Lester Lave, Barack Obama, and the Origin of Infrastructure

Here’s a post that’s short-and-sweet: as much I dislike the conservative perspective on how our country – government, business, society as a living, breathing, vivacious entity sui generis – nevertheless it’s hard to argue with the Christian Science Monitor‘s point about the absurdity of President Obama’s recent statement about the origin of business and taxation:

“As Representative Labrador pointed out on Thursday, taking the president at his word – that he meant not that government built American businesses but instead that government built and/or fostered the roads, Internet, and public safety necessary for business to flourish – is still ripe for conservative attack. 

In other words, the money the government used to build the roads and develop the Internet came from somewhere. That somewhere was private enterprise – and some say that Obama’s inability to recognize that is his fatal flaw, economically speaking.”

The fact is, they’re absolutely right: somewhere along the lines, business of some kind has generated taxable earnings that are paid to government to affect the Greatest Good.  (My late professor Lester Lave is smiling down from somewhere now, even though his “Iron Law of Government” said that “When government gets involved, everybody loses.”  I disagree, but today he may have won the skirmish.)  Mitt Romney got this one right: “The taxpayers pay for government. It’s not like government just provides those to all of us and we say, ‘Aw, thank you, government, for doing those things.'”

BUT – and this is crucial – the present politically tinged reports have left out a critical fact that we would do well not to ignore: without government funded projects and resources (such as the firefighting teams that the President spoke about), or the roads / bridges / tunnels necessary to transport goods, business wouldn’t have much of an infrastructure to leverage into profit.  This is the backbreaking flaw in the Tea Party / Republican worldview as much as it is the toxin in the Occupy Wall Street well: if we seek extreme views on either side of the aisle, we’ll get it wrong every time.

The answer is somewhere in-between: government needs business for funding, and business needs government for tools to do business.  The late Rodney King asked the often-recast question “Can’t we all just get along?”  In our modern society, we ultimately have to anyway – America has to function, and it also has principles – so why do we fight so hard to play at the poles, rather than seeking a centrist stance that would empower us to be so much more efficient?


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