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June 1, 2009

What Has Government Ever Done for You?


“Clicking the remote device on the Beer Pager unleashes a satisfying burp and flashing lights so you can easily locate your beer can up to 60 feet away and even through walls! Holder keeps your beverage cold, too.”


This will go into context momentarily.


Almost exactly one year ago, a massive storm hit the D.C. area, wiping out power and throwing thousands of houses 100 years back in time. Though most people never realized it, it was a great night for capitalism, an economic system that had the opportunity to remind us of just how much it has improved our lives over the decades.


That night we lost air conditioning, television, Internet, cold food, landlines and, soon thereafter, cell phones. In other words, we lived through a night that was normal for the overwhelming majority of Americans decades ago, and normal for many around the globe today.


One hundred years ago, not even the absolute wealthiest could wish to have more than a handful of what were considered luxuries – or impossibilities: Light bulbs, radios, telephones, televisions, refrigerators, toaster ovens, microwave ovens, computers, Internet, air conditioning, washers, dryers and cars.


Yet today, these are basic necessities, and even poor Americans have easy access to most of them. How far we have come. In 100 years, items that were impossible and unavailable even for the wealthiest are now basic necessities for most Americans.


So how did this happen? Did government workers invent these technologies for the benefit of the American people? Did politicians allocate money among bureaucratic departments in such a way as to birth these inventions from federal vaults? Did public-spirited, charitable engineers dedicate their time and effort to put together these items for free?


No, no and no.


One and only one thing allows most Americans today to live better than 19th Century kings (literally): It is what too many of us today label “greed.”


But Barack Obama condemns greed! How could it have accomplished good things?


Has Barack Obama or any politician like him ever brought you any technology that is of any use to you?


No. But I will tell you who did: “Greedy” investors who risked their own money in companies headed by “greedy” CEOs who worked hard throughout their lives with an eye to the top spot, and who in turn hired “greedy” engineers and “greedy” scientists who studied for their professions not out of their love for humanity, but primarily for the money available in such professions.


It is all of these people, driven by the potential of high salaries, high profit and personal benefit, who had the incentive to freely get together to invent technologies and create products that you will buy from them. If you forcefully eliminate their monetary incentives, you lose their creations – plain and simple.


Government has absolutely nothing to do with such advancements. In more limited situations, the government develops products by contracting the work out to contractors – who deliver solutions not for patriotic reasons, but for money. In isolated situations, government workers may develop a technology, and even then only by diverting productive resources from the private sector, but this is the exception rather than the rule. If anything, government usually hurts prosperity, as demonstrated by the fact that stock market growth collapses when Congress goes into session – a trend we have seen for over a century.


Thanks to the private sector and free market capitalism, today’s generation is the luckiest ever, even if it does not recognize it. Economists have found that after a summer job, a student in 1949 could have purchased four items: A typewriter, a camera, a radio and a phonograph. In 2009, due to the widespread availability of cheaper products brought upon by “greedy” competition between corporations, a student could use a summer’s wages to buy not four, eight, or 12 such items, but 28 of them. These include a laptop computer, printer, camera, GPS system, 32-inch HDTV, iPod, refrigerator, camcorder, Playstation, exercise bike, air conditioner, vacuum cleaner and 16 other such products. And once again, the government had no hand in any of it.


Capitalism has made us so productive and prosperous that because most of us have the “basic necessities,” we actually have the resources to produce stuff that is so luxurious it seems entirely unnecessary.


Which brings us back to the Beer Pager that burps and keeps your beverage cold, too. And the solar-powered fan built into your hat. And the voice-activated remote control. And the radio control snack float (because picking up your drinks from the edge of the pool is too much to ask). And the USB missile launcher designed for “cubicle warfare.” And the remote-controlled rubber rat.


These are all actual products currently on the market because the private sector has already satisfied our basic needs, and is now moving on to quench our thirst for what we consider to be luxuries.


As consumers, we have sent signals to the market regarding what we wish to purchase and how much we are willing to pay for it. The market, which is composed of all of us, responded. Government is incapable of filling the market’s shoes, no matter how hard it tries.


And it has tried. Government around the world has tried to centrally “plan” economic activity, and the shining results could be seen in Cuba, North Korea and a series of former failed states that have since had to be reborn under a capitalist system. Which is why government intervention in the economy has not, and will never, do anything for you.

© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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