President Obama has made challenger Mitt Romney’s business record a central issue in his campaign, repeatedly casting his success in the most unfavorable light. Instead of celebrating the economic opportunities his entrepreneurial ventures have surely generated, he has maligned him as a robber baron, a cold capitalist vulture, decimating businesses and jobs and then feasting on their remains, all for his own selfish enrichment.
While this rhetoric of class warfare is obviously a simplistic straw man of what a private equity manager really does, the hypocrisy at that core of Obama’s shallow reductionism is that his administration has engaged in comparable economic activity: picking winners and losers in this or that industry, rewarding them with generous subsidies financed by public tax dollars, even calling these dispensations of treasury cash “investments”. At least Romney’s private wagers only incur private risk.
The evidence mounts that Obama is not very good at this game. But even if he were as expert as Romney obviously is when it comes to these prognostications, the question remains if these governmental interventions into private markets are jurisdictionally appropriate and economically prudent. The centralized planning at the core of progressive liberalism presupposes a general bureaucratic competence, a privileged monopoly on the market of reason, it has never adequately demonstrated. For all its self-congratulatory posturing about being the true partisans of science and rational objectivity, the fundamental premise of big government liberalism is wildly unempirical.
Liberals love to deride supply-siders for their apparently groundless faith in mystical economic forces, their favorite misinterpretation of Adam Smith’s account of the “invisible hand”. That invisible hand, though, is nothing other than the aggregate result of the economic decisions of free people when left to their own devices, under the conditions of relatively unimpeded competition, protected by stable law. Progressives have their own invisible forces, too: the steady march of enlightened progress towards a post-capitalist utopia, somehow simultaneously inevitable yet in constant need of abiding technocratic stewardship. One might argue that it is their own economics that smacks of unshakeable faith rather than the dictates of reason.