Tuesday, January 22, 2013

We The People

President Obama said in his second inaugural address on January 21, 2013,

“For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future. Or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores.”

In other words, words which the President also spoke on another occasion, "you didn't build that."  The rhetoric is stirring for many who heard his words, to be sure. What's more, Mr. Obama is entirely correct.  But he is also entirely mistaken.

The President is correct to note that individuals acting alone are virtually impotent.  At least since Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations published in 1776, thoughtful people have understood the power, productivity, and efficiency of specialization and cooperation.  College freshmen routinely learn about Smith's example of the pin factory.  Yes, insomuch as Mr. Obama understands Adam Smith's lesson about specialization and cooperation, he is entirely correct.

I have always considered it an interesting coincidence that in 1776 when Thomas Jefferson and the other Founders wrote about inalienable rights and voluntary cooperation --- political freedom --- Adam Smith was also writing about how voluntary exchange leads individuals to cooperate without compulsion, resulting in splendid and unmatched prosperity for the members of a free society --- economic freedom.

But just as surely as Mr. Obama is entirely correct about the power and productivity of cooperation, he is entirely wrong about how free individuals come to cooperate.  Mr. Obama believes it is the state and its power of taxation under threat of force that is the blessing of individuals living together in a society.  For Mr. Obama conflates government and society.  Obama mistakes government for society, and in that premise he is utterly wrong.

Government is not society.  Individuals in free association, engaging in voluntary exchange free of compulsion, are society.  Government is the antithesis of freedom, the antithesis of voluntary exchange, the antithesis of moral human conduct, for government is the penultimate coercer of humans, and coercion of one by another is immoral.  One person compelling another is immoral, and 545 people compelling millions is also immoral, notwithstanding the imprimatur of majority rule.

It does take a village for humans to prosper.  But a village is not a government.  A village that is moral and prosperous is an association of free individuals who do not compel one another, but instead engage in voluntary exchange --- in a word, in capitalism.

Mr. Obama made his intentions for the next four years about as clear as he could, while still confining his language to the rhetoric of speech writers composing for a politician.  It is unfortunate that the President and his supporters seem to understand only part of what Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson had to teach us.

1 comment:

Fiddlinmike said...

Yes, and Mr. Obama would more likely send American soldiers to "meet the forces of fascism or communism" with open arms than "muskets and militias."