Comrade Joe Biden: “Every Great Idea the Past 3 Centuries has Required Government Vision and Incentive”

The intrepid vice-president on the campaign trail:

“Every single great idea that has marked the 21st century, the 20th century and the 19th century has required government vision and government incentive,” he said. “In the middle of the Civil War you had a guy named Lincoln paying people $16,000 for every 40 miles of track they laid across the continental United States. … No private enterprise would have done that for another 35 years.”

Oh, the irony. In one hypertrophied moment of campaign propaganda, Biden managed to undercut the entire historical progressive critique against laissez faire. After all, how could Progressivism, historically, be a movement to tame the “excesses of laissez faire” when every great idea the past three centuries has been the result of government intervention? In Biden’s own words, private enterprise could not have completed the transcontinental railroad until the 20th century. So, we apparently have Lincoln to thank for the post-civil war Robber Baron era that otherwise could not have happened if private enterprise would have been left to it’s own devices. No transcontinental railroad, no robber baron era.

This is classical politician doublethink. In one context, to justify political intervention, we are told of the utter inertness of the private market in comparison to the power of the State. In another context, we are warned of the need for intervention to restrain the powerful unbridled, unregulated market. In doublethink, there is never any need to reconcile these contradictory statements. Which one is true simply depends on the political objective to be had at the given moment.

Of course, we don’t quite live in an Orwell or Huxley novel where doublethink political reality is the only reality or where historical reality is subsumed by complete distraction. There have been several great technologies–steam engine, telegraph/telephone, AC(alternating current) Electricity, automobile, airplane and transistor–that I would classify as having the greatest impact on civilization over the last three centuries. Most, at the outset at least, had little or nothing to do with government intervention. The transistor is debatable, but like anything significant that has come off the drawing board since the early to middle part of the 20th century, it’s going to be ambivalent/murky because the government is so involved in the control of the economy and funding the nexus of corporate/university research.

What’s not debatable, however, is that, in the end, everything becomes incorporated into the political economy. For the politician, an idea is only great if it can be monetized by artificial rents. So, in empirical political reality, it is empirically true for the politician that every great idea the past three centuries indeed has required government intervention. No doubt….

2 thoughts on “Comrade Joe Biden: “Every Great Idea the Past 3 Centuries has Required Government Vision and Incentive”

  1. Well, if he means great ideas like atomic bombs and freeze-dried ice cream.

    I was trying to explain to someone the other day that whenever government gets into a field where private industry won’t tread, that means that field isn’t profitable. While that sounds venal, what it means is that whoever is operating in that field is losing money, i.e. destroying wealth.

  2. Haha, its so funny that he mentions Lincoln’s intervention into the railroad markets. He paid people for how much track was laid, so naturally, they laid as much track as possible. The gov’t run tracks took as long as possible to get from point A to point B, while the private ones simply took the shortest, most economical route. OOPS

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