Daniel Defoe's Response to Obama: Robinson Crusoe
Obama’s recent comment that business
owners “didn’t build that; someone helped them,” while an outrageous insult to
business owners, was such a jaw dropping confession of what he really believes
that I am grateful he said it. It has been great to see the enormous response
from Americans, who have said: No, it is not the government that helped people;
many, many people have made astounding contributions that were 100% the product
of their ability and skill.
More, his statement—and the reaction—has
highlighted an important, if not the most important, political and economic
point: wealth creation is the product of private individuals. I
emphasize “individual.” Individual people come up with an idea, then grow it
into a full-fledged usable product that can be consumed by many. Thomas Edison
– started what is now GE. Alexander Graham Bell – started what is now AT&T.
Steve Jobs – started Apple. It is the contributions from men like these that
Western civilization is so great. It is not natural resources, cheap government
loans, or—absurd as it sounds, but it has been argued—government welfare that
drives progress or economic prosperity. It is human talent.
Daniel Defoe gave his response to Obama,
or rather the Obama’s of his time, when he wrote his classic, Robinson
Crusoe. One of the central points of Robinson Crusoe is economic
individualism. Perhaps as a response to the collectivists like Obama of his
time, Defoe created a book about a hero who, shipwrecked, finds himself on a
deserted island. Throughout the story, Robinson supplies for the needs of his
life. The progression he takes is the same as that of a civilization. At first,
he uses the guns from the ship to hunt birds and goats. Then, finding fruit
growing on the island, he starts to gather and dry fruit. When his gunpowder
runs out, he tames the goats and breeds them for milk and food, i.e. farms. All
the while, he builds himself shelter, learns carpentry, makes clothes, etc. I
enjoyed the part when he was happy he could finally eat stew, as he had a pot,
instead of just grilled meat!
Defoe’s Crusoe makes a point abundantly
clear: The wealth creator on that island is HIM. Yes, he DID do it on his
own—no one helped him, not even to build him a road! At first, Crusoe hauls supplies
from the ship to the island on a canoe, representing how most trade took place,
which was by water.
When Crusoe is first shipwrecked and is
gathering supplies from the boat, he finds gold but lets it drop to the bottom
of the ocean. This is an important point. Indeed, on the island, gold is of no
value. It should be a lesson to mercantilists, who believe in hoarding gold. It
is also a lesson that, while economists largely follow prices, interest rates,
and other financial metrics, economics is first about human skill.
My guess is, while at Harvard, Obama did
not read Robinson Crusoe. That would have got in the way of the lectures on how
society is unfair, the American dream is not possible for minorities and women,
and how human nature is depraved.
Obama is running political ads right
now, taking credit (irony!) for allegedly turning the economy around. Not
proving or showing that he did but lecturing that he did. That economic
measurements show any improvement from 4 years ago is laughable. Can Obama
create a good economy? Imagine if Obama ran a company.
Instead of embracing his top talent, he sneered at them, “You think you are
just so smart, don't you?” Motivational, right? Now project this to
his policies as President. Except, he is not a CEO, who must attract talent or
suffer in business, but the President, who has the power of force. His
statement very much reveals how he will treat the wealth producers in this
I wouldn’t want Obama as my boss let
alone my President. Obama bared his teeth and showed America what he really stands
for. And if he wins again in November, a very clear message will be sent about
how Americans desire the direction of the country to go.
July 18, 2012