Barack Obama

Obama: The Free Enterprise President?

He thinks he is, but he's not.


Perhaps the most intriguing moment of the second presidential debate came late in the contest when a rock-ribbed undecided voter asked both candidates, "What do you believe is the biggest misperception that the American people have about you as a man and a candidate?" And really, this is the sort of compelling inquiry that makes these contrived town hall-style debates so worthwhile.

President Barack Obama began his answer with a strong statement: "I believe that the free enterprise system is the greatest engine of prosperity the world's ever known." I have no doubt that Obama believes he believes in free enterprise—except in the case of health care policy, the auto industry, the housing market, education, banking, job creation, manufacturing, green energy and so on and so forth.

Basically, the genius of free enterprise must never be applied to anything that's too important in our lives. When it is, naturally, it must be applied "fairly."

But it's fair to say that undecideds—as is their nature—may have been confused. After all, someone who deems the free enterprise system the greatest engine of prosperity ever in the galaxy typically wouldn't spend four years arguing that job creation springs from government spending. And granted, not many true believers of capitalism—our president excluded—denigrate profit motives and wealth with such elan.

If you believed the free enterprise system is the mechanism of great prosperity, your crowning achievement might not be legislation that constricts competition in health care, layers it generously with regulations, institutes effective price controls, coerces participation and sets up a government board to mete out advice on rationing.

Put it this way: Folks who admire free enterprise seldom spend two months bashing private equity to kick off a re-election campaign for president.

Those who believe that free enterprise is the gold standard of economic policy may even support allowing our failing education system to participate so that parents and kids can enjoy some choice and competition. A free market enthusiast might not nationalize all student loans.

One suspects that a real fan of free enterprise wouldn't refer to a little competition in Medicare as "radical," and he probably wouldn't consider a plan that allows Americans a small choice of how to invest their Social Security dollars (a choice that might bring them back more than that 1 percent return on the dollar) extreme.

Folks who believe that the free enterprise system is tops might argue that poorly run, out-of-touch companies should fail so other, healthier companies can move in and create self-sustaining jobs. They would also probably avoid scaremongering about "outsourcing," because doing so often helps create better-paying and more productive jobs here in America. (Though, in fairness, the president's certainly not alone on this one.)

If you trust that the free enterprise system is the greatest engine of prosperity, you understand that one person's wealth and success don't deprive anyone of his own.

Merriam-Webster defines "free enterprise" as "freedom of private business to organize and operate for profit in a competitive system without interference by government beyond regulation necessary to protect public interest and keep the national economy in balance." If Obama believes that he's instituted and supported economic policy that comports with that description, he's more confused than the average town hall participant.

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    1. he said Free-dumb

    2. Oh, once again we misunderstand the most articulate orator of our times.

      I did “say” it was an “act of terror!”

      According to Thinkprogress Romney made 31 myths.…..1-minutes/

      1. On that list it says fuel efficiency standards regulation is moving us towards energy independence.

        You can put a noose around my neck and move me towards “oxygen independence” too.

        Typical TP nonsense.

      2. A is B

    3. These are carefully chosen words:

      “I believe that the free enterprise system is the greatest engine of prosperity the world’s ever known.”

      Big deal, Marxists think the same thing.

  1. Yeah, I think he also said those mean free enterprise advocates want people to “fend for themselves”


    1. Real freedom should be dolled out by a central authority, like bread in a bread line. Oh, sorry, you folks need to go home. All out of freedom today.

      1. You’re not free until you’re free from wondering where your next freedom’s coming from.

        1. I joined the Party, so I get ten freedom credits month.

          1. So the ampersands are no longer enough to satiate the squirrels’ deamonic hunger.

            1. Or my fingers don’t work.

    2. And if your don’t chip in your buck-oh-five tens-of-thousands yearly, who will?

  3. I’ve heard that Obama is a fan of Star Trek (the Urkobold says its because Jeri Ryan made him president), so maybe he means Free Enterprise, the movie.

    1. Damn, I was going to say that. Also, because humans in the Star Trek universe are socialist, and he wants to move towards that.

      1. I used to love that show. Before all the bullshit politics they espouse became just too much to ignore.

        Odo: “Station regulations dictate that you need a license to fundraise on the promenade.”

        JESUS CHRIST, WHY!??!??!

        1. *those shows

        2. That is one thing that bugs me about Star Trek, especially TOS and TNG: we’re supposed to believe that in the future everyone will be all happy and live in gum drop houses on lollipop lane and “work to better ourselves” or some such hippy dippy non-sense just because mankind figured out warp drive and replicator technology? Sorry, but I don’t buy it. People won’t stop being the flawed creatures we’ve always been just because of a couple of cool paradigm changing inventions and First Contact with the Vulcans.

          Look under the carpets of any utopia and you’ll inevitably find an authoritarian distopia. They got into that a little bit towards the end of DS9 and in Voyager I guess, but still.

          1. Well, to be fair, the series is conducted on a military vessel.

          2. At least TOS didn’t try to explain how mankind improved and really seemed a little more on the post-scarcity model than the imposed socialism one. Which TNG definitely did.

            1. That’s a fair cop. TOS was more about the weekly adventures of Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise galavanting around the galaxy. They didn’t really get much into the politics of the Federation of Planets or the marxist “new man” type bullshit as much as TNG did.

              1. And they referenced money and rich people on multiple occasions. Flint, the guy who was da Vinci et al., owned a planet.

          3. DS9 (at the beginning of the Maquis stories) did have Sisko go on a rant about how the problem was Earth, how on Earth there was no war, no hunger, no poverty, etc.

          4. Actually the sociological changes they postulate are not only likely but highly probable in a world that has developed warp drives, nearly unlimited energy generators, and replicators because in such a world the concept of scarcity is effectively eliminated. Everyone can have the exact same stuff if they wanted it and for those who feel stiffled by the groupthink that has evolved on earth there is always the option of emmigrating to another world and building a society from the ground up.

            1. But I’ve always wondered about property in that world. Picard did visit his family owned (for generations I believe) winery which his brother still ran. How would that work exactly? That episode implied a fixed social order in which the families who owned property before the end of scarcity became entitled to their ownership into infinity. Yet I remember his brother discussing how times were hard due to competion which crashed that supposition. Just a poorly thought out mess.

              1. There’d still have to be some type of property rights. While you’ve eliminated a lot of scarcity, you’d still have to deal with the fact that individuals are themselves scarce. There can be only one me. From that insight, we’d still have all the rights that attach to a person as a result of them owning themselves. Also, time remains a scarce resource.

                But other property rights wouldn’t really matter all that much. Without scarcity in various areas, issues like the socialist calculation problem disappear. I find it kind of insightful on ST’s part that they realized that the only way to make such a society work is if scarcity of goods disappears. Seems like a pretty effective critique of socialism.

                1. Also note that whenever they did trade, they used commodity-backed money (gold pressed latinum).

  4. Somewhat OT:

    What do you folks think about the idea that Obama’s fixation on “inheriting” a bad economy, two wars, etc., may have something to do with a deep resentment of another less-than-stellar “inheritance” from his absent father?

    1. The Man has Issues.

    2. I hate when he says that. He applied for the fucking job; he didn’t inherit anything.

      What other job would this kind of excuse making fly 4 years into your role?

      1. Yes. Imagine working for a company where the new CEO spends 3 years complaining how bad the previous management was.

        Then imagine you’re a shareholder.

  5. one person’s wealth and success don’t deprive anyone of his own.

    *** the sound of a thousand progressives laughing their asses off ***

    1. Look, if you have 5 apples, and I take one of them, you now have 4 apples. Do you see what I’m saying?

      1. You’re saying that I only need 4 apples to survive, and that I should thank your glorious wisdom for making me realize that, right?

      2. i dont see what your saying

  6. I think one of us misunderstood the question and answer.

    Q: “What is the biggest misperception people have about you?”
    A: “That I support free enterprise.”

    My question: “Can you name one person laboring under the misperception that you support free enterprise?”

    1. Nice.

  7. Just as we need a defense budget larger than the rest of the world combined in order to impose our version of freedom upon the world, we need Sarbanes Oxley and Dodd Frank and Glass Steagall and Smoot Hawley and the NLRB and a ten thousand page definition of what is or is not “profit” to preserve our version of free enterprise!

    1. Wait I thought Boooooooosh deregulated the banking industry??? Sarbanes Oxley didn’t happen you racist vagina hating homophobic children hating 1 percenter!

  8. “What do you believe is the biggest misperception that the American people have about you as a man and a candidate?”

    “That I’m not a complete scumbag who they shouldn’t let near their children (directly, or vicariously through the Dept of Ed) much less be given control of the deadliest set of armed forces on the planet. Does that answer your question?”

  9. And coming from the same mouth:

    “Romney doesn’t have a five-point plan. He has a one-point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules. That’s been his philosophy in the private sector, that’s been his philosophy as governor, that’s been his philosophy as a presidential candidate.

    You can make a lot of money and pay lower tax rates than somebody who makes a lot less. You can ship jobs overseas and get tax breaks for it. You can invest in a company, bankrupt it, lay off the workers, strip away their pensions, and you still make money.

    That’s exactly the philosophy that we’ve seen in place for the last decade. That’s what’s been squeezing middle class families.”

    1. Obama thinks EVERYONE should play by a different set of rules.

      One set of rules for green energy companies. A different set for fossil fuels.

      One set of rules for unions. A different set for corporations.

      One set of rules for poor people. A different set of rules for rich people.

      One set of rules for private sector pension funds. A different set of rules for public sector pension funds.

      This whole “everyone plays by the same rules” line on his part is the giantest of the giant lies his campaign is based on.

      1. This is what democracy looks like.

      2. Ah, but HazelMeade, you misunderstand Mr. Obama,

        Fossil fuels shouldn’t be available. So, no different set of rules.

        Everyone should be mandatorily a union member and corporations should be dominated by the unions. So, no different set of rules.

        No one should be rich. Everyone should be poor. So, no different set of rules.

        There shouldn’t be private pensions. Only public sector pensions. So, no different set of rules.

        1. “No one should be rich. Everyone should be poor. So, no different set of rules.”

          So Obama thinks he should be poor? Or is it a suicide pact – you first kind of thing.

        2. If there were no rich people, whom would you tax at 45% and blame for all the problems?

          They need rich people. And in fairness, they are creating them all the time. But these rich people got that way through special favors from lawmakers.

  10. Of course, if you consider that “prosperity” doesn’t appear to be one of his goals for the country, there really isn’t any conflict between his actions and his statement. Remember…it’s hope and fairness we’re after here…

  11. Odo: “Station regulations dictate that you need a license to fundraise on the promenade.”


    *takes wallet from comatose Odo’s pocket*

    1. Given his…unique nature…did Odo even have pockets?

      I’d be very leery of touching anything he tried to give me that he claimed he had carried with him.

      1. Anything on him could be anything. I wouldn’t even shake hands with him.

        1. Yes but I imagine that his ability to manipulate the size and shape of any of his appendages would have made him very popular with the ladies.

  12. The free enterprise system is awesome except for the fact that it doesn’t give everyone everything they need. That’s what governmnet is for.

    1. It’s frightening how easily I can see a lot of people I know saying that with a straight face, and meaning every word of it.

  13. Merriam-Webster defines “free enterprise” as “freedom of private business to organize and operate for profit in a competitive system without interference by government beyond regulation necessary to protect public interest and keep the national economy in balance.”

    Fuck, even the dictionary can’t get it right.

    1. Here’s a better one from “an economic and political doctrine holding that a capitalist economy can regulate itself in a freely competitive market through the relationship of supply and demand with a minimum of governmental intervention and regulation.”

      1. That’s better, but it’s still vague enough that any amount of regulation can be justified under that definition.

        1. At least it said “minimum.” Yours is flat-out wrong. Free enterprise is the opposite of government “balancing.”

          1. Yeah, but minimum is still very subjective. Many people still think we’re not doing enough to regulate the financial sector, or the flow of drugs into the country, or whatever, ad infintum.

            To them, we’ve yet to even reach the “minimum”.

            1. No, I don’t disagree. Instead of “a minimum of”, it should’ve said “no fucking.”

              1. Well, what about the regulation of fraud or coercion?

                1. That’s what the legal system is for. Fraud is a criminal act, and should be prosecuted as such. All of the regulations in the world STILL won’t prevent fraud, but it sure as hell will make it harder on the rest of us.

                  1. The problem is that you often need regulation to define what fraud is in the first place.

                    Is it fraudlent to sell someone a car you know has a major leak in the break lines and not tell them? How about one which you know needs the drivers seat heater replaced? How much information must be disclosed before a sale crosses the line into fraud? That is where you get into regulation.

    2. Yeah, that kind of stuck out at me too. Since was “beyond regulation necessary to protect public interest and keep the national economy in balance.” part of the definition? The whole problem with that last part is that what one person considers “regulation necessary to protect public interest and keep the national economy in balance.” may be completely different from another person’s. Not to mention leaving a whole big enough to drive a Sar-Ox Act, or a Dodd-Frank Act, or an Obamacare, or … through.

      I agree more with the one, although it still allows for a little weasel room with the whole “minimum of governmental intervention and regulation.” Define minimum.

      1. No way there wasn’t a total socialist or even Marxist doing that one. It’s like defining “libertarian” as someone who likes freedom but thinks all freedoms come from the state. They’ve gutted the entire meaning of the term.

    3. Exactly. I was going to say that too. What the hell kind of definition of free enterprise has “keeping the national economy in balance” in it?

  14. “President Barack Obama began his answer with a strong statement: ‘I believe that the free enterprise system is the greatest engine of prosperity the world’s ever known.'”

    Of course, Marx believed capitalism was the greatest system ever for creating wealth. But once capitalism had created wealth, socialism was required to distribute it fairly.

    Not saying that Obama is a socialist. But believing that something is the best doesn’t mean you don’t want to tamper with it.

    1. believing that something is the best doesn’t mean you don’t want to tamper with it.

      If it ain’t broke, it doesn’t have enough features yet. Punishing success and “re-distributing wealth” from “the rich” to “the poor” are features not bugs.

    2. “Not saying that Obama is a socialist.”

      You know, I get tired of hearing that claim. A lot of American liberals can properly be identified as social democrats. Social democrats are a variety of socialist. It doesn’t mean they’re communists. It doesn’t mean they want to pack their opponents off to the gulag. But, yes, they are socialists.

      1. He flat out calls for wealth redistribution. What is that, capitalism?

        1. He nationalized an entire industry…

          In the Wealth of Nations, he contrasted the “masters of mankind” with the more socially beneficially:

          In a country which has neither foreign commerce, nor any of the finer manufactures, a great proprietor, having nothing for which he can exchange the greater part of the produce of his lands which is over and above the maintenance of the cultivators, consumes the whole in rustic hospitality at home. If this surplus produce is sufficient to maintain a hundred or a thousand men, he can make use of it in no other way than by maintaining a hundred or a thousand men.

          Posted by Steve J. at 1:53 PM

      2. Yes but Obama is not one of them, at least not in the way he has actually ruled. His policies have been much closer to corporatism than socialism.

  15. If I had been taking a sip of water when Obama made that statement, it would have gone flying through the air. If he truly believed in the power of free enterprise, his message of economic patriotism would be to encourage the wealthy to invest in small businesses rather than defining such patriotism as paying more in taxes. Maybe he believes the wealthy are too stupid on how to directly apply economic patriotism. And he may be right given that Eva Longoria put her hand up at the Democratic convention and basically declared that she was too stupid to know what to do with her excess income.

  16. This is what free enterprise looks like to Obama:

    “Satcon Technology Corp. announced the decision in a Wednesday news release. ‘This has been a difficult time for Satcon,’ president and CEO Steve Rhoades said. ‘After careful consideration of available alternatives, the Company’s Board of Directors determined that the Chapter 11 filings were a necessary and prudent step, allowing the Company to continue to operate while giving us the opportunity to reorganize with a stronger balance sheet and capital structure.’
    Satcon received a $3 million DOE grant in January to develop ‘a compact, lightweight power conversion device that is capable of taking utility-scale solar power and outputting it directly into the electric utility grid at distribution voltage levels?eliminating the need for large transformers.'”

  17. He said so many ridiculous things that I was brain dead by the time he said this whopper, so I barely remember it.
    Cognitive dissonance much?

  18. Obama likes saying words that people want to hear. So how is it a contradiction for him to say that he likes free enterprise?

  19. “I believe that children are the future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside.”
    -Jerry Sandusky

  20. “I believe that the free enterprise system is the greatest engine of prosperity the world’s ever known.”

    That’s really not surprising, as it is a standard Marxist line. The relevant question at that point is whether that system should be “supplemented” with “private public partnerships” to “curb the excesses” of capitalism.

    There are few leftists who are actually for government ownership of operation of the means of production. Now they just want to control and confiscate, not realizing that this kills the goose that lays the golden eggs they want to confiscate.

  21. Everything Obama says or has said is a lie.

    Really the only explanation for him is not stupidity or ignorance, but some version of the “2016” hypothesis that he intends to destroy the country, or at least make it a debt ridden, impotent, impoverished equal to Cuba, Kenya, Iran etc.

    I expect his second term to be a much more rapid descent into poverty and statism.

  22. Wow! 76 comments and not a single one has called Harsanyi a hack or anything else. This must be a record!

  23. Need to vent and I have this site up so….

    So my roommate just comes home from his union job (yes at 3:30) and starts talking about a documentary on PBS he saw about Romney and Obama and that only an idiot wouldn’t vote for Obama. You see, Obama cares about the working man while Romney is out of touch, and Romney will deregulate “everything” like Bush, and Obama is needed to run the economy cause Romney is a capitalist pig, etc.

    Now my unemployed ass got turned down for a job yet again today and I was not in the mood and we nearly came to blows before I ran to my room to type this lol…

    Anyway thanks for listening.

  24. People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.
    The Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter X

    Like their defense of the American health care system, wingers think the current version of capitalism is the best in the world. Both are terribly mistaken and a little historical knowledge would set them straight. We’ve had real panics since the middle of the 19th Century, beginning with the Panic of 1857, which was followed by a more serious panic in 1873. Via Atrios, I learn that Larry Summers has pointed out the increasing frequency of panics, large and small:

    The Latin American debt crisis
    The 1987 stock market crash
    The savings and loan debacle
    The Mexican financial crisis
    The Asian financial crisis
    The collapse of LTCM
    The bursting of the dot-com bubble
    And now the financial crisis that began in 2007.
    One crisis every three years.

    We need a serious overhaul of the entire financial system unless we want to become impoverished.

    David Hume and Adam Smith were good friends in addition to being two of the greatest Enlightenment thinkers. Like Smith, Hume was also aware of the problems that the concentration of wealth can lead to:

    A too great disproportion among the citizens weakens any state. Every person, if possible, ought to enjoy the fruits of his labour, in a full possession of all the necessaries, and many of the conveniencies of life. No one can doubt, but such an equality is most suitable to human nature, and diminishes much less from the happiness of the rich than it adds to that of the poor. It also augments the power of the state, and makes any extraordinary taxes or impositions be paid with more chearfulness. Where the riches are engrossed by a few, these must contribute very largely to the supplying of the public necessities. But when the riches are dispersed among multitudes, the burthen feels light on every shoulder, and the taxes make not a very sensible difference on any one’s way of living.

    Add to this, that, where the riches are in few hands, these must enjoy all the power, and will readily conspire to lay the whole burthen on the poor, and oppress them still farther, to the discouragement of all industry.


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