Steve Forbes takes the battle to Obama and the statist quo.
LAS VEGAS — Nearly two hours into the Liberty Ball that closed out FreedomFest, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, John Adams, and comedic foil Roger Sherman interrupted the pop-lite meanderings of the colonial attire-festooned house band to perform “The Spirit of 76.” The first half of the musical skit, wherein the Founders argue over who will write the Declaration of Independence, earned its share of laughter and applause, but nothing to quite match the roar the met Steve Forbes as he ascended to the stage as General George Washington, eyes twinkling above a mile-wide smile despite the marshmallow-y brace around his neck.
Washington grouses over the lack of a teleprompter, then casually muses there was “never a good war or bad peace,” a phrase which Franklin, of course, immediately vows to “borrow.”
“Throw me a royalty,” Washington shoots back before Forbes steps out of character to ad-lib to the crowd, “We’re capitalists. Some habits are hard to break.”
Indeed, they can be, although in other quarters — *cough* Congress *cough* — the free-market and individual liberty tendencies have been abandoned with the sadly predictable ease of a political class that increasingly views the skeptical individual as more hurdle than constituent.
Forbes, however, is ready neither to say “die” nor “regulate.” The stint as George Washington capped a weekend of appearances during which (coincidentally?) the publisher, two-time presidential candidate, and unrepentant champion of laissez faire often sounded like General Forbes.
“What is happening in America right now is an aberration,” he declared at one point. “This is the last stand of statism.”
Forbes is no Ivory Tower chieftain. I sat in on at least a half dozen small — some very small — breakout sessions at FreedomFest that Forbes tiptoed into as inconspicuously as possible, sitting and listening in seemingly placid, thoughtful reverie, offering the occasional gracious nod when a speaker’s voice rose a register as she noticed him in the third row or a well-wisher approached to chat or someone asked him to sign a copy of his (wonderful) new book, How Capitalism Will Save Us — a tome which, much as I love Hayek, many newly aroused/engaged tea partiers would likely find considerably more accessible (and, therefore, enlightening) than Road to Serfdom, at first contact, anyway.
Forbes could easily have stuck to the featured luncheons and the big room. Instead he got down with the hoi polloi and dug into the fecund grassroots minutiae. Whenever you saw him traipsing the halls of Bally’s Resort and Casino between events, it was never without that singular smile leading the way. And when he spoke, it was never without the sort of good humor, passion, and feisty intellectual verve that will be utterly necessary if we hope to salvage anything from the ever-strengthening assault of the state.
“I NEEDED BACK SURGERY, AND I FIGURED I better get it while it’s still legal,” Forbes cracked at the outset of his Friday morning keynote speech, jabbing a finger up at the thick neck brace for emphasis. And then he warned us that explicating the “severe headwinds” the American economy faces would require wading into the theoretical weeds a bit.
“Monetary policy is not the most exciting subject in the world,” he cautioned. “You say monetary policy in polite company and people’s eyes start to go heavy and they nod off. If any of you are single, on a bad date, and want out, talk about monetary policy. You will never see that individual again.”
This default conspiracy of silence has, unfortunately, led to what Forbes called a great “myth of the modern era”: that government can create money. “Governments can print paper,” Forbes said, “but real money is created by real people doing real things.” Manipulating interest rates and overheating the Federal Reserve printing presses, he said, “juiced” the housing bubble, encouraged currency speculation, incentivized bad banking and consumer decisions, and is now injecting uncertainty and volatility into an economy that hardly needs it.
“Weak money means a weak recovery,” he said. “If cheap money, ladies and gentlemen, was the way to wealth, today Zimbabwe and Argentina would own the world.”
While It’s the meddling, stupid doesn’t seem likely to take off as a political rally slogan anytime soon, Forbes makes a better case against returning to the “failed policies of the past” than the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave ever has.
“In ancient times you had to barter,” he explained. “Three thousand years ago if I wanted to sell a subscription to Forbes magazine or an ad, what would I get? Maybe a bottle of wine, I don’t know what quality, or a sheep? Maybe goat cheese or something? Maybe a camel. Then I’d have to figure out how to turn a camel into something I could pay my writers with. Money makes transactions infinitely easier.”
Money, of course, has made Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi’s transactions infinitely easier — it’s very good to be a friend of the palace these days, what with the massive slush funds they’ve set up. For his part, Forbes chooses to make a distinction between monies exchanged voluntarily and those confiscated.
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