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Discussion: (73 comments)

  1. Mr. Mark

    Brooks discusses managing people and organizations quite a bit. I wasn’t aware that he had ever actually done any of that. Seems similar to lecturing of business professors.

    I would agree with Brooks on his statement, “Nonetheless, this question does have a practical and a moral answer. It is this: You should regard yourself as the sole author of all your future achievements and as the grateful beneficiary of all your past successes.”

    But the nonsense that follows about stages of life and what you ought to be thinking during each is pointless.

    When Romney discussed cultures during his Israel trip, he was appealing to Israeli pride in having created a relatively prosperous nation without significant oil wealth in a land where their neighbors have failed to achieve any kind of similar success. The regimes of the other nations in the region seem to devote quite an effort to demonizing the Israelis as a scapegoat, lest their own people ask why their own nations – possessing great oil wealth – cannot achieve the same prosperity.

    In the Obama “You didn’t build that” statement, Obama was trying to appeal to socialist Americans who view business owners with resentment. There is no reasoning behind their resentment. It is entirely emotional. They want to hear that so-and-so did not earn their wealth and independence. The “useful idiots” of socialism covet the wealth and independence of entrepreneurs. They desire it but are unwilling to strive for it. When someone like Obama offers to “spread it around some,” they get very motivated to support him.

    This is the similarity between the Arab-Israeli national comparison and the Obama supporter vs individualist comparison. Obama, like the corrupt regimes of the Arab nations of the Middle East, makes use of the resentments and jealousies of weak people in order to obtain their support. He seeks to fan those flames.

    Life is not fair. We don’t all get the same breaks, the same strengths, or the same opportunities. Some things are certainly beyond our control. But that does not excuse a person from taking control of those things that ARE within his power to control. Hard work and good decisions do NOT guarantee success, but they are the best route available.

    The Romney campaign ought to hammer the “You didn’t build that” comment all the way to the end. Obama’s babbling about “context” is hogwash – hammer it as well. Also, ask the audience what Obama built. You don’t have to answer it for them, let them think about it and come up with their own ideas. None of them will be flattering to Obama. Have productive people tell us in one or short lines what they built, one after the other – from all walks of life – and then show President Nitwit and ask the question.

    1. Outstanding post

    2. Nonsense… when we adopt bias reasons unknown to ourselves except that it is fashionable to the crowd we hang with, we sputter senseless comments like the one above.

      Not all minds are clouded by desires to find fault in good intentions…and good deeds. We are all blessed with the ability to reason and those of us who do reason clearly are not so easily deceived by fools who pursued money to the end that their wants remain unfulfilled… and now quest for power as if to have it is vindication for the hardening of their hearts in exchange for “riches”.

      Romney is a blind man who can not see the path to enlightenment… yet, even as misery loves company, he will lead his blind followers not to a higher ground but into a pit.

      1. @Jerome
        Huh?…translation please
        The only thing I understand from your post is you think all of us are blessed with the ability to reason. That’s a naive and foolish belief if there ever was one. The bad poetry that you follow that statement with is painful.
        Try speaking like a normal unaffected person. It’s a much better way to communicate.

  2. Because only the good die young.

  3. When Brooks wrote, “You should regard yourself as the sole author of all your future achievements and as the grateful beneficiary of all your past successes”, I think he wrote wisely. If one regards himself as the sole author of his future, he hopefully will understand that he possesses responsibility for it as well, and thus can blame no one else for his own failures and misdeeds. Coupling authority and responsibility is a good thing; decoupling them undercuts moral behavior, in addition to having other corrosive effects on character. Viewing oneself as the “grateful beneficiary of all your past successes” is apt to build humility, another good thing.

    1. Demosthenes

      And what should your attitude be toward your past and future failures? Particularly: if I regard myself as the grateful beneficiary of my past successes, should I not also regard myself as the put-upon victim of my past failures?

  4. Brooks is a navel-gazer who is easily distracted by quasi-philosophical comments.

  5. pottfullofpith

    ” They exist because of continuing acts of will on my part, sometimes extending over long periods of time.”
    “Continuing acts of will are associated with every kind of major success, including those that arise from family, community, and faith.”

    Building on Mr. Mark’s comment: Think about the quotations in the context of Mr. Romney’s remarks in Israel. The quotations stirke me as a usaful definition of “culture.”

  6. Jeff Billingham

    I think you miss the larger idea that Mr. Brooks was trying to convey. I don’t think he would disagree with anything you have written here, and I’m sure he takes pride in all of his accomplishments (at least I hope.) Reflecting on how little we have created strictly of our own will during life’s twilight years appears more a thought exercise in humility and a search for meaning than a rebuke of individual success. Such a perspective suggests that we are a part of something greater than the sum of our individual achievements. It remains a great mystery to all of us, but David seems comfortable dwelling in that mystery. As a young twenty something whippersnapper myself, that comfort is something I very much admire.

    1. Walt Cody

      Sorry. On the edge of codgerdom, I take full credit for what I’ve created and accomplished and full blame for what I haven’t– at least under circumstance where my actions could have influenced the outcome. (I also give full credit to luck.) If from time to time I’ve gotten opportunities through friends, I’d say I got the friends through force of personality and the other stuff that binds people together– a sense of common values and empathy and humor. Sure, I’ve been shaped and influenced by my culture, but it’s we as individuals who choose from the culture the elements that shape us. Sure, too, as human beings, we’re more than the mere sum of our “accomplishments,” and, who knows? in the end we could wind up as ephemeral slivers of light in some giant universal sun of Nirvana, but meantime, in the existential Here and Now, we are what we are and we’ve done what we’ve done.

  7. TheDiailyLLama

    The 30-second refutation of the “You didn’t build that…” silliness is this:
    To say you didn’t build that, someone else did, is like saying the Football team owes its victory to the groundskeepers.” Nobody would suggest the groundskeepers helped create the conditions under which the football team plays, but to suggest the victory is because of the groundskeepers is laughable.

    1. TheDiailyLLama

      sorry, I mis-wrote something…”Nobody would suggest the groundskeepers DIDN’T helped create the conditions under which…”

      1. F. Lynx Pardinus

        How about the old college coaches of the players? Does the football team owe their victory to them?

  8. Paul from SA

    The different life choices we make become more apparent as we age. We all basically had the same gov’t roads and laws to deal with.

    1. Indeed. The roads/education/etc can be taken as a default basis, as we all have access to them. But we didn’t all build a company from scratch, did we? Only some did, and with those that do resides the credit for their success. . .not with the government.

      1. Most countries have roads, electricity and willing workers, as well as governments that continuously strive to change outcomes. But most nations cannot generate the wealth that economic freedom provides, because they will not allow it. It is the continuing acts of will taken in an environment of opportunity by those who could have as easily NOT acted that spell the difference between success and something else.

  9. Minorkle

    Brooks ist ein Nabel-Gaffer, die leicht durch quasi-philosophischen Kommentaren abgelenkt ist.

    1. Ken Puck

      Genau, absolut. Er ist ein idiot.

      1. Herr Mark

        Ich glaube man schreibt “Er ist ein Idiot.” (Großschreibung)

  10. Well said. Our fearless leader likes to say “it is not ideology, it is math” but in math there is the concept of a constant. For most, the roads & bridges, the legal framework, etc, is the constant and the variable in the equation is, as you so eloquently stated, the exertion of an act of will. It is this act of will, including the attendant risk, that leads to great accomplishments. The roads & bridges are just part of the journey.

  11. Frederick Hastings

    Brooks is taking the “you didn’t build that” literally and avoiding a discussion on what’s at the base of the charge—Obama’s and Warren’s attempt to inculcate the sense of the state as anterior to and pre-eminent over the individual. Which came first, natural rights or “rights” bestowed on citizens by government? Clearly, we know where the “you didn’t build that” people stand, even while they obfuscate, but at least they take a stand rather than argue off the point.

  12. Mark Ross

    A dear friend, who was a professor of fine art, said in a video that was produced by a colleague, that “talent is overrated.” Would that I still had him around to argue that point… but the video was made because he was dying of cancer. His point was that love or desire is a better motivator… than the blessings of inherited skill. He told me that he could teach anybody to draw competently within 2 years. I’m sure he knew what he was talking about. I still believe in talent… because it exists. Ambition, however, trumps most other motivators. Desperation leads the coyote to chew off his leg in order to escape.

  13. Conrad Baylor

    David Brooks labored, struggled and strove at his craft until — at long last and with heartfelt hosannas! — he landed a berth aboard the Old Gray Lady.

    But he didn’t achieve that pinnacle. The Old Gray Lady made that happen. Now, just take a wild guess why.

  14. I identify with Murray. I reread my first published work with a sense of sadness that the young man who worked so hard on that material did not have many around him who shared his understanding of how valuable and important his work would become in the future. (Rereading my letters from that time period, I’m reminded of the active resistance my ideas first generated among my mentors at Cornell.) The idea that my award-winning doctoral dissertation was built by others strikes me as both naive and dangerous.

    1. Obama’s point was that on the way to getting your PhD, you had teachers. You did, didn’t you? Apparently they were helpful, since you don’t mention dropping out as a means toward getting the degree. But I’d suggest they weren’t helpful enough.

      Obama’s conclusion is not that you don’t deserve your success, it’s that you still have an obligation to pay taxes on your income. You, and Mitt, and Sheldon Adelson.

      The only honest disagreement in any of this debate is over a 4 point change in the top tax bracket. If Forbes is right that Sheldon Adelson made $7 billion in 2011, that works out to a $280 million cost for each year Obama stays in office – dwarfing his campaign contributions.

      Nobody wants to undermine success, and nobody wants a dependent underclass. But somebody has to pay the teachers, firemen, et. al., and it’s got to be people who are making money.

      1. Ritamalik

        If the government was just paying for the teachers and firemen and police we would not have had any debt or deficit and we would have had much much lower tax rates for everybody and that would have generated more than enough revenue!

        The real “elephant in the room” which Obama wanted to divert us from in his speech is that our government is NOT only paying for the police and teachers and firemen, and necessary stuff which everyone agrees with and need, but we have a tone of agencies and bureaucracies and hundreds of unnecessary, counterproductive, and arguably harmful programs that stifle the growth of our economy and drain the private sector and create inefficiencies and unnecessary life-long dependency on government hand-outs and is busting our budget every year. Without those wasteful programs there would have been no deficit!

        But anytime that conservatives say: “lets cut spending by reducing the size of the government instead of raising taxes” the left immediately puts the teacher and policemen on the chopping block while holding a cleaver over their proverbial heads and threatens to cut them off and defund them the first thing and pretend that everything else is cut to the bare bones and there is nothing else left to cut except the police and the teachers, while at the same time they are advertising food stamps on radio and TV for people who even do have a job or are illegally here, and they double and triple the budget of every god damn intrusive and destructive agency that they can find in their already bloated government, and when they ran into enormous deficits and debt as a result they don’t even come asking for more money nicely but instead start bullying the so-called “rich” who have been paying the bulk of their budget all-along into coughing up even more so that the Left can play with and continue its expensive and disastrous pet vanity-projects and social experimentation! So don’t pretend that it is about firemen and roads and teachers! IT IS NOT!

        1. john werneken

          @ritamalik Problem is the big chunks of government spending go to the middle class through social security and medicare, and to the general public with tax breaks for mortgage interest, state and local taxes, so-called charities. Medicaid is next. The ‘unproductive’ stuff is small unless you count either or both of public education and the cost to firms and citizens of regulatory compliance including tax compliance.

  15. Let’s give David Brooks his due. He is writing for NYT liberals. So he needs to deliver a very big spoonful of liberal sugar to make the conservative medicine go down. Think of him as Mary Poppins doing a liberal family intervention.

  16. Brooks said that Obama deserved to be president based on the crease of his pants. Why would you care about his opinion at all after that bit of idiocy?

  17. Ken Puck

    More’s the pity. What a gasbag.

    1. Cromulent

      Project much?

  18. john werneken

    I like Brooks and what you have to say here. Why argue about whether one “deserves” one’s winnings? Some may be more skilled, others have more support, others be lucky, and yet others work harder…who cares? As long as in general winners must provide SOME net benefit to others and so long as in most cases the relative ranks amongst the winners bear some relation to the judgment of the rest as to the value to them, WE ALL WIN. That is in a nutshell the justification for both democracy and capitalism: like a religion, it bolsters both individual and community.

    Arguing about what is “earned” is just a smokescreen for discussing changing the outcome arbitrarily based on some view of “justice”, which views all boil down to ‘there is another outcome more beneficial to me’, which was Obama’s point, and with which I disagree. Not that Obama’s views might in fact benefit me – unless the sky falls, they will – but that collective action to change outcomes historically leads to not much good and quite a bit of horror.

    I might vote for Obama anyway, on the grounds that Romney is an unlovable and less competent version of the same thing. Obama is bad for our economic prospects and that is not balanced by other strengths. So far all Romney offers is that while he has done some of the exact same things as Obama, he still is NOT Obama, which to me is not much to bet my country’s future on.

    1. You’d actually vote to put Obama in for another four years, after all we’ve seen and experienced from him thus far and what he’s very likely to do once he’s unplugged? That’s just crazy. If anything, stay home and cast a protest non-vote.

      But I disagree with your assessment of Romney. He is a fine man and excellent human being. Unlike Obama, he actually understands economics and the financial world. We are fortunate to have an extremely intelligent and successful businessman want to be President in these dire economic times. Not only am I looking forward to voting against Obama, I am looking forward to actively casting a vote for Romney. I hope you’re reconsider your hard stance, and think also about the sort of people Romney will surround himself with. For one thing, he’ll put in a new AG to replace the current one who is corrupt and has blood on his hands.

  19. The short version: you deserve credit for developing the talents you were born with. To which I would add: you deserve credit regardless of how many people benefit; that is, don’t confuse fame with value.

  20. willblogformoney

    It’s time to stop aplogizing for Mr. Brooks. He was and is a wet noodle.

  21. Bill Hurdle

    It seems to me that Mr. Brooks is overeaching to lessen the impact of the comment. Clearly Mr. Obama was expressing the sentiment that business success is obtained through the exploitation of the labor of others. Where many people disagree is that success is obtained through the employment of others who willingly provide the labor in return for wages – not exploitation but a mutually beneficial relationship.

  22. sockit2me

    Our Miss Brooks.

  23. Every critic of the “You didn’t build that,” statement and associated commentary completely misses the point. We live in an advanced society/civilization that in order to create companies, teams, scholarly works, inventions, etc, we rely on the work of others as well.

    Using the comments above as an example: the football team requires a team (meaning multiple players, not an individual), facilities, ticket sellers, coaches, roads to the stadium, and, yes, groundskeepers. The NFL didn’t even start training the players until they get there, what about years of public high school football play, volunteer coaches, your mom driving you to practice? There is a reason multimillion dollar football players are in the US and not Yemen.
    As far as Dr. Drew above: I assume you had teachers, mmmm… that wasn’t you. I assume you had references in your dissertation, mmmm…. that wasn’t you. I assume you went to some University, mmmm…you didn’t build that. Nothing you wrote could have been done without the help of someone else.

    I only listed the things that immediately impact the above activities. We all need farmers to raise food so we can play football and write dissertations, rather that plant a garden. We need police to keep the peace so we can leave home to do these activities. We need someone to provide fuel for our car to drive to the game. You can go on forever. The point is that we have every right to take credit for our effort and our “individual” contribution, but to think we did it all ourselves is ridiculous.

    1. NO. I am a critic of it, and I am not missing the point. The small business owners, and the wealthy also pay for all the things you are talking about, and a majority of it at that. To say “you didn’t build that” spits in the face of everyone who has ever had an original thought.

      Additionally, as Obama backtracks and says he didn’t mean that (so I guess he is missing your point too), we know he is lying because he plagiarized it from Elizabeth Warren.

      So as we slide back in to a recession, food stamp recipients increase, poverty increases, and every economic indicator shows that these policies are failing… let’s double down and re-elect him.

    2. Ken Presting

      Best analysis of this issue I’ve read is by Jon Chait in NY Mag:

      This is not an intelligent discussion among informed adults. It’s all about fear and anger, pure emotion.

      1. Please… I met the young Obama while he was a sophomore at Occidental College. He was, as they say, actively hostile to American ideals and aspirations. I met Obama about four months after his last meeting with Frank Marshall Davis.

        1. johnwerneken

          I disagree with Obama’s entire approach to the economy.

          Nonetheless I have met him too (2008) and like him as a person.

          May I suggest that the President’s policies and many actions could be “wrong”, without the President being treated in a manner tending to show contempt for his office, and without attributing the policy disagreements to the President being anti-American? I doubt that he is any sort of socialist or anti-A,merican, just hugely mistaken…

          1. Ritamalik

            Just because you met Obama once or maybe twice in 2008 and liked him it doesn’t make your judgement the standard. We have been watching his politics and his tactics for quite a few years now and we get to have our own judgements about him based on what we have observed ourselves for these years rather than taking your dubious word for it.

            The word “socialist” is not a swear word! It refers to a follower of a certain and clearly defined ideology! Socialism is what it is. It has its tenets and its assumptions and its solutions to the perceived problems. Those tenets have been written down and explained way before Obama was even born. If Obama or anybody else adheres to those tenets and prefer those solutions, that person IS A SOCIALIST, whether he wants or likes to be called a socialist or not! It is NOT up to him or his supporters.

            I know being called a socialist is a PR disaster because socialist ideology has brought so much suffering and failure to this word and is has such a bad reputation, but there are those who are stubborn enough who still want to cling to the ideology, but don’t want to be tainted by its bad reputation. Kind of like wanting to have their cake and it it too!

            No my pall! You either don’t spouse socialist ideology and its tenets and policy solutions or if you do then you cannot call foul if you are stuck with the label and the bad PR that it brings! And socialist ideas ARE “wrong”. So being socialist and “hugely mistaken” are NOT mutually exclusive! Obama spouses socialist policies, therefore he IS a socialist and it is not meant as an insult but a statement of fact!

            As far as Anti-American goes any socialist ideologue is Anti-American because the original founding ideas of America are the antithesis to socialism and any kind of collectivist and statist ideology. Obama IS a socialist, socialism IS Anti-American, therefore Obama IS Anti-Amefican. Again no insult intended. Only statement of fact!!!

          2. you stated it perfectly. . .minus a few misspelling. . .forget it about it. . I READ YOU LOUD AND CLEAR! Well said!!

          3. john werneken

            @ritamalik My take on your post on me meeting Obama and his socialism is that you did not read my post OR you don’t know what you are talking about.

            1. Another poster cited his meeting with the President a number of years ago in his attack on Obama; my meeting formed a positive impression, that’s all I meant by that.

            2. I largely AGREE with you darn it! Obama’s economic policies are entirely harmful and I suspect that he knows it; he SAYS his intent is to keep the game going until the fiscal tide turns enough to then try to address in his own way the deficit/tax/currency/environmental/entitlement/regulatory swamps. I don’t think it could even be attempted that way; rather my opinion is that a leader must win public support for change, produce some, and manage it to some success, in order to really change anything, I don’t think any of those issues in the slash-separated list can be snuck up upon.

            3. A socialist would not be using the tax code and the private insurance industry to attempt to implement most of his policies. I’m saying I disagree with Obama on almost everything domestic and quite a bit foreign, but it is to me hyperbole to say he’s a socialist.

      2. Just because fear, anger, and pure emotion are involved does not make an arguemant-or a response wrong.
        It is equivilent to saying you must be crazy-disturbed-or nuts to commit murder; not true!!
        It is all about Obama’s socialism unmasking itself in these little moments of his. The american electorate are pulling away as if their hand were placed over an open flame. We know what he meant.

    3. Ritamalik

      No, Jon F! You are wrong! We critics missed nothing! The point was not such truism as: “Oh! We are all social animals and need to live in a society in order to survive and thrive!”

      No, no,no… this very obvious truism was NOT Obama’s point, because that would have been something that is not worth saying because it has no policy implications and everyone agrees with it anyway! After all no one in our political scene is advocating that we go back to live alone in some cave and literally “make it on our own” in the wilderness! After all the basic and fundamental tenet of free market economics is “the voluntary division of labor”!!!!

      What Obama was very obviously peddling was the idea (very popular and common amongst the Marxist pseudo-intellectual types) that those who have become successful have become so by leaching and free-riding and taking away from the wider society and therefore they OWE their success to those on whose back they have built their success and now it is time for them to “PAY UP” their debt to society in the form of extra high taxes (commonly known in Marxist lingo as “their fair share”)!

      Now that is NOT something that everyone agrees with, but it is very offensive to those who are successful, and it betrays his fundamental lack of knowledge of economy and free markets and the way a civil society works. The fact is that the successful people by virtue of their productive work have already, before paying a cent in taxes or in charity have added to the wealth and well-being and abundance of their society by virtue of their innovation and productivity. Their material success and money comes from the fact that they have produced some products or services that the people in their society needed and wanted. They have added to the abundance and plenty in their country and by doing so they have ALREADY paid back their debt to the society which educated them and provided them with roads and bridges,etc.

      If you add to that some taxes (even smallest amount of taxes) and some charity the society already ends up even owing them something! At the very least a “thank you” and lots of respect! Because they took what the society (read other productive and well-to-do tax payers) had to offer them and they didn’t waste it, but used it to make the society wealthier and better off by making something of themselves and through more productivity and better services and more ingenuity and innovation which leads to better standard of living and more abundance and lower prices for all and some good measure of wealth for themselves. Everybody wins!

      On the other hand those who go to the same schools, use the same roads, eat the same farmer-grown food and instead of doing something productive with it end up semi-literate, apathetic, lazy, unmotivated, or unskilled in anything that could make them more productive than the average person, or even worse, those reprobates who are life-long welfare recipients, or even criminals and prison inmates, those are the ones who are leaching on society and giving nothing back. They are the ones who should be working hard to “pay something back” to the society not the rich and successful!

    4. Almost any institution worth while, that has helped aspiring citizens of the US was not built, or run by government.
      Obama implied school, roads etc.. are a government construct. Obama didn’t build the teacher-mentor-university-or the family.
      Like I said before, argue all you’d like. WE KNOW WHAT HE MEANT!!

  24. Theresa F.

    Everyone who is contorting themselves into pretzels trying to “interpret” the comment should stop. Really. You look ridiculous, and nobody is listening.

    Everyone knows the comments meant what the critics say they meant. And they know it because he has said it before. In different ways, at different times, but always with the same meaning. If you’re rich, you did it by cheating, cutting corners, taking advantage of someone else. You’re a tax evading, labor-hating, lawless cowboy who needs reigning in, punishing, wings clipped.

    Forget about what you wanted to hear him say. He said what he meant. And that’s all that matters. End of subject.

  25. There is truth on both sides and Obama understands that. His political enemies intentionally misunderstand him for purely political reasons, which, along with the behavior of Congress, I regard as immoral. The US provides the situational infrastructure (physical, educational, legal) within which talented and hardworking individuals can prosper and achieve according to their luck and perseverance. Why is it so difficult to understand that Brooks, Murray, Obama, and Warran are all saying that?

    1. me thinks Occam’s razor applies here, delivery is intent !

    2. Paul '52

      Spot on! Another way to put this is to question how well Murray or Brooks would do if they were plying their trade in their native Mali?

      There’s a certain fortune to being born an “American.” Conservatives trumpet this all the time, yet fail to see that being born an American means being born on the shoulders of those who freed us, expanded our borders from 1,000,000 square miles to 3,500,000, built our railroads, canals, highways, airports, schools, universities, etc. (And to fail to note that much, if not most, of that came from government is, well, freakishly moronic.)

      Yet these same conservatives seem to want to pretend that they’ve done it all, by virtue of talent.

      The short of it is that the talents one has only work if one is in a place that values these talents. For some it’s skill at finance, for some it’s throwing or hitting a 98 mph fastball, and, for others, it’s turning a phrase. But all have to be in the right place, at the right time. Josh Gibson could tell Charles Murray a lot about that.

      1. Thanks for demonstrating the value of the marginal product from infrastructure (including the economic infratrusture of a high income population), as well as the marginal product of individual will.

  26. I think liberals really underestimate the anger of entrepreneurs like myself who have built our businesses ourselves – cold call by cold call – in the face of immense risk. If they understand how I make a living, then it would be easier for them to see how absurd it is to suggest that the pavement in front of my office has anything to do with my success. Meanwhile, Obama’s comments are a chilling insight into his anti-American point of view.

    1. Ken Presting

      You specifically mention building your business with phone calls.

      Your comments are especially revealing to me because I make my living as an engineer of telephone systems, including cell phones and switching systems.

      I’ve alsways been proud of my my work because it not only “brings people together” in the emotional sense, it also facilitates other people’s businesses and livelihood.

      But honestly, however much use you have made of telephones over the years, if you fail to recognize how roads, bridges, and general public safety have benefitted you, I would say you are simply ignoring reality.

  27. When I look back on my life, I don’t remember the government being a helpful, nurturing force at all. Mostly, what comes to my attention is all the “damage” that our collective American infrastructure did to me. As a young man, I was kicked around by affirmative action programs that are now illegal in CA. It is difficult for me to understand how all the government policies that held me back and harmed my career were somehow secretly doing me a favor.

  28. Al this wringing of hands over whether or not we give enough credit to government. . .baloney. . .government is supposed to be like the umpire in baseball or the officials in football. . . you don’t go to the game to watch them. . they have a job to do and it is to facilitate the game. . in fact. ..when it becomes about them. . something is seriously wrong. The game is about the players. . the nation is about the citizens, we. .the people. . remember us David Brooks? Obama and apologists like Brooks are confusing “government” with the “nation”. . .we owe our nation. . .we have reverence for our nation, patriots die for the nation. .the nation. …NOT the government.

    1. Ken Presting

      The point of living in a democracy is that the government is us! So we have reverential monuments like the Mall in DC, or Mt. Rushmore. Aren’t all those dead presidents also “government officials?”

      Doesn’t any one here recognize a concept such as public service or contribution? I’m glad to see Kevin mention patriots dying for the nation, that’s one clear example of public service. Soldiers aren’t (only) joking when they call themselves GI’s.

      I’m really hoping to reach out here, since Brooks is often seen as a moderate figure in left vs. right debates.

      Does anyone in this discussion see some moderate point, a “right size” for government?

      1. Ritamalik

        “The point of living in a democracy is that the government is us! ” WRONG!!! Very wrong!! First of all there is no “us” as a blanket group! The society is comprised of individuals who have each their own mind, their own choices and their own priorities. Second of all the government is a bunch of people the majority of the people in a given democratic country elect (read temporarily hire) to oversee the responsibilities that the constitution of that country has assigned to their offices. It is a job like any other, only if the office is really high the responsibilities are higher than usual. That’s all. The point that Kevin made is much more accurate. Their role is much like an umpire. They should ensure that the rules are observed and the playing field is safe and in good condition. It is a fallacy and mistake on the part of the Left that thinks we Constitutional Conservatives don’t want any government at all! We are not anarchists. But the “right size” of the government in our opinion is NOTHING WHAT SO EVER near the size that the Left imagines. We think your view of the role of the government is unconstitutional and totally out of whack with what is efficient, productive, and least likely to produce corruption.

        1. john werneken

          @ritamalik AGREE!

        2. Ken Presting

          This reply actually has much I agree with, primarily the idea that elected officials are temporary employees. But perhaps even more important is the principle that avoiding corruption & maximizing efficiency are critical goals of government.

          I think there are two different aspects to the “size” of government. One is the intrusiveness of regulations, and the other is the cash flow through government services incuding infrastructure investment, social insurance, maintaining the army, etc. The first category is the “umpire” type of function. The second category is “redistribution”. Some persons might put defense into a special category (which makes sense) but I’m simplifying.

          My point is that simply saying “smaller smaller smaller” doesn’t work in either of these domains. There are some infrastructure projects that just plain cost a fortune, like the Interstate system. On the other hand, I’ll grant that private enterprise often does brilliantly at providing infrastructure – like railroads and power plants.

          Same with regulations. Many industries have spectacular success at specifying their own standards & practices. The Internet is probably the best example, but inter-operation is a feature of auto parts, building supplies, and many other fields. On the other hand, there have been huge public disasters from industrial irresponsibility – black lung, Bhopal, etc.

          Corruption is my greatest concern, and maybe that is where we can agree. Small adjustments in investment strategy, or in regulatory regime can create large changes in capital flows.

          I’m not going to offer a solution to the problem of corruption, I’m just hoping we can agree that it is the problem.

          1. Again, when I look over my life, the attacks on my prosperity have come from government – unfair taxes, excessive regulation, affirmative action, greedy public employee unions and so on. All in all, corporations have been good to me. If I don’t like their services, then I just use a different company. (I fire them.) I have not been able to as easily escape mistreatment at the hands of government. To suggest I should be grateful for what government has done to me over the course of my life strikes me as absurd…and even dangerous…because it is a line of thought that justifies greater growth in the very government that has harmed me and taken advantage of me over the course of my life. It would take many years of changed behavior for me to ever assert that it is wise to trust my prosperity to governments.

          2. Ritamalik

            You said in the end of your comment “I’m just hoping we can agree that it is the problem.” I am not sure if I understood it right, but I am guessing that you mean that “corruption is our problem, not the size of government. If only the government officials were not so corrupt even a big size government would have been fine. So we should try to put better people in office rather than reduce the size of the government.”

            Now that is huge assumption on my part and forgive me if I am putting words in your mouth and you can correct me if I am wrong, but this is an argument that I hear a lot from the other side and I am guessing maybe you were trying to make the same argument here only not spelled out.

            If that is the case then let me answer you: No! We cannot agree even on this point for the reasons that follow:

            1. Human beings are very corruptible, fallible, and weak. If you put them in a position where they have access to a lot of power and money you should not be surprised if a lot of them would fall short. That’s the nature of this world and NOTHING can change that. Even people who are not corrupt and rotten prior to becoming powerful could quickly rot and fall after you invest them with a lot of power and nobody can foresee who will fall and who will resist the temptations. So we don’t even have the knowledge (or better say foreknowledge) to pick the “right” people.

            2. Big businesses and corporations on their own cannot maintain a monopoly or force people to buy their products. But once you invest the government to regulate everything, tax and redistribute a lot of money and have practically power of life and death over businesses you automatically create a magnet for corruption, because now those who have a lot of money and influence can compete not so much for satisfying their customers, but for bribing the government to wield its power to their advantage. Hence the “lobbyist” phenomenon. Trying to fight “especial interest” and “lobbyists” in a big government is like trying to fight “the mosquito phenomenon” in a swampy area by swatting each and every mosquito one at a time. You can see that it is a fool’s errand! The correct way to get rid of the mosquitos is to drain and dry the swamp.

            3. In the very end I submit to you that even if we somehow manage to put incorruptible humans with angelic character to run our government we would still not have an efficient government unless we keep it very very small. Why? Simply because no small group of people have enough knowledge (no matter how smart and educated) and expertise and even access to timely detailed information to make the correct decisions. The governing class is usually arrogant and foolish enough to think that they know everything there is to know about the industries they regulate, businesses they license, and entities they try to micro-manage from afar, but they don’t, and that’s why they fail so often and get loads of unintended consequences and make running a business so difficult and cause so much misallocation of resources.

            You see? I think Hobbs was very wrong. It doesn’t matter who runs the big government that he envisioned, be it George III or some super educated, democratically elected Harvard grad! He would be a human being just like you and I, with the same weaknesses in moral character, same chance of becoming corrupt after exposure to unchecked and unlimited power, and with more or less the same limitation in knowledge (yes even a Harvard grad doesn’t have a fraction of the knowledge necessary to make decisions for hundreds of different industries and businesses and education, etc…, the knowledge that only exists dispersed amongst millions of people acting freely in cooperation with each other) And simply by virtue of winning a majority vote he is not relieved of his natural human limitations and become superhuman and all noble and omniscient! Elected officials are neither more virtuous nor more knowledgable than when they were private citizens and certainly no better than the rest of us. So why they are worthy of suspicion and in need of being controlled when they are still private citizens, but suddenly the night after their election they turn into these benevolent noble philosopher-kings that will always act in our best interest and should be trusted with so much power over us? Makes no sense to me. I mean such views of the government and the ruling class has more to do with medieval thinking that somehow imagined that kings at the moment of their coronation become anointed by God and invested with some supernatural power to rule, than it has to do with the idea of a modern day democratic government which its very form of holding election implies that its members are no better than anybody else and nothing especial and not worthy of trust. The fact is you simply cannot swap Hobbs’ sovereign with a modern day president because they each come from a very very different view of the nature of the governing class. The former is almost magical and supernatural and almost assumed to be perfect, but the latter is natural, normal, and down to earth and imperfect and hence subject to change at the wish of the electorate.

            Now you might say what if we choose a really smart guy who will pick the best experts to run each industry and each area of society instead of himself doing everything. To that I will answer: First of all in order to pick the “right” experts he must himself know a lot about any given industry in order to discern between all the various “experts” and pick the right ones, a knowledge which I already argued he does not have! Second in that case the whole idea of “elected government” in practice will go out the window, and the government becomes “technocratic” NOT “democratic”. It will become RULE by the unelected experts, because our supposed democratically elected president will delegate his power to a bunch of unelected “experts” who will run the show for him, about whose expertise and character our “elected” official will have as much assurance as we have of his, and he will for ever be subject to their manipulations and conflicting opinions, and influence-peddling! It is just a fertile ground for more corruption.

            Let’s face the facts. Government is a necessary evil which we need to have precisely because we are ourselves imperfect and prone to corruption and anarchy, BUT since those who run this government are ALSO people just like us, prone to imperfection and corruption we should at the very least try our very best to keep an eye on them, keep them in check and limit their power and scope of influence with eternal vigilance and make sure we don’t surrender anymore of our liberty to them than is absolutely necessary.

          3. Ken Presting

            (This is in reply to Dr. Drew’s of 8:28, I’m not sure where it will appear.)

            John, one thing I don’t hear you saying is that you don’t feel obligated to pay taxes, or that you object to the government setting the tax rates and regulations. If you want to be more specific that would be fine. I’m not talking about gratitude, just about regulation.

            Since you raise the issue of changing corporate providers, let me mention Ma Bell – the old ATT of the 70’s. There is a familiar issue in economics of monopoly capture of markets. Once there were two competing phone networks (Bell v Home) but Bell won out. Bell did brilliantly as a monopoly, not just creating thousands of patents but grabbing a few Nobels! It took the government to break up Bell and give any of us the option to pick a new provider.

            Basically I referring here to the arguement I made elsewhere about Hobbes’ theory of coalitions and cartels. In one sense, I’m trying to say that a critical function of government is to preserve competition. Trust-busting like Teddy Roosevelt.

            If your point is that government is fundamentally vulnerable to corruption by voting blocks, contributors, contractors, etc, I would certainly agree.

          4. Ken Presting

            Ritmalik – (reply to 8:56)

            “Necessary evil” is exactly Hobbes’ attitude. He would agree completely that an uncorruptable leader is impossible. In fact the central argument of “Leviathan” is exactly that corruption is endemic and pervasive. The argument that a government is necessary depends on observing that while coalitions will form out of competition for self-defense as well as out of cooperation toward goals, there is an unfortunate shortcoming to the natural progress of coalitions. Coalitions can grow to the point where they are self-sustaining but remain in conflict with each other.

            So for Hobbes, the “government” is not something which is morally superior or priviledged. It’s just the most succesful among the various criminal factions in a society. He is very explicit that avoiding civil war is a very challenging problem, and the only jujstification for submitting ourselves to a government is that a civil war is worse.

            What this means in an advanced society is the well known “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” Just as political coalitions form in the absence of government, they continue to form within a legislature and between the legislature and commercial interests. Just about everybody is in favor of sunshine laws, oversight committees, freedom of information, etc.

            Coming back to the title of this thread, Hobbes’ great line is that life in a civil war is “nasty, brutish, and short.” My point is that simply getting a chance to grow old, let alone having a successful career, depends on having a government.

            Where I think we might reach agreement is that the only kind of trust we can have in a government is “trust and verify”.

      2. john werneken

        @Ken Presting YES the truth is in between. Obama’s comments and Brooks’ response strike a lot of folks as extreme: on the left well the rich stole our money let’s open a drive to take theirs by talking about whether they “deserve” their success; on the right much the same reaction only in opposition to the idea that the State should take what they earned through their efforts.

        I think success or failure is a combination in varying degrees of talent, work effort, the public environment, one’s private environment, free will, and luck, and that the results are neither deserved nor undeserved, they just are the results. It offends me to see people either trashing private initiative while extolling public action, or visa versa.

        I suspect government out to be capable and limited as the founders intended, as opposed to neither which is what we have got.

        As to the “right size”, I don’t think that is up for a vote, but a matter of fact: something sustainable over the long run without leaving either the private sector oppressed unfree and ungrowing because government is too big, or in a similar condition because the government isn’t capable of meeting its obligations which include not only paying its bills but providing a secure and lawful nation with a sound currency and a reasonable degree of public support for innovation, infrastructure, and a social safety net.

        1. Ken Presting

          Thanks for answering. I’m a highly contrarian thinker myself, and I identify strongly with Dr. Drew’s experience of being a controversial figure in graduate school. I ended up with two MA degrees from two different departments, and I respect anyone who pushed through to a PhD.

          There is an interesting question you raise about which issues should be put to a vote. On the one hand, voting can be used to resolve disagreement hoping the majority will be more intelligent or better informed. On the other hand, voting can be used to just give more weight to the persons who have most to gain from certain outcomes.

          There is a large literature on these topics, “belief aggregation” and “preference aggregation”. It’s kind of a depressing literature because there are few positive conclusions about reaching constructive outcomes from voters who disagree.

          I like to cite Winston Churchill – “Democracy is the worst possible form of government, except for all the rest”

      3. If you honestly think that the government is “us.” You are being naive about the potential for pure evil to come from government. Read some history book, get some perspective. Our founding fathers understood how dangerous government was to liberty. As a young man, I quickly figured out government – especially government run by Democrats – was hostile to my success. For the folks who did so much to harm me as a young scholar to now insist that I show gratitude for their efforts strikes me as silly, even inhumane. I’ve never forgotten what it was like to live without health care simply because affirmative action discriminated against poor white kids like me.

        1. Ken Presting

          Thanks for replying. My point is more along the lines of “the only government we should ever trust is a government which is us, and nobody else.” This is the point made by both Hamilton and Franklin, and msot famously by Lincoln.

          My own thinking on this topic is influenced mostly by Thomas Hobbes, although I respect him most for stating a problem clearly rather than for solving the problem. Hobbes recognized that coalitions and cartels are a natural phenomenon in all social systems and economies. These subgroups could overwhelm any individual. Unfortunately he concluded that absolute monarchy, consolidating power in one dynasty, was the only way to avoid recurring civil war. He was thinking about medievla Europe, and didn’t realize what would become possible after the Industrial Revolution.

          So I see the great American innovation as a recognition that a Hobbesian sovereign was itself unreliable. I mean, George III? Give me a break! Any random bunch of colonists could govern better than that imbecile!

          And if we expend a reasonable effort to pick some intelligent representatives, we might do a whole lot better ….

          1. My concrete, personal experience indicates that when Democrats gain power they use it to hurt people like me. I really think it is odd that you seem to think my fear of government can be reduced simply because of democratic elections and a division of power. As an academic I felt the full wrath of Democrats who had no sympathy for a poor white kid. It terrifies me to see Democrats now trying to minimize the heroic efforts I made – as a young man – to succeed inspite of affirmative action.

          2. Ken Presting

            John, I’m replying to your 8:17 post.

            I’ve been assuming the basic issue of this thread was the legitimacy of taxes and regulations. Elizabeth Warren and Barack Obama seem to be using the “you got help” premise to argue for federal power in those specifc domains.

            I don’t mind creating a sub-thread about affirmative action but I want to respect the forum we are in. You can also email me at [email protected].

            Really, I feel a lot in common with you. My father was a Teamster and my mother was a nurse. I wouldn’t call myself “poor” but I was less equipped than my classmates at Berkeley.

    2. Mike Morris

      Kevin McCarthy: Your analysis is brilliant! In criminal law, it is not the country that is bringing charges against a defendant, it is the government, the prosceutors in the Justice Department. Yet when they go before the jury, they call themselves “THE UNITED STATES vs. —–” The prosecutors are no more the United States than the defendant. It is an abuse of power, what you so accurately call “confusion.”

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