Obama: The Obsolete 'Post Office President'

Story Stream
recent articles

The preposterous irrelevance of President Obama's jobs speech is summed up by the fact that he repeatedly urged Congress to "pass this jobs bill right away"--but there is no bill. By the admission of his own aides, Obama's jobs bill is still being drafted. It won't be submitted until next week, and his plan for how to pay for it won't be submitted until the week after that. (Even then, the plan is mostly to pass the buck to the "super-committee" created by this summer's debt ceiling compromise.) All of this gave his exhortations an air of "buy now!" hucksterism. For a moment there, I wasn't sure whether he was selling us a jobs bill or the Slap Chop. Except that Vince Shlomi is a much better salesman.

Yet there is a much deeper and more profound irrelevance to the president's proposals. They are all based on the premise that the government can come up with a few targeted initiatives and select some worthy projects to fund through a federal "infrastructure bank," and this will somehow press the magic levers that produce economic growth. None of this has any relation to the actual dynamism of a free economy, because Obama does not grasp the source of that dynamism.

We're about to get a really big reminder of how the constant change and progress or a free society overturns the static calculations of government bureaucrats. The US Postal Service is bankrupt. At its current rate, it will have to shut down this winter because it will run out of cash to pay its bills. This has been coming for a long time, and not just because of a bloated union payroll. First-class mail is the core business of the Postal Service, and the Internet has simply made it unnecessary. From everyday communications to bills and bank statements, practically everything can now be done by e-mail or online. Even our junk mail is digital now. So while President Obama is talking about a jobs bill, an obsolete government-run entity is about to lay off hundreds of thousands of superfluous workers.

This is a monument to the folly that politicians and bureaucrats are able to make judgments about the most productive investments in infrastructure and economic growth. They can't make these predictions because no one can. Recently Newsweek posted on its website on old article from its 1995 print issue informing us that this whole "Internet" thing is an overblown fad, because "no online database will replace your daily newspaper" and "the myopic glow of a clunky computer" can't replace "the friendly pages of a book." She'll never fly, Orville.

But even those who got the predictions right didn't get them right. Recently, a series of 1993 commercials for AT&T have been making the rounds on the Internet. The ads predict virtually every part of our current online existence, from e-books to EZ-Pass. But the details are a bit off: the ads predict tablet PCs, but assume they will be used to send faxes. Try not to giggle. And these old ads were sent out by Newsweek on a special CD-ROM edition, back when they were predicting that magazines would someday be delivered by CD-ROM. The most ironic twist is the ad's tagline: "and the company that will bring it to you: AT&T." In fact, these things were brought to us by everybody but AT&T.

AT&T's actual role today is as one of a small number of major data-carriers, who transmit the information for all of those other functions. They have recently tried to improve their position against stronger competitors (such as Verizon, which stole a lot of iPhone traffic away from them) through a merger with T-Mobile. But just as with the Post Office, the federal government is not up to speed with the era of tablet PCs and e-mail and video teleconferencing. They're trying to block the merger to keep AT&T from becoming a big, scary monopoly, as if we were still back in the age of Ma Bell.

These are the same people who, in 2005, blocked a merger between Blockbuster Video and Hollywood Video, because no one should be allowed to dominate the highly profitable business of retail VHS rental stores. This was only six years ago, when Netflix was already starting to destroy Blockbuster's business, leading it to declare bankruptcy this year, long after the company ceased to be a presence in most of our lives. And now Netflix itself is in trouble, as more people are beginning to download movies over their Internet connections, where competition is plentiful and Netflix has no particular market advantage. Such is the frantic cycle of innovation in the private economy.

Some day, a few decades from now, someone will make a movie set in 2009, and one of the visual giveaways will be those little red envelopes arriving--by way of the Postal Service!--with silver discs inside of them. We will all chuckle with the recognition of a time gone by, while 15-year-old kids will snort and roll their eyes and wonder how their elders ever survived in such primitive conditions. Meanwhile, the federal government will still be trying to figure out how to subsidize the Postal Service and keep Netflix from becoming a monopoly.

The pace of commercial and technological innovation is not news. It is a daily reality that we take for granted. But the story underneath it is what politicians like Barack Obama refuse to acknowledge, and it is what makes all of their fake jobs programs and "infrastructure banks" so futile and destructive.

What they refuse to grasp is the root of America's dynamism: the endless creativity of the individual human mind when it is left free to innovate. The government does not need to intervene to get people to come up with new ideas or to encourage entrepreneurs to grow and become successful. It only needs to get out of the way.

When, instead, geniuses like Barack Obama decided they are going to use the power of government to impose their ideas and grow only the kinds of enterprises they favor, the result is not brisk innovation but the dead hand of static ideas. That is the lesson of the government's failed experiment with solar panel maker Solyndra, which President Obama touted last year as the wave of the future, and whose technology was rendered obsolete before they even finished building their gleaming new factory backed by $600 million in federal loan guarantees. And it's not just Solyndra. The whole solar and "alternative" energy sector is crashing. These companies were not profitable and have not become profitable. The moment government subsidies and loan guarantees evaporate, so do they.

So much for Obama's career as a high-tech venture capitalist. Too bad the money he's risking is ours.

The whole "alternative energy" boondoggle is based directly on the failure to anticipate or acknowledge individual thinking and new ideas. The push for alternatives to oil and natural gas was based partly on the premise that we were facing an impending shortage of these resources. But breathless predictions of "peak oil" have been shattered by new techniques of exploration and extraction, such as "fracking," that have opened up vast new reserves.

The other basis for "alternative energy" was the supposed need to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide in order to avoid runaway global warming. But here, too, the federal government has stuck to a theory Al Gore glommed onto in 1988, while ignoring powerful new ideas that have superseded it. In this case, I am speaking of the truly path-breaking theories of Danish physicist Henrik Svensmark. Over the past 15 years, Svensmark has quietly made the whole global warming theory obsolete by developing a new theory about how cosmic rays--fast-moving charged particles from deep space--react with the atmosphere to create the "nucleation sites" that lead to the formation of clouds, cooling the Earth. Svensmark has begun to demonstrate in detail how this effect, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the mileage of your SUV, explains variations in cloud cover and variations in global temperatures.

Svensmark's theory just passed a new milestone, with some of its key claims being demonstrated in a "cloud chamber" experiment at Europe's CERN particle accelerator. This was not reported in the left-leaning media, but is extensively covered by Daily Telegraph blogger James Delingpole and summarized in the Wall Street Journal.

Yet here is Barack Obama, our Post Office President, bitterly clinging to the theories of the past and doubling down his investments in failure, while new ideas and innovations pass him by. Such is the fate of anyone who presumes to place the static judgments of an entrenched bureaucracy over the rational thinking and creative efforts of free minds.


Robert Tracinski is senior writer for The Federalist and editor of The Tracinski Letter.

Show commentsHide Comments

Related Articles