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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Obama's return to yesteryear

Michael Barone makes a rather counter-intuitive point about Barack Obama's State of the Union - the President's view is "oddly antique and disturbingly static."
"This is our generation's Sputnik moment," he said. But Sputnik and America's supposedly less advanced rocket programs of 1957 were government projects, at a time when government defense spending, like the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb, drove technology.

But today, as Obama noted a few sentences before, "our free enterprise system is what drives innovation." Private firms develop software faster than government can procure it.

Undaunted, Obama calls for more government spending on "biomedical research, information technology and especially clean energy technology." Government has some role in biotech, though a subsidiary one, but IT development is almost exclusively a private-sector function and clean energy technology that is not private-sector-driven is almost inevitably uneconomic.

And then there is transportation. "Within 25 years," Obama said, "our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail. This could allow you," he said breathlessly, "to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying."

Wow! There's some advanced technology. Except that France inaugurated service on its TGV high-speed rail from Paris to Lyon in 1981. That's 30 years ago. It's as if President Eisenhower was inspired by Sputnik to promote the technology of 30 years before, Charles Lindbergh's single-engine propeller plane the Spirit of St. Louis. It's as antique as the Tomorrowland of the original Disneyland.

In fact government high-speed rail projects in Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida wouldn't approach the speeds of France's TGV or Japan's bullet train and would not beat autos in door-to-door travel. And they could never match the low fares of the free enterprise bus lines that have competed successfully with the Acela for budget-minded travelers.
Meanwhile, he won't look to the future for reforming our entitlement programs. There he stays stuck on the past.
If you put together Obama's resistance to just about any serious changes in entitlement spending with his antique vision of technological progress, what you see is an America where the public sector permanently consumes a larger part of the economy than in the past and squanders the proceeds on white elephants like faux high-speed rail lines and political payoffs to the teacher and other public-sector unions. Private-sector innovation gets squeezed out by regulations like the Obama FCC's net neutrality rules. It's a plan for a static rather than dynamic economy.
We just can't stand having a static economy for much longer. But Barone is exactly right that that is about the best we can hope for from Obama's policies.

1 comment:

pumping-irony said...

I liked the one guy's comment: "Maybe they are planning an individual mandate to purchase high speed rail tickets..."

I guess they'll have to because the subsidies won't work like they did for the idiotic windmill boondoggle.