The Single Governing Principle of Government
We can roll all of these principles up into a single, governing principle of human government: the purpose of government is to protect and maximize the freedom of the people. And people have this freedom because they are all created equal (so people in government are not “more equal” than the private citizen — even when they are working for the “collective good”) and endowed with intrinsic rights that they hold simply by virtue of being human.
In order for government to accomplish this purpose, there are two necessary implications, both of which are embodied in our Constitution:
- Limited government.
- Separation of powers.
What True Liberalism Is
The principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence, by the way, are what “liberalism” really is. Today the term “liberal” is used to refer to policies that seek to expand the place of government and give it a greater role in people’s lives. That’s not liberal — that’s conservative.
It’s conservative because it seeks to conserve the way the world functioned for thousands of years before the American Revolution — namely, a world where government saw its power as ultimate, rather than the God-given rights of the people as prior to the power of government.
What today is called “conservatism,” on the other hand, actually used to be called political liberalism because it advocated for change from the government-first ideology that dominated for almost all of human history before that. It advocated for the principles that we see outlined in the Declaration. That’s why on my Facebook profile I put my political views as classical liberalism.
By the way, you can read the whole Declaration of Independence here.
In his latest column, Thomas Sowell points out that learning from other countries does not simply mean imitating them, as many who call for America to be “more European” imply, but often means learning from their mistakes:
People who say that we should learn from other countries seem to have in mind that we should imitate those countries. But some of the most valuable lessons from other countries can be had from seeing the disasters their policies have produced– especially when our own intelligentsia are pushing ideas that have already been tried and failed elsewhere.
Here’s one example:
A British homeowner who held two burglars at gunpoint until the police arrived was arrested– even though the gun he used turned out to be just a realistic-looking toy gun. The British intelligentsia take guns much more seriously than they take burglary, even when it is only a toy gun that is used to “intimidate” a burglar, as they put it.
The Wall Street Journal has a good editorial on Obama’s claim that his stimulus has “saved or created” 150,000 jobs so far, and that he will ramp up spending to create another 600,000 more this summer.
The problem is that it is impossible to measure the number of jobs “saved.” Economist Gregory Mankiw calls this an “unmeasurable metric.” Agencies like the Labor Department and Bureau of Labor Statistics measure the number of jobs lost or created, but none of them track the number of jobs “saved” because there is no way to know.
Which means that talking in terms of “jobs saved” creates a very convenient situation for Obama:
“You created a situation where you cannot be wrong,” said the Montana Democrat. “If the economy loses two million jobs over the next few years, you can say yes, but it would’ve lost 5.5 million jobs. If we create a million jobs, you can say, well, it would have lost 2.5 million jobs. You’ve given yourself complete leverage where you cannot be wrong, because you can take any scenario and make yourself look correct.”
Now, something’s wrong when the president invokes a formula that makes it impossible for him to be wrong and it goes largely unchallenged. It’s true that almost any government spending will create some jobs and save others. But as Milton Friedman once pointed out, that doesn’t tell you much: The government, after all, can create jobs by hiring people to dig holes and fill them in.
From the Townhall blog:
Here’s what the President hopes nobody realizes: Raising taxes has consequences for everyone – and most of them are bad.
Yesterday, I wrote about the ugly unintended consequences for regular Americans of the liberal love affair with “taxing the rich.”
Today, Microsoft has offered us a lesson on what it means for regular Americans when liberals try to “tax corporations.”
Whether or not they know it, when the government raises taxes “just” on “corporations” or “the rich,” everyone ends up paying. Everyone.
Recently, he has started The Simple Wisdom Project, which is intended to be “a source of perspective and common sense about topics relating to family, faith, and life’s daily challenges.”
His latest monthly article discusses socialism. He writes it in response to a reader who “wanted to understand why socialism is a bad thing, especially in the context of the Christian commandments to love thy neighbor, care for the poor and avoid materialism.”
The short article is well worth your read. Here are a few key excerpts.
Socialism doesn’t work:
First, it just doesn’t work. At least not for very long. That’s because people are flawed and, outside of a family, a religious order, or a small group of friends, they will not continually work hard for the ‘greater good’ if they do not receive the fruits of that work themselves. As an economics major in college, I learned that this theory had a name: ‘the free-loader effect’. It is the natural tendency of people to do less and less work when they realize that they won’t see a proportionate increase in what they can get for it.
Over time—and this is an inevitable consequence of the free-loader effect—socialist societies experience decreasing productivity, risk-taking, and innovation, along with increasing tax rates, promises of government programs, and expectations from citizens about what they can get from those programs. When the economy inevitably falters under its own weight, those expectations cannot be met.
Socialism diminishes the dignity of human beings:
The second reason why I believe socialism is such a bad idea is very much related to the first, but much more important to me as a Christian: it diminishes the dignity of human beings. In socialist societies, individuals grow increasingly dependent on the government for their well-being, and less and less confident that they are capable of and responsible for themselves. This is an inevitable recipe for cynicism, fatalism and depression.
Socialism advances through a subtle, “slow creep”:
… socialism does not usually spring up over night. Instead, it creeps. Little by little we grow accustomed to new and higher taxes (“it’s just a one percent increase in the sales tax”), more government programs (“how can I vote against free ‘fill-in-the-blank” for children?”), and the false lure of getting something for nothing.
What should we do if we really want to be compassionate and make a difference?
So what are we to do if we want to act on our desire to do good and make a difference? Work hard. Create jobs. Treat our employees with dignity and love. Give generously of our money and our time to good charities and directly to those in need. And demand that our government compassionately provide effective programs and services for those who are truly incapable of providing for themselves.
But we should never, ever, support a program, a tax or a proposal that makes us feel good but ends up making the lives of the people we are supposed to be helping, and the society in which they live, more difficult and dependent.
In honor of tax day, here’s Ronald Reagan’s great quote on how there are 151 taxes in a mere loaf of bread. It’s from 1975, and I can’t say for sure if the same is true today. But if anything, my guess would be that that number has gone up, rather than down.
The quote is from a very enjoyable and helpful interview in general with Reagan that I just came across (from 1975). I would recommend reading the whole thing.
Here’s the quote I’m referring to:
If people need any more concrete explanation of this, start with the staff of life, a loaf of bread. The simplest thing; the poorest man must have it. Well, there are 151 taxes now in the price of a loaf of bread — it accounts for more than half the cost of a loaf of bread. It begins with the first tax, on the farmer that raised the wheat. Any simpleton can understand that if that farmer cannot get enough money for his wheat, to pay the property tax on his farm, he can’t be a farmer. He loses his farm. And so it is with the fellow who pays a driver’s license and a gasoline tax to drive the truckload of wheat to the mill, the miller who has to pay everything from social security tax, business license, everything else. He has to make his living over and above those costs. So they all wind up in that loaf of bread. Now an egg isn’t far behind and nobody had to make that. There’s a hundred taxes in an egg by the time it gets to market and you know the chicken didn’t put them there!
Here’s a very good explanation by J.P. Moreland, professor of philosophy at Biola University, from his recent interview with Hugh Hewitt:
A negative right is a right for me to be protected from harm if I try to get something for myself. A positive right would be my right to have something provided for me.
If health care is a negative right, then the state has an obligation to keep people from preventing me from getting health care and discriminating against me. If health care’s a positive right, then the state has an obligation to provide it for me.
As I read the New Testament, the government’s responsibility, and by the way, I think the Old Testament prophets say this, too, is I read the prophets in the New Testament, the government’s job is to protect negative rights, not to provide positive rights. So as a Christian, I believe in a minimal government. It’s not the government’s job to be providing the health care benefits for people. So I will be looking to see if Obama does things to minimize the role of government in culture, and to provide for as much human freedom as possible.
Thomas Sowell has a very thought-provoking column on the stimulus called “What Are They Buying?”
I talked yesterday about how government spending is not the way to stimulate the economy. On top of this, Sowell makes note that “out of $355 billion newly appropriated, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that only $26 billion will be spent this fiscal year and only $110 billion by the end of 2010″
Not all of that $355 billion is for government spending and public works, for sure. But this indicates that, when it does come to the public works projects, most of that spending won’t even happen this year. So even if government spending was a good way to stimulate the economy, the stimulus package would still have this other problem that most of that won’t happen for another year and longer.
I find Nancy Pelosi’s recent comments shocking. I probably shouldn’t. Denny Burk summarizes her comments well:
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is defending the fact that hundreds of millions of dollars of the forthcoming stimulus package are to be spent on “family planning.” Her argument is very simple. The economy is bad. Having babies costs money. Would-be parents need to save their money by not having babies.
You can see her comments here:
Three things. First, the values embodied in this perspective are completely backwards. Quite simply, it fails to recognize that people — human life — is the most valuable reality in creation. God is most valuable. After that, it’s people. Seeking to cut down on the number of children born in order to “cut costs” and help the economic stimulus makes things more important than people. The economy exists for people. You do not sacrifice people for things.
Second, the economic perspective in her comments is also wrong. Obviously children do cost money. However, funding measures to help reduce the number of children born is a short-sighted way of addressing the economic side of things. For children grow up. They become adults who solve problems, produce things, cure diseases, become president, or just plain work hard and serve their communities and families. These people — the children that are born today — are the solution to the problems of tomorrow. People are not problems, they are solutions. To advocate fewer births now is a very short-sighted approach to a temporary economic issue. It is sacrificing the long-term for the sake of perceived short-term gain.
Third, the children that are born today are not simply the solutions to the problem of tomorrow. They make society better today. A society devoid of children is a lonely, boring society. I’m not saying that she is taking things that far. Neither am I saying that we should all have 10 kids. But what we need is more of the energy and vitality that children bring, not less of it.
We should not look at the short-term expense of children as a financial burden to the states or the economy. We should look at it as a commitment to what is most worthwhile.
(HT: Vitamin Z)
Here’s a schedule of events for tomorrow’s inauguration.
This is a good time to take a look back as well as ahead. So in addition to watching Obama’s swearing-in and inaugural address tomorrow, I would recommend watching Reagan’s swearing-in and inaugural address from 1981:
I still love Reagan’s timeless line: “Government is not the solution to the problem. Government is the problem.” This is still true today, even though many have (once again) come to think the opposite.
It is not that government has no role to play. The problem is that government — as has been the almost universal case throughout human history — tends to vastly overstep its proper role.
As Thomas Sowell has often said, here is what typically happens: The government creates a certain policy or takes a certain action that affects the free market (in the case of the recent financial crisis, two such actions were the Community Reinvestment Act and keeping interest rates too low for too long after 9/11). That governmental action then creates unintended consequences which damage the economy.
But because of the time that it takes for these unintended consequences to become manifest, people don’t realize the connection between the governmental policy and the economic results. Instead, the free market gets blamed. The government then announces that it must step in to “fix the market” or solve the problem, and the cycle is repeated.
Reagan got this, and therefore realized that the solution to the stagflation and extended economic slump of the 70′s was less government, not more. The result was the longest economic expansion in history. Today, many people think that this era of expansion is over. Some people think that’s a good thing because, to their way of thinking, a thriving economy simply fuels materialism.
But that’s not a compassionate way to think. The problem with a lagging economy is not that you can’t buy as much stuff. The problem is that opportunity starts to dry up.
Obama, fortunately, does not think like the people who want to see our economy in the gutter for an extended period. The problem, though, is that Obama does not appear to understand what Reagan did. Maybe he will learn it — I am holding out hope for that. But in the meantime, he appears poised to deliver us another dose of what makes economies tank in the first place — an overreaching government.
I just picked up the book Greatness: Reagan, Churchill, and the Making of Extraordinary Leaders and it’s proving to be a good read. The comparison between Reagan and Churchill has not been often made. But in writing extensively on both individuals, the author began to see the many parallels between these leaders, which he explores in this book and ties to the concept of greatness.
At the beginning, he points out that the concept of individual greatness is inimical to the mainstream thinking of modern history:
The mainstream of contemporary history and political science does not adequately take account of the nature and sources of political greatness. Indeed, the egalitarian temper of modern intellectual life, combined with the reductionist methodology of social science, deprecates individual greatness and seeks to reduce the course of human affairs to material and subrational forces.
But he quotes the British historian Geoffrey Elton with an excellent response to this:
When I meet a historian who cannot think that there have been great men, great men moreover in politics, I feel myself in the presence of a bad historian.
My other favorite part in Reagan’s farewell address is the very end (go forward to 9:11 into the above video), where he says:
And as I walk off into the city streets, a final word to the men and women of the Reagan revolution, the men and women across America who for eight years did the work that brought America back. My friends: We did it. We weren’t just marking time. We made a difference. We made the city stronger. We made the city freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad, not bad at all.
And so, good-bye, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.
Truly amazing. “We weren’t just marking time. We made a difference.” What a great thing to be able to say. And its significance extends far beyond a presidency. I think everybody aims for this in whatever their work is. Nobody wants to just be “marking time.” People want to make a difference.
As we start the new year, that would be a good resolution to make. Whatever your job is — and in all areas of your life — make sure you haven’t fallen into autopilot and become someone who is merely marking time. Be making a difference.
And, regardless of who is in the presidency, this can and should always be true of us as a nation as well.
As we look ahead to a presidential transition in the coming weeks, we would do well to look back … to Ronald Reagan.
I love Reagan’s farewell address (among many others). I don’t remember if I saw it live back in ’89 (I would have been 12), but I’ve watched it on Youtube many times since.
One of the best parts is when he talks about the meaning of “we the people,” which is in the above 30-second clip. (A more complete, very good video of the best parts of the speech can be found on Youtube here). He talks about how the American tradition is the first in the history of the mankind where we “truly reversed the course of government.” The purpose of government is not to tell people what to do and “tell the people what their privileges are.” Rather, it is the people who tell the government what to do, including “where it should go, and by what route, and how fast.”
This is because we are free. The recognition of this principle was, Reagan said, “the underlying basis for everything I’ve tried to do these past eight years.”
Reagan got it right. The preservation of freedom is why the presidency — and government in its entirety — exists.
Obama is entering into a very tough challenge on many fronts, one of which is the economy. As he is making his plans even today, and implements those plans once he takes office, may he remember that the answer is not more government telling us what to do, taking more money in taxation, and creating make-work jobs. It is in preserving and expanding freedom — political and economic freedom.
Here is the section from Reagan’s farewell address that I am referring to, which begins at 1:30 in the Youtbue video above:
Ours was the first revolution in the history of mankind that truly reversed the course of government, and with three little words: “We the people.” “We the people” tell the government what to do, it doesn’t tell us. “We the people” are the driver, the government is the car. And we decide where it should go, and by what route, and how fast. Almost all the world’s constitutions are documents in which governments tell the people what their privileges are. Our Constitution is a document in which “We the people” tell the government what it is allowed to do. “We the people” are fee. This belief has been the underlying basis for everything I’ve tried to do these past eight years.
Jack Welch has a helpful column in the Nov 17 issue of Businessweek called “Three Reasons Obama Won.” (The link is to the podcast — the column itself does not appear to exist online. In case anyone is wondering, this does indeed mean that I still read some actual physical periodicals!)
Here are two of the most helpful points.
The Importance of Clear Vision
First, we see the importance of clear vision. “Start with the grandad of leadership principles: a clear, consistent vision. If you want to galvanize followers, you simply cannot recast your message. Nor can you confuse or scare people. McCain’s health-care policy, for example, had real merit. But his presentation of it was always confoundingly complex.”
The Importance of Solid Execution
Second, we see the importance of solid execution. “Execution isn’t the only thing a leader needs to get right, but without it little else matters.” “From the outset, [Obama's] advisers were best in class, and his players were always prepared, agile, and where they needed to be.”
The Twist: Solid Execution is Not About Simply Doing the Same Old “Milk Run” Better
Diving down further into the concept of execution, there is a very important lesson: Execution is not simply about doing the same old things better, but doing new things and reinventing the game:
So often companies think they’ve nailed execution by doing the same old ‘milk run’ better and better. But winning execution means doing the milk run perfectly — and finding new customers and opening new markets along the way. You can’t just beat your rivals by the old rules; to grow, you have to invent a new game and beat them at that, too.
The Wall Street Journal had a great editorial by Bret Swanson on Friday about how Obama Ran a Capitalist Campaign. Here are the two best points, in my opinion.
First, Obama ran a brilliant campaign. But there is an inconsistency between the policies that Obama is calling for and the way that he ran his campaign:
If Barack Obama ran for president by calling for a heavier hand of government, he also won by running one of the most entrepreneurial campaigns in history.
Will he now grasp the lesson his campaign offers as he crafts policies aimed at reigniting the national economy? Amid a recession, two wars, and a global financial crisis, will he come to see that unleashing the entrepreneur is the best way to raise the revenue he needs for his lofty priorities?
Second, if Obama is going to be effective as president, he should govern from the same principles that were behind the approach he took to his campaign:
The key question now is how will Mr. Obama govern? Will he stick with the policies he ran on or adopt the approach that he won with?
The only way a president can maximize economic growth is to unleash diffuse networks of entrepreneurs. As economist Bob Litan of the Kauffman Foundation says, “Government can’t compel growth.” But Mr. Obama’s plans — “card check” legislation to allow workers to unionize a workplace without a secret ballot election; curbing free trade; a government-led “green economy”; and higher tax rates on capital and entrepreneurs — do not reflect his campaign’s deep trust in individuals.
A thought experiment, Mr. President-elect: What if as your campaign raised more and more money it was taxed away and given to Mr. McCain to level the field? Or think of this: What if you were not allowed to opt out of the public financing scheme that left Mr. McCain with a paltry $84 million, about a quarter of your autumn total?
Well said. This brings to the fore the biggest thing that I don’t understand in the thinking of some highly intelligent people such as president-elect Obama. Here is my attempt to articulate it.
Our nation is built on the premise of decentralized freedom. Democracy is the political embodiment of the truth that human beings flourish most when they are left free. Individuals are better off, and society is better off, not when we try to coordinate people’s efforts through centrally planned programs and policies, but when we give people room to pursue their own interests, create, and invent.
The internet embodies this principle even further. It is a visual manifestation of the power of decentralized networks — which is really what democracy is, and what free-market capitalism is.
Yet, some of the people who best understand the power of decentralized networks — Obama’s remarkable internet-based campaign being a case in point — nonetheless fail to affirm this principle when it comes to economic growth. So instead of applying the same principle of freedom that is behind democracy and the internet to economic growth, their tendency is to opt for more centralized, planned, government-centered approaches to economic policy. And the same could be said about many related issues, such as health care.
That is what I do not get.