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Opinion

Opinion

Obama’s infrastructure argument doesn’t hold up

July 21, 2012

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— “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

     — Barack Obama,

Roanoke, Va., July 13

And who might that somebody else be? Government, says Obama. It built the roads you drive on. It provided the teacher who inspired you. It “created the Internet.” It represents the embodiment of “we’re in this together” social solidarity that, in Obama’s view, is the essential origin of individual and national achievement.

To say all individuals are embedded in and the product of society is banal. Obama rises above banality by means of fallacy: equating society with government, the collectivity with the state. Of course we are shaped by our milieu. But the most formative, most important influence on the individual is not government. It is civil society, those elements of the collectivity that lie outside government: family, neighborhood, church, Rotary club, PTA, the voluntary associations that Tocqueville understood to be the genius of America and source of its energy and freedom.

Moreover, the greatest threat to a robust, autonomous civil society is the ever-growing Leviathan state and those like Obama who see it as the ultimate expression of the collective.

Obama compounds the fallacy by declaring the state to be the font of entrepreneurial success. How so? It created the infrastructure — roads, bridges, schools, Internet — off which we all thrive.

Absurd. We don’t credit the Swiss postal service with the Special Theory of Relativity because it transmitted Einstein’s manuscript to the Annalen der Physik. Everyone drives the roads, goes to school, uses the mails. So did Steve Jobs. Yet only he conceived and built the Mac and the iPad.

Obama’s infrastructure argument is easily refuted by what is essentially a controlled social experiment. Roads and schools are the constant. What’s variable is the energy, enterprise, risk-taking, hard work and genius of the individual. It is therefore precisely those individual characteristics, not the communal utilities, that account for the different outcomes.

The ultimate Obama fallacy, however, is the conceit that belief in the value of infrastructure — and willingness to invest in its creation and maintenance — is what divides liberals from conservatives.

More nonsense. Infrastructure is not a liberal idea, nor is it particularly new. The Via Appia was built 2,300 years ago. The Romans built aqueducts too. And sewers. Since forever, infrastructure has been consensually understood to be a core function of government.

The argument between left and right is about what you do beyond infrastructure. It’s about transfer payments and redistributionist taxation, about geometrically expanding entitlements, about tax breaks and subsidies to induce actions pleasing to central planners. It’s about free contraceptives for privileged students and welfare without work — the latest Obama entitlement-by-decree that would fatally undermine the great bipartisan welfare reform of 1996. It’s about endless government handouts that, ironically, are crowding out necessary spending on, yes, infrastructure.

What divides liberals and conservatives is not roads and bridges but Julia’s world, an Obama campaign creation that may be the most self-revealing parody of liberalism ever conceived. It’s a series of cartoon illustrations in which a fictional Julia is swaddled and subsidized throughout her life by an all-giving government of bottomless pockets and “Queen for a Day” magnanimity. At every stage, the state is there to provide — preschool classes and cut-rate college loans, birth control and maternity care, business loans and retirement. The only time she’s on her own is at her gravesite.

Julia’s world is totally atomized. It contains no friends, no community and, of course, no spouse. Who needs one? She’s married to the provider state.

Or to put it slightly differently, the “Life of Julia” represents the paradigmatic Obama political philosophy: citizen as orphan child. For the conservative, providing for every need is the duty that government owes to actual orphan children. Not to supposedly autonomous adults.

Beyond infrastructure, the conservative sees the proper role of government as providing not European-style universal entitlements but a firm safety net, meaning Julia-like treatment for those who really cannot make it on their own — those too young or too old, too mentally or physically impaired, to provide for themselves.

Limited government so conceived has two indispensable advantages. It avoids inexorable European-style national insolvency. And it avoids breeding debilitating individual dependency. It encourages and celebrates character, independence, energy, hard work as the foundations of a free society and a thriving economy — precisely the virtues Obama discounts and devalues in his accounting of the wealth of nations.

— Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.

Comments

FalseHopeNoChange 1 year, 8 months ago

U.S. Bridges Built by Chinese With Our Tax Dollars Posted 07/21/2012 | In The News9 In an ABC News investigative report on the rebuilding of American infrastructure, it was learned that three major bridge projects in the U.S. were awarded to Chinese government owned construction firms, rather than U.S. companies. ABC reported that each project — the Alexander Hamilton Bridge in New York, a new bridge connecting San Francisco to Oakland and a bridge in Alaska — were all awarded to Chinese government construction companies using Chinese workers to build the projects. The clip shows President Barack Hussein Obama addressing a crowd of his supporters with the Alexander Hamilton Bridge in the background. “Help us rebuild this bridge,” the president urges the crowd in his speech to trusting workers. “Help us rebuild America!” he shouts to his supporters. “Help us put American construction workers back to work,” the president tells those now cheering him on, however, the $400 million project was given to a Chinese government owned construction company. That was just a drop in the bucket. The Chinese were awarded a $7.2 billion bridge project to connect San Francisco and Oakland and the $190 million bridge project in Alaska that could have put thousands of American construction workers back on the job. View the ABC News video here:<

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FalseHopeNoChange 1 year, 8 months ago

Someone seems to have 'forgotten' that "infrastructure" was started by farmers to get their 'business's wares' to market.

Government Genies saw an 'opportunity' and 'forced' farmers to pay a tax to keep their "infrastructure" nice.

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Armstrong 1 year, 8 months ago

Someone seems to have forgotten how much taxes business pays, my guess is "the road" was paid for ten fold by business alone.

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beatrice 1 year, 8 months ago

For Mitt Romney, it takes exporting jobs overseas and tax shelters in the Cayman Islands.

For Mitt Romney, it takes a foreign village.

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Pat_Down 1 year, 8 months ago

Hillary said it takes a village. Obama says it takes an out of control and bloated federal government.

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FalseHopeNoChange 1 year, 8 months ago

Where would New America be without complex Liberal government "infrastructure".

Where would California be. Where would Detroit be. Where would New York be. Where would DC be. Where would KCK be.

My 'stars' where would New America be without complex Flex and his complex Liberal hard working government people.

I 'shutter to think.'

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George Lippencott 1 year, 8 months ago

I think both Mr. K and Mr. Obama each make important points. The former believes that the individual has a lot to do with making the country advance (but acknowledges the contributions of government). Mr. Obama and many on this list believe that “government” is the primary source (or should be) of energy for the advancement of our society.

If one has not been paying attention they may have missed the point that this election is about exactly that (albeit with many excursions to trivia).

There is way too much defaulting to absolutes on here when the real issue for many of us is the balance. Personally, I am offended by the notion that any successes my wife and I have achieved were the result of the “government”. The government certainly played ( our employers) but I think there is a lot of our energy and time in the product. If not we are reduced as government employees to the status of “drones” or worse – little or no value added.

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George Lippencott 1 year, 8 months ago

beatrice 1 day, 6 hours ago Everyone pays taxes of some kind or another, so we all paid for those roads and bridges.

Baloney. Most taxes are directed for specific purposes. Payroll taxes buy people a specific service that benefits only them. Road taxes are not paid by all but do benefit all - even those who do not drive. General revenue taxes (FITW) at the federal level - paid by half of us - buy most of the income transfer efforts we undertake as well as a hefty portion of the general government (EPA, Education, Commerce, etc.). Money for say renewable energy comes primarily from this source (and from monthly utilities bills)

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booyalab 1 year, 8 months ago

Reminds me of the equally ludicrous Hillary Clinton quote in the 90s about "it takes a village to raise a child", except she more or less got away with it. I don't think Obama will be so lucky, the memes are in full force.

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sully97 1 year, 8 months ago

There is no chicken or egg about it. Infrastructure creates markets where they did not previously exist. The way we invest or manage that infrastructure varies as much as the types of infrastructure we're building. Government, business and the individual all invest in it in different ways. For instance, the cable company will invest the money to run a cable to your home if you live in a populated area. The government doesn't need to build such a network because the private sector is already building it.

For rural residents though, it's not cost effective for the cable company to build it, so the government steps in to create that infrastructure. It does so because it recognizes that its rural citizens need it in order to stay viable in the information age. This is one of the primary functions of good governance. If Walmart or FedEx aren't building or maintaining the roads they need then the government must do it. That's what governments are supposed to do.

As an aside, there is added value for us all when government builds infrastructure. Simply put, when government builds or manages it, we all have access to it. That's true of our roads, our frequencies, our water, sewage. All of it. When infrastructure is privately owned, as it is with the cable company, citizens are excluded by means of the business model. When government builds it, all may access it which brings a much wider audience to any entrepreneur who wishes to capitalize from that added infrastructure. If a bike path was only open to a few paying customers, its hard to see a bike shop going in next to it. By keeping it open, there is net gain for us all.

Finally, the individual invests first by using the infrastructure, and then by participating in the markets that emerge from it. If there is a chicken or egg dilemma to be found it's whether or not the individual can ultimately make his part of the investment. Some can participate. Some can't. For those who can't, we have programs to help build that part of the human infrastructure. In doing so, we prep them to use other infrastructure and to join the market in some way. That's why we all enjoy a net gain from safety net and developmental spending. When combined, more people can participate.

Counter to what people like this author would have us believe, those programs do pay off and they do so in a big way over time. The implementatiin of the GI Bill after WWII was one of the most successful human infrastructure development programs we ever instituted. It created our coveted middle class and made us the power house we are today. We made those investments when the nation was in far more debt as a ratio of GDP than it is today. It worked for one reason: people believed in their government and participated. We had the will to make it a success. Today though, as soon as government tries to fulfill its obligation and do what it's supposed to do, its cut off before it can ever begin. And things just get worse and worse...

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classclown 1 year, 8 months ago

LarryNative

it's like the chicken or the egg argument . Did govt programs pave the way or was it taxes generated by businesses and the jobs that paid for the govt programs?

July 21, 2012 at 9:20 a.m

==========================================

You know, the chicken and the egg paradox is just a euphemistic way of debating creation vs evolution. If the chicken came first, you're a creationist. If the egg came first, you're an evolutionist.

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pace 1 year, 8 months ago

If your argument and opinion is based on lie, it makes you a liar. Romney, Obama, etc etc. all agree that we have social obligation and benefit. Twisting what some one said, by misquote and carelessly omitting context is bad habit and poor argument. Using a lie as a hook to spout hate or to justify poor argument , makes me think, liar.

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sully97 1 year, 8 months ago

This argument is a shell game. It suggests economic growth and stability are not functions of infrastructure and that infrastructure is "constant." Well, no. It's not. It takes money, tax dollars, to maintain infrastructure. The market won't do it any more than it's running high speed internet to rural residents. The market did not build our electrical grid or highway system. The government did and if it hadn't, our good friend Charles would not be able to publish such spin in the first place.

Investment in infrastructure is the single biggest contributor to economic growth that can be made. Just ask nations like Afghanistan or those in remote Africa what it's like not to have roads or the centralized government to make them happen. Infrastructure is the biggest reason Iraq is relatively stable and Afghanistan will not be. With it, commerce can emerge. Without it, markets do not materialize. It's also why the military invests so heavily in the infrastructure of both countries.

Furthermore, there is more than one type of infrastructure. There is something called a human infrastructure, which simply means that you have the right talent in place to serve the right sector of the population at a given capacity. If a town has no teachers, then the town must build its human infrastructure to accommodate its need through some means of attracting or growing its pool of teachers. Either way, it takes investment.

The federal government is no different. It builds infrastructure, human or otherwise, by various types of investments. Yes, some of those investments go toward social welfare by means of assistance programs. To not have those programs is to accept a sharp rise of instability and crime that would undermine the intent far more than the cost of the programs ever would.

In the end, you cannot have economic expansion and stability without the infrastructure to support it. That includes human infrastructure, or what Charles might call "variable" infrastructure. That kind of investment has a net gain in financial terms, competitiveness, and social stability for us all. If we are to maintain any semblance of civil society, then taxes for these investments are the price we pay to live in that civil society. But if you don't like centralized government and the investments it makes, go ahead and move to Afghanistan and get a taste of what you're wishing for.

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commonsenseanyone 1 year, 8 months ago

I think bozo has to be the biggest Internet tough guy I've ever encountered. Type those snide and condescending remarks you tough guy. I bet you have less Internet friends then real ones.

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pace 1 year, 8 months ago

It is one thing to spread nonsense but this guy seems to believe nonsense. Liar. Combining phrases and leave out the context does not make a quote. That is lying.
http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2012/jul/18/context-obamas-you-didnt-build-comment/

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Mixolydian 1 year, 8 months ago

Grammatically it means exactly how Krauthammer takes it to mean. Maybe it was one of those Washington gaffes, where a politician says something they actually believe.

It does beg the question though, what came first, the egg or the Egg Regulatory Commission?

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Liberty_One 1 year, 8 months ago

Obama claims that people need other people for prosperity. A good start which is quite true. The market has a wonderful capacity to organize people together for common goals. This works because human nature is aligned with incentives for individual success. All the individuals in a firm profit by working there, the entrepreneur who organizes the labor and capital together profits from doing so. It is simply human nature to come together and work towards a goal. Obama quickly goes off the rails with his socialist concept that working together means the government. When he says "us" and "we" he means the state and not society. Socialists think they can repeal human nature and crate a new "socialist man" who thinks of his class above himself. This is just preposterous utopian dreaming.

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BornAgainAmerican 1 year, 8 months ago

Charles nails it!!! The real issue is whether or not this country will continue down the road to Eurpean-style Socialism (and decline) or return to fiscal sanity and growth.

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seriouscat 1 year, 8 months ago

First, the development of the computer was heavily subsidized and supported by the US government. Would there have been a Steve Jobs success story if the US had not, because of the government support, been at the forefront of computer technology?

Second, all these neo-cons keep referring to European style social welfare as "insolvent largess". This ignores the fact that Germany, who was the first nation ever to implement national health care, is the country with the strongest, most bullet proof economy in Europe, evidenced by the fact that it is Germany who is largely bearing the brunt of the bad fiscal policies of plutocratic nations such as Greece.

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Steven Gaudreau 1 year, 8 months ago

If this statement is true, you could apply that logic to everything. If your a criminal, blame the govt because the criminal used the govt roads and education. If an artist creates a masterpiece, thank the govt too.
Also, there have been businesses that had enough revenue to be successful but the owner failed (i.e. Paradise Cafe). How is that possible if the govt gave the business all that success? Govt only gets credit for success? Obama has never created, owned or managed a business so he is talking out of his Presidential *ss if he even made this ridiculous statement. Two individuals in the same family can be given the same education, live identical lives growing up with one owning a successful business and the other in prison. How did the govt fail one and not the other? It didn't. One had the drive to be successful and made it happen, the other one did not.

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woodscolt 1 year, 8 months ago

Interesting that what you see in the threads for this article as well as the ones from Dolphs idiotic editorial this morning is this:

All the right wing extremist conservatives think all they have to do is hold hands and hunker down together and just keep parroting lies and that somehow makes them magically come true just because they have each others support. I guess you could assume they believe in the easter bunny and santa claus and the tooth ferry as well. This is what they base all their opinions and discourse on.

Ok, now does everybody remember their lines? Then lets all hold hands and lie together or our ideologies will never conquer reality.

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woodscolt 1 year, 8 months ago

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WASHINGTON — “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

 —  Charles Krauthammer

July 21, 2012

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FalseHopeNoChange 1 year, 8 months ago

Come on Kraut. As long as the 'lovable' Flex can get the Genies to dig "Shovel Ready Jobs", he can get them to dig anything.

Besides, He has Helicopter Ben 'printing' the money. Genies 'believe'.

Genies are in 'love' with "The First Gay President" and will do anything to keep 'their man'.

Kraut. You should have remained a Democrat.

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Steven Gaudreau 1 year, 8 months ago

it's like the chicken or the egg argument . Did govt programs pave the way or was it taxes generated by businesses and the jobs that paid for the govt programs?

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jafs 1 year, 8 months ago

I find this tendency to exaggerate and distort what people say disturbing.

Isn't it important to understand what people are saying first, and then base discussion and debate on that?

It's obvious that Obama didn't say, or mean, that individual initiative isn't important - he just meant that it's not the whole story, and that other people and government also play a role in success.

So, why not discuss this accurately? It's certainly plausible, and valuable, to ask how large government should be, or what it should be involved in, without distorting what's been said.

Seems to me that those on the right often overlook the role that others, social imbalances, and government play in one's success, preferring to believe in some sort of "do it yourself" idea, in which one is solely and completely responsible for any success achieved.

This seems obviously unrealistic to me.

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commonsenseanyone 1 year, 8 months ago

The whole quote doesn't make much sense. They must have forgotten the teleprompter.

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cowboy 1 year, 8 months ago

"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business. you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet. The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. "

The actual quote without Republican editing for those Faux News challenged

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 8 months ago

So, Chuckie starts with the same quote out of context that Fox and the rest of the whackosphere did in order to completely misinterpret what he said.

That pretty much discredits anything that might have followed, so I didn't bother reading it.

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cato_the_elder 1 year, 8 months ago

Who paid for all the roads and bridges?

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commonsenseanyone 1 year, 8 months ago

I bet Obama wishes he could have that one back.... No doubt that he and all his elitest buddies believe it, but saying it out loud was a mistake. The guy has never been in business for himself, actually has he ever had a non government funded job? It would have been good for Obama to start a business before his presidency so he could feel what that's like. Saving his own money, coming up with an idea an formulating a business plan. It takes guts that's for sure.

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Getaroom 1 year, 8 months ago

More of the same bull from the Kraut! Can't imagine a more perfect mouth piece for Faux Nuz than he is. Unfair and Unbalanced as usual.

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