Survival of the Fittest and Other Barackian Myths

As the current president of the United States tells it, his Republican adversaries are launched on a crusade to revive the dog-eat-dog economic philosophy known to our great grandparents as “social Darwinism.” Horrors! Loosen dependence on government and there’s no restraining the ferocity of the marketplace — “nature red in tooth and claw,” survival of the fittest, cutthroat capitalism, the only kind of capitalism Barack Obama seems ever to have heard of.

The dynamics of free choice in the marketplace don’t much engage the interest of a president with few, if any, contemporary rivals as to aptitude for ham-fisted political intervention.

Barack Obama all too plainly doesn’t understand the free marketplace and its complex workings. Does anyone? Not completely. The point here, actually, is that Obama wishes to make those workings seem sinister and selfish.

As I was musing on these matters, I read The Wall Street Journal’s account of Facebook Inc.’s $1 billion acquisition of 16-month-old Instagram, a photo-sharing app. Aha. Here was the point Obama seems routinely to misunderstand or slough off.

Now I’d never heard of Instagram before today. Had its two founders, graduates of my own school, Stanford, mailed me a solicitation, in December 2010, for $10 in underwriting capital, I might have complied. Equally, I might have written them suggesting psychiatric counsel.

The Journal calls Instagram “the go-to photo app for tech-savvy 20- and 30-somethings.” Not in my job description. “A fun and quirky way,” the newspaper elaborates “to share photos with friends. A user can snap a photo with an iPhone, then choose a filter to transform the look of the shot, with the app originally known for a look akin to old photographs.”

My temptation to a cavernous yawn isn’t shared, I gather, by Instagram’s 30 million registered users. The users asked neither me nor the federal government to calculate the social value of such a product. A $1 billion profit for the founders in just 16 months — the Department of Health and Human Services could have done better? How?

Obama’s motive in ridiculing capitalism and by implication, its defenders, isn’t, of course, analytical. It’s political at the lowest level. The notion is, transparently, to excite alarm, then indignation, then a vote in November for one Barack H. Obama.

Uncompromising commitment to truth isn’t the trait for which a Nobel committee will one day honor a president anointed already for his commitment to world peace. Obama — again the word “transparently” comes to mind — slings mud around the campaign trail, hoping some of it will stick until the voting gets done in November. The pretense that Republicans desire or have the power to institute the Law of the Jungle is rubbish of the most aromatic kind.

Obama’s riff on social Darwinism underscores the point that, in this our hour of economic need, the United States is led by, take your pick 1) an economic dunce; 2) a cynic capable of saying anything he hopes will help his cause; or 3) a self-regarding politician representing both traits. Whatever the case, Obama shows no signs of understanding how markets work.

America may need Instagram, and like instances of economic imagination, or it may not need them for a single minute. The matter is one for the marketplace to sort out, without direction from above. Incentives for dreamers to dream and consumers to choose aren’t exactly the stuff of the Barackian vision. That could be because freedom for others to make up their own minds entails less power for the White House to deploy, less scope for chest-thumping, fewer opportunities to go around the country scouting for money and votes.

Lord knows the Republicans, with their own love of giveaways and favors to business, have some heavy explaining to do in front of Milton Friedman and Adam Smith, come the great day of political judgment. These days, nonetheless, it takes a slew of big government Republicans to equal one particular Democratic chief executive of colossal ego and virtually matchless gift for reckless rhetoric.

William Murchison, author and commentator, writes from Dallas. To find out more about William Murchison, and to see features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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  • Joe DeVet

    Matchless gift for reckless rhetoric–I would say pathological liar.  The truth is not in him.

    Of the three choices (approx middle point of article) for describing who is making these specious accusations, I would choose #4: all of the above: dunce, cynic, egotist.

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