Thank you, Government, for permitting success. Or something.

July 16th, 2012

By Dan Miller

I was going to re-blog an article written by Mike at Make an Effort.  I agree with what he said there. However, when I got to writing a short comment for the re-blog it quickly got too long.  So, here it is.

President Obama recently gave an historic address on business creation. It expressed his apparent views. He said,

“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.”

obama_unicornIt needs a bit of editing to take reality into consideration. That is not surprising, because President Obama lives in his own cocoon made of fantasy. Here’s my attempt at what President Obama should have said:

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. Your parents probably helped you, even more than you may now remember. There may have been a few great teachers somewhere in your life. Maybe you are at least partially self-educated because you took the initiative to go that route instead of engaging in more frivolous pursuits; perhaps by reading books no teacher ever suggested that you read or by thinking thoughts your teachers tried to discourage.

Many in the past helped to create a great and truly American system which, if it had not been changed for the worse over the years and most recently during my administration, would have allowed you and everyone else in our country to thrive more than you and they now find possible.

Your tax dollars and the tax dollars of those who preceded you allowed your State and Federal governments to spend on roads, bridges and other projects; without your money earned through your own work and initiative and on which you paid taxes, that would have been impossible.

If you’ve got a business it’s because you had the initiative and work ethic to do it. But you didn’t build it alone.  You needed and paid construction workers, executives, researchers, technicians, sales people, laborers and — particularly in today’s environment — teams of lawyers and accountants. The lawyers and accountants cost you lots of money but produce little more than aggravation and delay. However, they are necessary to help you understand and comply with often conflicting and incomprehensible laws and administrative regulations. Those laws and regulations confound and confuse even those who are experts at understanding them as well as those charged with implementing and enforcing them. We in government created those administrative regulations under broad delegations of authority granted by members of the Congress often too busy to think much about what they were doing, the powers they were delegating or what the consequences might be (beyond the political consequences). Often, they can find neither the time nor the inclination even to read the legislation their colleagues and staff write. I often sign their legislation into law without reading or even attempting to understand what it may mean beyond its political implications. The otherwise changeless law of unintended consequences has flourished. We, in what still should be “your” government, are too busy raising campaign funds so that we can campaign far and wide with empty and often false promises in order to continue to do more of the same; we have neither the time, the inclination nor even the competence to bother with the sorts of mundane stuff that most harms you, our employers. We don’t often think of you as our employers, but that’s what you are. Those of you who have succeeded in business deserve our fulsome praise, not the scorn we commonly heap upon you, for enduring and prospering even under the obstacles we have created.

Years ago, government funded research helped to get the Internet started on a very small scale. However, we in government did not “invent” the modern Internet, any more than we “invented” the modern computer. As it became apparent to entrepreneurs that the Internet might have useful potentials and what they might be — all then far from certainties — they, not we in government, became its creators. Through their efforts it grew like Topsy through private innovation — a process that we in government all too often retarded. Some entrepreneurs got it wrong and went broke. Others got it right and made money from the Internet as they advanced and improved it; that’s how they succeeded and that’s what they are supposed to do. That’s why incremental decision making, rather than decision making “at the top” — where those of us in government like to see ourselves — works. Those who don’t succeed fall away and those who succeed prosper. The possibility — not certainty — that they, along with their stockholders and employees, will prosper is why they do things. That’s why people who are not themselves entrepreneurs invest their funds to help make them possible. Those who are successful pay lots of taxes to us in government so that we can continue to do more of the same things we did in the past and some new things as well. Some of those things are useful; others are wasteful and counterproductive.

If we in government ever decide to get out of the way as much as we can without causing harm — if we adopt the basic premise of the Hippocratic Oath and decide “first of all, do no harm,” then you and the entire nation will prosper. However, the modern version of the oath authored in 1964 goes a bit further, and we must take it to heart as well.

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.

I will not be ashamed to say “I know not”, nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.

I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given to me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.

I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

I will remember that I remain a member of society with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, be respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.

People entering upon government employment, from the President down to the lowest writers and enforces of administrative regulations, should consider that oath and apply much of it to themselves. I doubt that I will live to see a day when that happens, or a day when President Obama delivers a speech along the lines suggested above. Still, that’s the sort of change I wish for despite having no realistic expectation of ever seeing it.

(This article was also posted at Dan Miller’s Blog.)

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