Bob, People Have the Big Ideas, Not Government

Admission: over the course of my NewsBusting, I've actually developed a certain admiration for Bob Herbert. Not that I agree with virtually anything the NY Times columnist has to say, but that I appreciate his directness and the absence in his work of the superfluous sarcasm that marks that of a number of his colleagues.

That said, I offer up Herbert's lament of this morning, "Where Are the Big Ideas?", as the epitome of wrong-headed liberal thinking. Herbert's complaint is that when it comes to the role of government, the presidential candidates aren't thinking big enough. Hillary and Obama's proposals to subject 1/7th of the nation's economy [or whatever the current proportion that health care represents] to government control are small beer in Bob's eyes. He dismisses their plans as "masterpieces of minutiae."

Herbert says that "the essential question the candidates should be trying to answer — but that is not even being asked very often — is how to create good jobs in the 21st century." The columnist gives us an idea of the kind of big-government thinking he has in mind to answer his question:
  • An obvious potential source of new jobs would be a broad campaign to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure — its roads, bridges, schools, levees, water treatment facilities and so forth.
  • Another area with big job creation potential is the absolutely vital quest to develop alternative sources of energy. That effort should carry the same high national priority that was accorded the Manhattan Project during World War II. I’d even call it Manhattan II.
Herbert sees direct government action as the key to job creation. Want people to work? Have the government hire them to build roads or invent the perpetual motion machine!

Herbert obviously never passed No Free Lunch 101. If creating jobs were as simple as having the government hire people, there'd never be any unemployment. And I suppose there never was in that ultimate bastion of big government, the Soviet Union. The only problem is that jobs for all meant wealth for none -- except for the plutocracy that went by the name of the Communist Party.

No, I'm not calling Herbert a closet Commie. I'm saying that he doesn't understand that the money for those new government jobs doesn't come from under the bed. It's taken in the form of taxes from the private economy, from the entrepreneurs who can create real jobs and wealth -- not just for themselves but for millions of others. Bill Gates created more jobs and made more people productive and well-off [not just within Microsoft but at untold firms whose productivity he increased] than any well-intentioned Washington bureaucrat.

In a free society, the big ideas come from the people, not the government. The most thrilling, the biggest, idea a presidential candidate could have would be to liberate people to pursue happiness as they define it, and in doing so, create opportunities for others.
Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.