by John F. Di Leo
“Hello, my name is Eco Nomic Illiterate, and I’m voting for Scott Lee Cohen.”
Sorry if that seems cruel, but there are some commercials in the current cycle that are really bothering me, and they exemplify a much larger issue: the problem of economic illiteracy across broad swaths of the electorate.
For most of our nation’s history, there was general uniformity in the understanding of what created jobs and wealth. The Founding Fathers – Republican and Federalist alike – understood that a small government was good for the economy, and a large government was not. They differed a bit on the margins, sure… Hamilton favored a national bank; Jefferson opposed it, for example… but they still agreed in principle that the capitol should be small; that it’s the private sector that creates wealth, not government.
Now, as we see from commercials, interviews, and brochures, in the Illinois gubernatorial elections of 2010, we have been treated with not less than four different visions of what improves an economy.
Impeached former governor Rod Blagojevich’s two-time runningmate and political heir, Pat Quinn, advocates what has become the standard modern Democrat model: raising tax rates by at least a third, pressing our representatives in Washington to send home more federal bacon, and participating in stimulus programs, such as the agonizingly slow construction projects (like Route 53 / I-290) that kept suburbanites from spending their money downtown all year.
Green Party nominee Rich Whitney advocates European governance – the state can charter a new government-owned state bank, so that the taxpayers can subsidize the hobbyhorses of the extremist left, offering low interest loans to companies that will work on green energy, and taking the earnings from a taxpayer on the normal power grid and diverting it to reward some other taxpayer with a windmill or solar panel. The Greens would play with the tax code, compete with private banks, interfere with the private sector in general, to their hearts’ content. It has worked so well thus far in Europe.
Republican nominee Senator Bill Brady supports conservative policies – cutting tax rates, cutting state spending, encouraging new startups and growth of existing businesses, by removing some of the red tape that has made wonderfully-developed, centrally-located Illinois such an anti-business locale despite its natural advantages..
And Independent Scott Lee Cohen is holding job fairs. He’s “the only candidate for governor holding job fairs in Illinois,” as we are reminded hourly. This is in some ways the scariest of all, because it plays to such economic ignorance.
This is not to say anything against job fairs, by the way. They’re fine. A job fair makes a little money for the hotel that hosts it, for the caterer who provides the doughnuts and cookies, and sometimes for the promoter as well. All good, all fine. And sometimes people who attend get hired. Nothing wrong with it.
But a job fair doesn’t create anything new except the fair itself. If an attendee shows up and gets hired, good for him. That’s grand. But the job already existed; the company had already decided to hire someone. Absent the job fair, the cable provider or insurance company would have hired someone else who walked in the door, mailed in a resume, or was referred by a recruiter… maybe even the very same person it found through the fair!
A job fair doesn’t convince a cable TV company to hire a Chicagoan over a Korean, an Indian, or a Malaysian; those offshore workers weren’t in the running at all. For the most part, “Job Fair jobs” are jobs located nearby, so they would hire from nearby anyway, whether a convenient job fair was held or not.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with the job fair. It’s nice. It just doesn’t create a new job, something to toast as a great accomplishment, as Cohen’s commercials imply.
What’s disturbing about these ads is the economic illiteracy at their heart – that this confused candidate really seems to believe that when someone gets hired at his job fair, he has really created a new job. Maybe some of the voters might fall for that, but should this one-trick pony of a candidate swallow his own kool-aid as well?
In the end, perhaps it’s just another manifestation of the same zero-sum game that the Democratic Party has spouted for a century. There’s some money, let’s move it around and claim some credit… we need road repairs, let’s post a sign to claim some credit… people are being hired by the private sector, let’s see if the introduction can take place under our tent, so we can claim the credit for that too.
How is it that, 234 years after the publication of The Wealth of Nations… 67 years after the publication of The Road to Serfdom… we still have half a country that doesn’t understand what kinds of policies grow an economy, and what kinds diminish it?
Each of the three leftist approaches has its own appeal:
- Cohen’s is personal: if you’re out of work, I’ll try to find you a job. Me personally.
- Quinn’s is “big city, benevolent government” in nature: we can get it done; we have the clout to spend other people’s tax dollars so you can enjoy the thrill of working for the state.
- …and Whitney’s is just blatantly statist: we’ll run the banks, we’ll run the utilities, you’ll even become a little bitty utility of your own, in fact, selling your dollar a month of excess power back to the grid whenever it’s especially windy or especially sunny. His spiel is especially impressive because he uses the language of financial analysts. By talking about reduced interest rates and the power grid, the social engineering and the interrelations between government and business that this brave new world will manage, these Greenies sound like such visionary little technocrats, don’t they?
But of course the real problem is that none of these related approaches will actually work. Neither Cohen’s nor Quinn’s nor Whitney’s is the way to grow an economy; they’re all just ways to move one job from this person to that one, to take these taxes and spend them over there. And all three depend on making the voter and his family utterly, comprehensively, dependent upon their government.
Remember when it was the reverse – when our government was dependent on us? No, of course we don’t. It’s been a century since our government really knew its place. From the very dawn of the 20th century, government has struggled with the private sector for dominance in our society, both in hard numbers and in the attitudes of the American people. The incredible overreach of the Obama administration might – just might – have been the tipping point, the moment at which a majority realized that big government is not a good employer, not a good securer of prosperity, not better as a master than it was as a servant, after all.
Fortunately, Illinois has, for the first time since the dawn of the conservative movement, a true conservative nominee for governor in 2010. Bill Brady knows, well, exactly what every Reaganite knows – and in fact what every American once knew: that only small government allows room for a growing economy; that a big government crowds out everything else, leaving little room for private sector success.
We wish him well – and we pray that his pluralities are such that they dwarf the vote fraud so rampant in our state and across our country. The Democrats will steal several points – they always do – so the Republicans must not just squeak out 50% plus one; that won’t be enough. The Republicans must win by more, much more than the margin of fraud. And for once, it looks like it’s possible.
And let’s hope not only for victory at the polls, but also for true education on the part of the well-intentioned but misguided Democratic-leaning half of the American public. They desperately need to relearn what they once knew, and governors like Bill Brady, Scott Walker, Mitch Daniels, and John Kasich should be the right breed of Midwestern conservative governors to reform the body politic at last.
It’s been a long, hard, expensive century, since America last had unanimity in these matters, but if everything comes together right, we can again unleash the limitless potential of limited government.
Copyright 2010 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicago-based Customs broker and international trade compliance trainer. A former Milwaukee county Republican party chairman in the mid-1990s, John has been a recovering politician for over thirteen years now.
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