Republicans: ‘That’s Not How It Works . . .’

December 5, 2014

(For the use of the membership only.)

“Like the mandarins of old, these officials are well-educated, well-mannered, well-intentioned and wrong.” — Dan Hannan in the Dec. 8, 2014, Washington Examiner

by Craig Ladwig

Republican officeholders are one thing. Republican voters are another. That was made clear this week as the U.S. House voted to fund everything that the November electorate opposed. But the really bad news is that things are no better in “conservative” Indiana.

Here is a report from our man covering the political doings in Indianapolis:

“The Chamber of Commerce trotted out its Big Business agenda in a Big Law meeting space to the cheers of Big Government Republicans. Among the Chamber’s legislative proposals: redistribution of tax revenues from frugal, well-managed municipalities to irresponsibly governed ones; a commuter tax (another Obamalike redistribution plan); full funding of statewide pre-K public education; full funding of mandatory, full-day kindergarten; new taxes to fund a billion-dollar mass-transit boondoggle; bigger incomes for lobbyists, engineers, contractors, bond lawyers and other contributors to Chamber-endorsed, government-enhancing, free-spending lawmakers.”

This, please know, has not come upon us suddenly. Some years ago, an officer of this foundation spent an afternoon with a businessman seeking political office, as bright and as earnest a Republican candidate for whom one could hope. His enthusiasm for public service, however, revolved around a plan to build “public-private partnerships” throughout Hoosierdom.

Our man felt compelled to object that there was no such a thing. What the aspirant referred to as “public” was in reality the government, and what was meant by “private” was simply the economy. Understood thus, there could be no “partnership” in the context of modern economics — water and oil, oil and water.

That disappointing conversation came to mind watching the Esurance television commercial in which the clueless Aunt Beatrice announces to her friends that she is saving time by “posting” vacation pictures on her living room “wall.”

“That’s not how it works,” a friend tries to correct her, “That’s not how any of this works.”

In the case of a public-private partnership, it hasn’t worked the Chamber’s way for 1,000 years — at least it hasn’t worked that way favorably. Our Anglo-Saxon law, as opposed to the Roman or Napoleonic law institutionalized in continental Europe and most of the rest of the world, is designed specifically to ensure that there is no such public-private partnership.

In putting absolute principles such as the right of property and the sanctity of contract above the king or executive, Common Law meant to give ultimate authority to the private. Our law, then, is based on the premise that anything not expressly prohibited is legal. Elsewhere, including, alas, urban centers in America, it is the opposite. Nothing there happens unless a “partnership” with the government can somehow be formed.

But spend some time on the website of that great GOP hope, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. The anecdotal success stories trumpeted there are peppered with testimony that progress would not have occurred had it not been for government’s approving hand — a claim that makes no sense without the assumption that there is the tacit or actual permission of officialdom.

Imagine the advantage for a city, state or nation in which the entrepreneur (the private) doesn’t have to wait for the government (the public) to legalize, fund or even encourage economic growth.

Why, dare it be asked, would an entrepreneur choose a political administration’s self-aggrandizing vision, even a Republican one, over a vision entirely independent of politics and government? Or why, if there were no other choice, would the entrepreneur take the risk at all — in resources, energy or heart?

Well, in fact, fewer do.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks American entrepreneurship, which has been in a slide since about the time that public-private partnerships first became the rage in our cities and states. That is true in: a) number of establishments less than a year old; b) number of jobs created by those establishments; c) survival rates of those establishments; and d) the percent of distribution of small firms versus large ones.

It is what happens, Chamber endorsements or not, when you put your hope in people who make their living getting elected to office. Like dotty Aunt Beatrice, they don’t know how it works, how any of it works.

Craig Ladwig is editor of the quarterly Indiana Policy Review.

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