“What is seen and what is not seen”

Tom Smith on Obama’s recent comments about business:

Much could be said about how stupid was President { }'s recent comments about business founders not really having built their businesses by themselves, but rather owing them in large part to things others, especially the government, did for them. You drove on a public road to meet your 457th potential angel investor. Your third grade public school teacher taught you always to say please. And so government gets a lot of the credit for the thing you sweated blood to create. Big surprize. If you build anything, you can absolutely bet people will line up for the credit, like Al Gores for the internet. Failure, you can keep the credit for that.
But here's the question to ask — how many more successful businesses, inventions, products, services, toys, tools, insights, and just plain fun would there be, if government did not in the first place make it so ridiculously difficult to start a business and keep it going? I don't see our young president taking credit on behalf of the state for all the failures it help cause, all the ideas that never got off the ground because the regulatory hurdles were so high, or all the established companies that never had to face competition because they had managed to get their rents written into law. This is part of the seen and not seen insight of Bastiat. What you see is a successful business when it manages to survive, and then people run up, the same people who taxed and regulated it nearly to death, and say I helped! I helped! What you don't see are all the businesses that perished or never got started because of the heavy hand of the state. And it's a very heavy hand.

Read the whole thing.

8 thoughts on ““What is seen and what is not seen””

  1. For millennia, humanity was in thrall to one form of absolutism or another all around the world. Everything belonged to, and was controlled by, the ruling powers, usually a combination of aristocratic families and priesthoods.

    The intellectual movement toward reason and empiricism over the last several centuries finally succeeded in undercutting the idea of the divine rights of ruling groups, and began to replace it with the modern concept of popular sovereignty, but that didn’t mean the impulse to justify state control had been abolished.

    Instead of the king, divine or blessed by the divinity, the claim has been made that the authority to control social and economic elements in society derives from will and well-being of the collective.

    This new claim, developed in the 19th century in response to the dangerous notion of individual autonomy and natural rights, is the foundation of all the myriad attempts to rationalize the use of force by the state and its agents to control every aspect of human activity, and return to the stagnant past in which nothing significant changed or progressed for hundreds or thousands of years under the benevolent rule of some enlightened dynasty.

    All of the same arguments that were made in past ages to justify the rule of the aristocratic/religious hierarchies have been recycled and modernized to justify the rule of the new vanguards and elite classes.

    Notice now, as enormous new discoveries are made of the very energy supplies which are vital to the continuing progress and expansion of our, and the world’s, future as high tech societies, how relentless the opposition is to any new development or process, even though the inevitable outcome of the collapse of industrial/technological society due to energy starvation will be measured in the death of billions, and eclipse any catastrophe humanity has ever endured.

    It is clear, after millennia of stagnation, starvation, and early death, that something marvelous happened a few centuries ago to change the static nature of human society, and usher in an age of discovery in agriculture, science, medicine, and technology that has now made modern life the stuff of ancient visions of a heavenly state in which there is ample food, and a long and healthy life free from many of the plagues that have haunted humanity since the earliest days.

    What happened? The controlling, and obstructing, power of political and religious elites was curtailed, and the creative energies of independent minds seeking a better life for themselves and their families was released.

    In the final analysis, this is the wellspring of the society whose problems now, according to many moralists, are having too much to eat, too much to possess, to much to desire, too many choices, and too much affluence.

    Usually unspoken is the thought that we have too much freedom.

    An enormous effort has been under way for well over a century to solve that latter “problem” by reinstating a new elite with all the prerogatives, and restraints, of the fallen aristocratic class.

    Far from being the cause of progress, and modern progress especially, the enormous stultifying weight of the coercive and all powerful state has been the major impediment to advancement down through the ages, as maharajahs in all nations on all continents were content to see their serfs follow their oxen through the fields, as their ancestors had done since time immemorial, as long as the nobles’ status was secure.

    Only slaveholders fear the advances of individual freedom that created the modern world, and only their intellectual and moral heirs wish to stop, and then reverse course to an age in which rulers ruled all, and their subjects had no choice but to submit.

    This is the existential conflict of the modern age, as it has always been, in any age—to live free or die.

  2. The Obama remark about business not being built by the owner is getting real legs because it says so much about him. There is a furious effort by the left to justify him but that only shows how much this can hurt him. The same roads are used by successful and unsuccessful businesses. What is the difference ?

    Hey strayed off the TelePrompter again. That is dangerous.

  3. Usually unspoken is the thought that we have too much freedom.

    That’s always been the head-scratcher for me.

    The desire to live in luxury off the labor of others is a perfectly understandable human weakness. But the love of power for its own sake is completely pointless and self destructive, often in the short term and without fail in the long run.

    What’s the point of running other people’s lives if you do it in such a way that it makes your own life unpredictable and stress-filled?

    If the ruling class were at all rational, they should at the very least pursue a stable, mercantilist economy that would provide a predictable source of wealth that they could sponge off. If they were clever, they would allow businesses below a certain size to grow with only moderate molestation, and only really milk them after they become large, infrastructure-critical business segments.

    You could argue that’s more or less what happened during the latter half of the twentieth century. But if that were ever a conscious politico-economic model, it’s clearly been forgotten or abandoned by those most in a position to benefit from it.

    For me, the fact that someone who entered office with as much good will as Obama can’t even figure out how to take our money and buy our votes effectively disproves the idea that he or his advisers have some sort of overarching evil plan. As evil as these folks may be, they are fist and foremost stupid, probably with a good measure of crazy thrown in for good measure.

  4. I like your last paragraph a lot setbit.

    Only the philistines, moochers, under-educated, political-opportunists, and stupid among us would vote again for the current administration.

  5. Mon Dieu! This brings to mind Rose Wilder Lane’s The Discovery of Freedom, which to my shame I have not finished. However:

    “On this earth are living creatures. Life is energy.
    Every living creature has consciousness and desires. The imperative desire is to continue to live, and living is not easy. Life struggles to exist, among not-living energies that destroy it.

    The energy of heat, cold, storms, floods, drought, is the deadly enemy of every human being. His second enemy is the living energy of other creatures, the animals, the plants, that kill him and that he kills for his food and other uses. Everyone must constantly be defended against these enemies. Farmers and sailors and doctors always know this. Linemen
    know it, and engineers, chemists, truck drivers and railroad men and oil drillers and sand-hogs and construction workers and airplane pilots and weather forecasters—all the fighters who protect human lives in modern civilization, and keep this civilization in existence.

    Men are alive on this earth, only because the imperative human desire is to attack the enemies of human life.
    For thousands of years, human beings use their energies in unsuccessful efforts to get wretched shelter and meager food. Then on one small part of the earth, a few men use their
    energies so effectively that three generations create a completely new world.
    What explains this?

    The human situation on this earth is not changed; it can not be changed. The quality of human energy does not vary greatly. A baby born in Kentucky in 1820 had no physical or mental energy superior to that of a baby born anywhere else at any other

    The physical earth has not changed in historical time. So raw materials do not explain what has been done with them here; the raw materials were here when the Mound Builders were. Vast quantities of iron, coal, oil, rubber, have always been available to human beings. Two thousand years ago when Caesar went west into Gaul, Europe was a rich and
    virgin wilderness inhabited by a few wandering savages, as this continent was a century ago. Not raw materials, but the uses that human energy makes of raw materials, create this rich new world.

    The plain fact is that human energy operates more effectively in these United States than it has ever operated before, and more effectively than it operates today anywhere else on
    this planet. It operates to make human lives safer, healthier, longer, more comfortable and more enjoyable. Since life itself, and health and comfort and pleasure, are what all men have always wanted, obviously some obstacle has kept them from using their energies effectively, until now. And since nothing is changed in the human situation on this earth, nor in human desires, this obstacle must have been in the nature of human energy itself.

    Consider the nature of human energy.
    A human being is a dynamo, generating energy. You are reading a book; you want to turn a page. You generate the energy that moves the muscles of your arm and hand, and turns the page. This individual energy, that you use to turn a page, is the only energy operating in the human world. The ceaseless operation of this energy, ceaselessly attacking the non-human world and from it creating the necessities of human life, keeps men alive on this earth, and creates all the conditions in which human beings live.

    All energy operates under control. Whether it be the energy of an electron, a hurricane, or a man, energy is controlled.

    Living energy is different; it is creative, and variable. It changes, and it changes the conditions in which it acts. It is unpredictable, because it never acts twice in precisely the same way. Not even two blades of grass in a lawn are identical.

    Yet living energy is controlled. Everyone knows what controls human energy. Your desire to turn a page generates the energy that turns the page; you control that energy. No one
    else, and nothing else, can control it. Many forces can kill you. Many, perhaps, can frighten you. But no force outside yourself can compel you to turn that page. Nothing but your desire, your will, can generate and control your energy. You alone are responsible for your every act; no one else can be. This is the nature of human energy; individuals generate it, and control it. Each person is self-controlling, and therefore responsible for his acts.

    Every human being, by his nature, is free.

    The pagan view of the universe is that it is static, motionless, limited, and controlled by an Authority. The pagan view of man is that all individuals are, and by their nature should and must be, controlled by some Authority outside themselves.

    Individuals must combine their energies, to survive on this planet. Their combined energies must work under some control. The question is, What controls them?

    The Old World answer is, Authority.
    This answer is the basis of human life in the Old World. No Old World thinker has ever questioned it. The question that has always engaged Old World minds is, What Authority?”


    I know this was too long, but I like her derivations.

  6. Thanks James – I’d always wondered what she wrote. Its theory to match her mother’s tough reality. And is probably the reason her mother isn’t taught in local kiddie lit.

    Jonathan, this says much, but it is hard to make people feel what is, by its nature, not there. We want someone to do something – well, why not the government? You have imagination but imagining would actually solve the problem – if it were easy, it would have been imagined before.

    The lust for power isn’t mysterious. Societies that train such desires – to build a factory or write a book – considers productivity power. But its an old temptation. Abigail Adams noted that when the powerless are given power, they, like the grave, cry give, give.

    Different spheres are useful: once Boston was the cultural capital, New York the money one, and Washington the political. A Bostonian with little money could reign because of a book or a lecture; a New Yorker might be seen as uncultured by the Bostonian he could buy and sell (as the phrase goes and which satisfied him); and neither cared all that much about the power exercised in Washington unless it invaded their lives. My kids complained about high school but theirs had spheres. There were the cheerleades and the robotics club and the jocks and the FFA and the orchestra nerds and the band nerds. . . and, well, you get the picture. It wouldn’t have been high school if they hadn’t felt alienated and miserable – and if all the others didn’t, as well. But when people define their own success, they are likely to try harder and do better.

    And so, back to Jonathan’s – imagining something you can’t see, others can’t see, that’s harder.

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