By: Peter Schiff, CEO of Euro Pacific Capital
For most of his time as a national political figure, Barack Obama has been careful to cloak his core socialist leanings behind a veil of pro-capitalist rhetoric. This makes strategic sense, as Americans still largely identify as pro-capitalist. However, based on his recent speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, the President appears to have reassessed the political landscape in advance of the 2012 elections. Based on the growth of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the recent defeat of Republicans in special elections, he has perhaps sensed a surge of left-leaning sentiment; and, as a result, he finally dropped the pretense.
According to our President’s new view of history, capitalism is a theory that has “never worked.” He argues that its appeal can’t be justified by results, but its popularity is based on Americans’ preference for an economic ideology that “fits well on a bumper sticker.” He feels that capitalism speaks to the flaws in the American DNA, those deeply rooted creation myths that elevate the achievements of individuals and cast unwarranted skepticism on the benefits of government. He argues that this pre-disposition has been exploited by the rich to popularize policies that benefit themselves at the expense of the poor and middle class.
But Obama’s knowledge of history is limited to what is written on his teleprompter. And his selection of the same location that Teddy Roosevelt used to chart an abrupt departure into populist politics is deeply symbolic in the opposite way to that which he intended. It is not by some genetic fluke that Americans distrust government. It is an integral and essential part of our heritage. The United States was founded by people who distrusted government intensely and was subsequently settled, over successive generations, by people fleeing the ravages of government oppression. These Americans relied on capitalism to quickly build the greatest economic power the world had ever seen – from nothing.
But according to Obama’s revisionist version of American history, we tried capitalism only briefly during our history. First, during the Robber Barron period of the late 19th Century, the result of which was child labor and unprecedented lower-class poverty. These ravages were supposedly only corrected by the progressive policies of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. We tried capitalism again in the 1920s, according to Obama, and the result was the Great Depression. This time, it allegedly took FDR’s New Deal to finally slay that capitalist monster. Then, the account only gets more farcical. Apparently, we tried capitalism again under George W. Bush, and the result was the housing bubble, financial crisis, and ensuing Great Recession. Obama now argues that government is needed once again to save the day.
This view is complete fiction and proves that Obama is not qualified to teach elementary school civics, let alone serve as President of the United States. I wonder what other economic system he believes we followed prior to the 1890s and 1920s (and during the 1950s and 1960s) that that he now seeks to restore? Capitalism did not start with J.P. Morgan in 1890s or John D. Rockefeller in the 1920s as the President suggests. In fact, it was about that time that capitalism came under attack by the progressives. We were born and prospered under capitalism. The Great Depression did not result from unbridled capitalism, but from the monetary policy of the newly created Federal Reserve and the interventionist economic policies of both Hoover and Roosevelt – policies that were decidedly un-capitalist.
The prosperity enjoyed during mid-20th century actually resulted from the incredible progress produced by years of capitalism. Contrary to Obama’s belief, the New Deal and Great Society did not create the middle class; it was, in fact, a direct result of the capitalist industrial revolution. The socialist programs of which Obama is so fond are the reasons why the middle class has been shrinking. America’s economic descent began in the 1960s, when we abandoned capitalism in favor of a mixed economy. By mixing capitalism with socialism, we undermined economic growth, and reversed much of the progress years of laissez-faire had bestowed on average Americans. The back of the middle class is being broken by the weight of government and the enormous burden taxes and regulation place on the economy.
America’s first experiment with socialism, the Plymouth Bay Colony, ended in failure, and our most successful colonies – New York, Virginia, Massachusetts – were begun primarily as commercial enterprises. When the founding fathers gathered to write the Constitution, they represented capitalist states and granted the federal government severely limited powers.
Apparently, Obama thinks our founders’ mistrust of government was delusional, and that we were fortunate that far wiser groups of leaders eventually corrected those mistakes. The danger, as Obama sees it, is that some Republicans actually want to reverse course and adopt the failed ideas espoused by great American fools like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin.
The President unknowingly illustrated his own contradictory thinking with the importance he now places on extending the temporary payroll tax cuts. If all that stands between middle-class families and abject poverty is a small tax cut, imagine how much damage the far more massive existing tax burden already inflicts on those very households! If Obama really wants to relieve middle-class taxpayers of this burden, he needs to reduce the cost of government by cutting spending. After all, there is no way to pay for all the government programs Obama wants by simply by taxing the rich.
History has proven time-and-again that capitalism works and socialism does not. Taking money from the rich and redistributing it to the poor does not grow the economy. On the contrary, it reduces the incentives of both parties. It lowers savings, destroys capital, limits economic growth, and lowers living standards. Maybe Obama should take his eyes off the teleprompter long enough to read some American history. In fact, he could start by reading the Constitution that he swore an oath to uphold.