The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

What did he say???

Let's talk about roads... and the internet... and infrastructure... and success.

Obama is allegedly being quoted out of context. And I will defend him here... he is.

But let's look at the context:

"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."

That isn't the entire context (you can read that here, if you wish). I just don't think that knowing the context helps him very much.

Let's talk roads first. Roads were not always built by government. In fact, they still aren't. Private contractors build the roads. Government just pays for them. In some places, they also do the repairs. We've all seen the 5 or 6 workers standing around the one person actually filling in the pothole, haven't we? A sure sign that they are government workers. And we, the people, are the government, aren't we? Therefore, we built the roads. OK, that's a stretch.

Let's go back to the start up of automobile companies because who needs roads more than auto-makers? Most roads in 1903 were dirt. Ford didn't have superhighways or interstates. Except in large cities, there were few paved roads. Yet Ford sold cars, lots of them. The paved roads came because of demand by people who bought the cars. People who wanted to ride on nice paved roadways. In 1905 the federal government got directly involved. Sort of. It was actually 1912 before money was appropriated by Congress (Agricultural Appropriation Act) to improve roads and trails serving the national forests.

It is of interest that in 1912 the congress also appropriated funds for the improvement of Post Roads, in conjunction with Sates and interested localities who were required to provide matching funds. This concept was the forerunner of the subsequent Federal-aid highway construction program.

There were paved roads already, of course, and there were toll roads owned by private citizens and businesses. These were built by businessmen. Not government... for the most part. Some states and cities may have built new roads or improved existing roads. But the beginnings of the road infrastructure was entirely in private hands.

And the internet was created out of a Defense Department network called ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) so he was partly correct. But his claim, "Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet" is false. The words "so that" are what makes it false. There was no intent by the government to create something that commercial enterprise could use. It was created to aid in research, so that researchers at various universities could share information more easily. It was the researchers, in trying to increase that communication, who made the improvements.

It was not until the creation of UUCP and Usenet that we have the real beginnings of what we call the internet. Usenet was conceived by two Duke graduate students. That was in 1979. It wouldn't be until the late 80's that commercial access would be considered. And then only as communication providers.

This has become a "chicken and the egg" argument. But I think it is clear that government didn't build things so people could create businesses and make money, they built things because the public demanded easier access to commerce and because commerce pushed for easier access to consumers.

So what was Obama's point? What did he mean? I have no idea anymore. It seems to me that he was trying to make the point that "no man is an island." Which is true. No one ever built a business that gathered no customers. But it is in the best interests of the government to improve and expand access between business and consumers. And that is also in the best interests of consumers and business.

Before government, there was trade (business). Government took on the role of mediator and arbiter. Because they could. Because they were the strongest, biggest, most powerful entity. And because people looked to them to do so. To protect both consumer and business.

They need each other but government did not make it possible to succeed in business.

Businesses succeed because they provide a product or service that people want. Government can only help or hinder that.

I think Obama could have said it different... and should have.

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