Steve Forbes takes the battle to Obama and the statist quo.
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“Taxes aren’t just a means of raising revenue for government, they’re also a price and a burden,” he said. “Tax on income, price you pay for working. Tax on profit, price you pay for being successful. Tax on capital gains, price you pay for taking risks that work out. When you raise the price of good things — productive work, risk taking, success — you get less of those things, lower the price you get more of those good things.”
Capitalism leading to good things? Surely ye jest! Isn’t capitalism, in fact, to borrow a chapter title from Forbes latest book, brutal?
Perhaps to the chagrin of the Ayn Rand acolytes in the audience, Forbes made a moral argument for capitalism that did not begin with selfishness or end with a denunciation of altruism, instead focusing on the “complicated circles of cooperation and community” free enterprise necessarily spawns; and the empathy operating in those circles inevitably engenders.
“In a sense we’re like fish swimming in water,” he said. “Fish don’t know they’re swimming in water. Most people don’t know what free enterprise capitalism is all about. The moral basis of it is that it meets the needs and wants of other people. In a true free market, even if you are that Hollywood caricature of a businessman — you know, loaded, lusting for money, taking pleasure in seeing pelicans drown in oil, loving it when people, especially children, suffer — even if you are that kind of person, even if you have a nasty personality, the kind that makes babies cry and dogs bark when you walk down the street, even if you’re all of that, in a true free market you don’t succeed. You only succeed if you provide a product or service somebody else wants.
“They call capitalism soulless, something that drives the good out of us,” he continued. “It actually allows us to get outside of our narrow circles of tribes, ethnic groups, and families. It breaks down those barriers.”
Forbes also rebutted the statist framing of government as a choice between “massive government regulation or anarchy.”
“That is a false choice…Yes, you have transgressions like Bernie Madoff. But just because you have fraud in elections doesn’t mean you do away with free elections. You deal with the specific transgressions…Madison was right: if men were angels no government would be necessary. Manifestly we’re not angels, except for our grandchildren until they reach a certain age. We do need laws and government and law enforcement.”
Enacting “sensible rules of the road,” however — i.e. speed limits, turn signals — was a far cry, Forbes insisted, from three-thousand page obtuse bureaucratic regulatory bills that essentially “tell you what to drive and where to drive and when to drive.”
Like, say, I don’t know…the financial reform bill?
“Only Congress would pass a two-thousand page financial reform bill and not get anything right in it,” Forbes said, citing the lack of attention to mark-to-market accounting, Fannie and Freddie, or too big to fail. “It’s amazing.”
EVENTUALLY FORBES TURNED TO THE damned inescapable topic, Obamacare. General Forbes is not a fan. He’d rather see the interstate market for insurance opened up, tort reform, and a targeted deregulation he believes would turn “a hopeless liability into a growth industry,” the type of industry where if you ask how much a procedure costs they don’t “assume you’re uninsured or a lunatic.”
“Ask yourself, ‘Why do we have a health care crisis?’” he said. “After all, if in any other part of our lives people want more of something it’s seen as an opportunity. People want more software, Silicon Valley would be very happy. People want more cars, Detroit would be very happy. Why is demand for more health care seen as a disaster? Why is the fact we’re living longer a disaster? As I get older I kind of like longevity. It’s nice!… Food is more basic than health care. No food, no nothing. Yet the government does not run the farms. If it did we would not have obesity, we’d all be starving.”
Forbes’s diagnosis and prescription is too detailed to be done justice in this space — it’s laid out well in How Capitalism Will Save Us, naturally — but it is worth noting one example he used of free enterprise in medicine: cosmetic surgery, which has increased sixfold over the last ten years but has not seen the same inflation as primary health care — in some cases prices have decreased due to increased market competition.
“Not that any of you need it,” he told the crowd, then quickly added, “That’s called pandering. I tried in politics, but it didn’t work. That’s why I’m here today.”
The troops appeared extraordinarily grateful that he was.
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