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Earlier this week I saw a post titled on the always-excellent neo-neocon about a speech Obama gave regarding the recent push for financial reform. Neo-neocon’s post has the following quote from this speech (which, in the interest of full disclosure, I have not dug up and read, yet).
Here is the quote.
“We’re not, we’re not trying to push financial reform because we begrudge success that’s fairly earned. I mean, I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money. But, you know, part of the American way is, you know, you can just keep on making it if you’re providing a good product or providing good service. We don’t want people to stop, ah, fulfilling the core responsibilities of the financial system to help grow our economy.”
One of the most interesting things about the Obama quote under discussion is that, if you look at his scripted speech, he was trying to do his version of supporting what Sowell says—that is, of praising the power of capitalism’s ability to allow the aggregate forces of private enterprise and personal initiative to grow an economy. He knows that’s the American way, and that it is necessary for a president to pay some sort of lip service to it. But he couldn’t help blurting out what for him is the truth—that he doesn’t really believe in it at all—and that he and the other brilliant intellectuals surrounding him know much better, both practically and morally.
Let’s unpack what he says. There is a lot in this one paragraph consisting of four sentences.
“I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.” Enough for whom and for what? Is the $5,000,000 Obama made last year primarily from his book sales the level that demarks what is enough? What happens if you exceed what is considered “enough”? Does the government cap it so you can’t receive it? Is it taxed at a 100% rate? Notice too the elitism inherent in this statement, that he and his cohorts know better than the rest of us what is “enough.”
“But, you know, part of the American way is, you know, you can just keep on making it if you’re providing a good product or providing good service.” Maybe I’m reading too much into his choice of words but it seems as though he harbors disdain for what is known as the American dream, especially with his choice of “just keep on making it.” Apparently once you’ve had enough you’re supposed to do what? Stop? Give away what is considered excess? Or, if you’re enlightened like Obama you don’t strive to just keep on making money in the first place.
“We don’t want people to stop, ah, fulfilling the core responsibilities of the financial system to help grow our economy.” Here he seems to be saying that the justification for people succeeding economically is not because it is their right to do so (provided they’re not violating the rights of others). No, he seems to be saying it’s OK for them to succeed (up to a point defined by him, of course) as long as it’s fulfilling a responsibility to grow our economy (i.e., benefit others). I don’t see personal economic success and benefiting others as necessarily being mutually exclusive. Obama seems to be hinting that this success is justified only because others benefit too.
I would argue that socialism and planned economies, which aim to stifle or punish the individual drive for success while supposedly helping the “disadvantaged” accomplishes less of both than free markets. While the free market does a better job of enabling people to achieve personal economic success and benefiting others through the ripple effect of this success in creating opportunities for others or by generating the tax revenue the government needs to fund programs that help others. And that for me is more than enough.