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The President’s Car

The President seems fixated on automobiles lately.  It must have something to do with having nationalized what was once the pride of American Industry.

In any event, he has used a metaphor comparing the economy to a car as he has stumped all over the country for Democrats running for the House and Senate.  He blames the Republicans for running the car (the economy) into a ditch, and repeatedly blames them for not helping his efforts to get it back on the road.  Interestingly, he never describes where the Democrats in Congress were during this ride into the ditch — could it be that their constant chattering in the backseat were enough of a distraction to cause the crash? (I digress…).  This weekend, he intensified the metaphor with a tinge of “code speech” telling crowds that he would only let the Republicans “sit in the back seat” after the elections.

The President, in spite of his reputation as a gifted communicator,  has seriously bungled the analogy from the start–or maybe he hasn’t. Maybe he intends it this way because this is the way he thinks.  The economy is not a single vehicle to be controlled by a single driver — it is the collective action of 300 Million of us as we go about our lives.  It can’t be a single car, unless the President thinks a single entity controls the economy.  The only way this can happen is under a ‘statist’ government, as Mark Levin has so powerfully written in his book Liberty and Tyranny.  So, the President’s metaphor is all anyone needs to conclude that he really is a ‘statist’ or ‘socialist’ or whatever label is preferred.

I think a President who understands freedom, free markets and capitalism would make a different metaphor to describe the economy.  I think a more accurate metaphor is that the economy is like the highway system of a major American city.  On the highway, the cars driven by individuals represent their freedom to act and go where they feel they should, just as they are free to labor and create in the free marketplace.   The drivers are free to chose any make, model or color, and they are free to choose the destination.  The economy has periods of heavy activity and growth, and periods of less activity, just as the highway has rush hour and late night traffic.  The infrastructure of the highway (the  exit/entrance ramps, curves and numbers of lanes) represent the government’s ability to shape the economy according to the public’s consensus and the optimum cost (terrain and other obstacles may limit direction just as external factors influence our economy).  The rules governing driver conduct (speeding, signaling, etc) are similar to the financial and other regulations that govern free market behavior.  As long as those rules are in synch with the size and pace of the economy, the economy can handle additional growth, just as a highway can handle more traffic.  When either driver behavior or the rules impede the flow of traffic, things snarl and slow down — just as excessive rules and inappropriate behavior (Enron, Fannie Mae, Sarbanes-Oxley, Bernie Madoff, etc) can slow down the economy.  Building more highways or more lanes won’t help if driver behavior is erratic and reckless — or if government rules change the speed limit or number of cars on the road in response to one or more ‘social justice needs.’   Similarly, government stimulus won’t help if it is accompanied by massive changes to laws or other decisions that are haphazard.   Would you travel down a highway not knowing whether all the overpasses were completed?

The President’s analogy is limited and statist.  The highway analogy acknowledges the complexity and scale of the economy, and the influence of human behavior in a relatively free environment.

I think the President should head back to the classroom — either to get a better handle on metaphors and similes, or economics.  The future of our free markets and freedom are at stake.

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