Government Spending Is the Enemy of Progress

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It’s hard to imagine now, but Walt Disney’s idea for the theme park that became Disneyland was widely ridiculed. By his brother, by investors, even by his wife.

Build an amusement park in the farmland of Anaheim, CA? You must be joking!

Understand that the California of the 1950s in few ways resembled the one of today. What’s dense with roads, buildings, houses and people in modern times was largely empty then. Looking back to the 1940s, legendary developer Mark Taper was turned down for loans required to build houses in southern California. The view from lenders was that after World War II, a decline in government spending would drive an exodus from the Golden State.

Which is why entrepreneurs are so crucial. They see what others don’t see. Arguably the best definition of an entrepreneur is someone who believes deeply in something that’s almost uniformly ridiculed by others. Entrepreneurs, along with the intrepid financiers who make their speculation possible, bring the future into the present.

Eventually Disney was proved right about customer demand for amusement parks. Taper’s optimism about California was similarly vindicated.

That both were speaks to the problem of government spending. It’s intensely conservative in the non-ideological sense. Governments aren’t just hamstrung by a lack of market signals when they allocate precious resources in politicized fashion. They’re also held back by the known; as in they must direct the wealth of others to the known. They generally can’t fund the unknown simply because most attempts at finding it lead to stupendous failure.

Silicon Valley is instructive in this regard, and speaks to why government can’t be an investor. Nearly every business tried out there fails. Which is the point. Entrepreneurs by their very name are taking us in an entirely new direction; that, or they’re rejecting the conventional wisdom of the moment. Governments can’t back innovators like this given the simple truth that in the rearview mirror, bad ideas look especially bad.

All of which brings us to Michael Crawford. A former Walt Disney Co. executive, Crawford sees a future beyond the paranoid present we’re in the midst of. Crawford’s future is happily bereft of masks, of people going out of their way to remain “6 FEET APART,” of people avoiding crowds on the ludicrous supposition that the very humans whose innovations have relentlessly elevated living standards, and whose discoveries have elongated life, are presently a lethal threat to other humans. All just for living, breathing, and for enjoying life.

Crawford happily sees a world beyond coronavirus hysteria where people are told not to high five, hug, or even eat near one another. Thank goodness for people like him. Through their speculations, entrepreneurs create information without which there’s no progress.

In Crawford’s case, he’s building what he describes as “the Disneyland of football.” According to a Wall Street Journal account of the development in Canton, OH, the resort Crawford’s developing will not just include a football stadium with seats from which – gasp – football fans tightly packed in will cheer from. It will also include “a football-themed water park, hotels, retail space, a research building and, ultimately, apartments.”

But wait, some will say. “Everything changed” with the arrival of the new coronavirus. Despite a death rate that is thankfully microscopic, and a hospitalization rate that is almost as microscopic, some presume that big crowds are a yesterday thing. As for water parks that the terrified couldn’t obsessively clean with every splash of every happy human, come on! Those days are gone. The future is separation of humans. Increasingly speedy internet will enable this future built by plexiglass.

Crawford disagrees. History and logic support his disagreement. Some readers doubtless remember the trite assertions about the “death of distance” that revealed their corny selves during the days of slower, frequently dial-up internet. Except that the opposite happened. The internet’s rise coincided with even greater concentration of people in cities.

In a business sense, corporations never lost sight of the fact that financial success frequently correlates with brilliant corporate cultures. As opposed to the internet enabling the spreading of genius, it clustered.

More broadly, people enjoy being around other people. They like interaction. They like patronizing the kinds of businesses that can only form in places defined by human density.

In terms of sports, it’s surely true that the quality of televisions increasingly enables an amazing viewing experience at home. But TV most certainly cannot recreate the excitement of being in a crowd. Of the bands, of the cheering, of the thrill of looking to your left and right at other fans; some of them cheering what you’re cheering.

While we don’t have inside knowledge of how Crawford sees the future, we sense that he’s betting on an optimistic one. We sense that he understands the human condition much better than do the alarmists in our midst who can only see a dystopian present and future made by humans literally avoiding other humans with masks, gloves and disinfectant nearby.

What’s great is that Crawford is putting copious amounts of money behind his vision. This is what entrepreneurs do. We’re lucky to have people like him who have the courage to take people where they’re not sure they want to go.

Will Crawford be right? There’s no way of knowing. It’s a reminder of why we need more entrepreneurs, and less government spending. Since the future is opaque, we need more of the former and less of the latter so that we can find out what the future holds.  

Adam Brandon is President of FreedomWorks where John Tamny is Vice President. 

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