The Obama Watch

Humpty-Dumpty and King Barack

And all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again.

By 1.29.10

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And all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again.

And there's the problem, I thought, as I watched and listened to our puffed up and preening president yammer on about jobs and joblessness. Does he really think that it is within his power as our economic commander in chief to fix this thing? Does he really think that he and his government are capable of putting the fallen Humpty-Dumpty back on the wall… in the pristine and intact state of full employment? Does he really think that they know how to do that?

President Obama likes to think of himself as an ideas man. He complained during the presidential debates with John McCain that McCain never gave him any credit for coming up with good ideas. And in his state of the union on Wednesday night, he reeled off a long list of ideas, some of which were okay so far as they went, such as repealing capital gains taxes on small business investment. 

But what was most striking about the speech -- apart, that is, from president's attempt to sound heroic at every turn of phrase -- was the paucity of thought, along with the lack of any real understanding of the dynamics of business creation and international commerce. 

Why -- with youth unemployment in our nation's cities running at close to 30 percent -- was there no mention of the idea of lowering the minimum wage, which now stands at $7.25, up from $6.55 as of last July 24? Surely the president must realize that if you (the government in this case) make it more expensive for employers to hire unskilled workers, they will hire fewer of them. 

Ditto, obviously, with Obamacare. If the government wants to force all employers to provide health insurance and then wants to enforce mandates that will drive up the cost of that insurance, it must expect companies to get by with fewer hires and to contract out more work to temporary workers or outside contractors.

And then of course there is the Obama-backed initiative that would allow unions to gain exclusive bargaining rights at more companies without the need for a secret ballot. This too would be guaranteed to drive up the cost of labor. But Mr. Obama did not use his state-of-the-union address to dump this singularly ill-advised idea. Nor did he talk about the role that unions have played in bankrupting the U.S. domestic auto industry -- and thereby destroying tens of thousands of jobs and putting a like number on government life support.

The president reveals some of his worst instincts -- bordering really on the bizarre -- in the area of international commerce. Mr. Obama's call for an all-out effort to double the nation's exports in five years is probably the worst idea since Jimmy Carter called for energy independence back in 1979.

First of all, what's the point? What makes the president think that thousands and thousands of companies across the land would want to rebalance their businesses in such a way as to put substantially more emphasis on serving customers outside the United States, and less on serving customers inside the United States?

If the point is to create U.S. jobs at the expense of jobs in other countries, then the president must be intent on starting or bringing us to the brink of some sort of a trade war. Is that a good idea, Mr. President?

Then there's the slight matter of how an all-out export drive would square with the bailouts and subsidies provided to the auto companies and others. The government, for instance, is already prepared to provide income tax deductions of $7,500 to any American citizen who is prepared to plunk down $30,000 or more for the General Motors all-electric Volt car, whenever it emerges from government-subsidized development. In our new big export drive, will the U.S. government send out $7,500 rebate checks to people in New Guinea who also buy the Volt?

The president talks about how India, China and other nations "are not playing for second place" and how they covet the jobs we have in the United States. I submit that this is dangerous prattle.

One of the things that you see in India and China that is becoming more and more attenuated in this country is the spirit of enterprise -- the widely shared belief that you can improve your own condition through hard work, initiative, and doing a knockout job of satisfying the customer, whoever that might be.

A year and a half ago, my wife and I spent more than a month in India and we stayed in about dozen hotels -- all priced between $75 and $125 a night -- in as many cities. With one exception, the service was never anything less than superlative. The one exception was a hotel in Cochin surrounded by a golf course. It was a government-owned resort -- and the only hotel in which we stayed that wasn't both owned and managed by people who lived on the premises. There we confronted a variety of horrors -- ranging from the most lifeless and indifferent service, to a flooded bedroom and the sounds of rats and other vermin scratching loudly in the attic above our chamber.

When a taxi driver asked us how we liked the hotel, my wife tried to be polite and said something about the food being pretty good. The taxi driver would have none of that. He replied, "Well, I wouldn't stay there. I don't like government hotels."

India, to its credit, learned to overcome the deadening legacy of several decades of socialist government. Let's hope we don't have to relearn the importance of free markets and private enterprise.

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About the Author
Andrew B. Wilson, a frequent contributor to The American Spectator and a former foreign correspondent, writes from St. Louis.