Jewish World Review June 20, 2011 / 1 Sivan, 5771
The (Not So) Great Debate
By Paul Greenberg
The most revealing comment made during the not very revealing "debate" among Republican presidential candidates came from the moderator,
The question was revealing, however unintentionally, because of its underlying assumption: that the economy needs a presidentially provided plan if it's ever going to fully revive.
You might have thought the idea of a planned economy went out with the fall of communism, or at least of the late unlamented
It's an old joke -- and an all too true one: Know how to make God laugh?
Answer: Make plans.
How strange: What may have been the greatest economic expansion in this country's history, the explosion of American economic growth during the latter part of the 19th century, took place without an over-all government plan. How about that?
Instead, all that growth spurt took place through a wild mix of public and private investment, of entrepreneurial innovation and good old-fashioned, all-American corruption. (It wasn't always easy to tell the difference.)
Result: The economy grew dramatically through a succession of booms and busts, fits and starts, panics and peaks without anybody in the federal government planning it. You'd think it was a free country.
By the end of that period, a nation ravaged by a terrible civil war that left a good third of it in ruins had emerged into the 20th century as an industrial, agricultural and even something of a financial giant. And nobody had planned it that way. Nobody could have planned it that way.
The growth of the American economy in those years was so great, so dynamic and dramatic, that the country attracted still more immigrants by the millions from still more parts of the world. All flocked to the Land of Opportunity. How could that possibly have happened without a comprehensive government plan? And yet it did.
No, it wasn't easy. And it certainly wasn't smooth. Or guaranteed. Call it Creative Destruction, to borrow a description of capitalism from an economist named Schumpeter. If you're looking for a prime example of Creative Destruction, late 19th-century America would be it. If monopolies weren't being created, they were being outlawed. If strikes weren't being called, they were being broken. And through it all, the economy was growing like a teenager, and with about as much impulse control.
How restart today's stalled economy? It might help to look back at the spirit of those 1ate 19th- and early 20th-century Americans, new and old, native and immigrant, who were making it all happen. They had something better than a planned economy to rely on: a faith in freedom and in themselves. No matter what obstacles they might encounter or challenges they would have to meet. Or however painful the setbacks. Through it all, they didn't just talk about the spirit of freedom; they lived it. Through all the economy's ups and downs and animal spirits. And the country flourished. Not in any planned way but in all ways, chaotic as that may sound to undersecretaries of economic development at the UN or economic planners at think tanks.
To appreciate, and apprehend, the best and most revealing question/comment of Monday night's presidential debate, and recognize the unexamined assumption behind it, requires that rarest of faculties in a presidential election campaign:
A little historical perspective.
Oh, yes, the candidates. Who won and who lost this presidential debate/ lovefest/mishmash the other night? It scarcely matters this early in the presidential sweepstakes, which keep starting sooner and sooner.
I'd give the decision to Mitt Romney on points, mainly because his party could use a
Somebody who may be conservative but ain't mad about it. His party needs a
But it's much too early to choose favorites in this race. Some possible nominees, like
The congresswoman may be guilty of intellectuality, the unforgivable sin of American politics. (See the political fate of Stevenson, Adlai.) Because her answers seemed based on ideas, mainly those of the classical liberal economists. And ideas have consequences. She's going to be somebody to watch in national politics, presidential nominee or not.
Others have seen her potential, too, or else the fashionable crowd wouldn't be giving her the Sarah Palin treatment, that is, trying to reduce her to a caricature. Odds are
As for the also-rans,
Here's the scariest prospect of all: There's a lot more of this kind of thing still to come. The not so great race for the
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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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