The State of the Union’s Fatal Conceit

A “speech from the throne.” That’s how Thomas Jefferson viewed public delivery of the annual speech. Starting with Jefferson’s presidency, and ending in 1913, a clerk read the president’s message to Congress.

How times have changed. Now the president reads the address, but others write it. Nor is the address to Congress. It’s an infomercial for the president and his party targeting the electorate. President Barack Obama said “we can’t wage a perpetual campaign.” Yet he just had to mention that he reads letters from children “each night.”

Mentioning “the children” has become typical of presidential addresses, as have other themes. As Ted DeHaven’s blog post titled “Bush’s Third Term” shows, Obama’s statements on jobs, energy, housing, and other topics sound so similar to Bush’s, you might think they have the same speechwriters.

Typical of modern State of the Union addresses, Obama’s made grand promises including special-interest tax breaks, tax “credits” for those who pay no income taxes, new government programs, and more government fixes to problems made worse by previous fixes.

To deliver the change he promised, the president should have shown Congress a rap video: “Fear the Boom and Bust” by EconStories.tv. With insight, wit, and rhyme, Friedrich Hayek explains how Keynesian fiscal policy fuels economic booms and busts. “It’s legit, it’s really good rapping,” Ke$ha told NPR.

Congressmen would see in themselves what Nobel Laureate Hayek calls the “fatal conceit.” Says Hayek: “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”

The Daily Camera (Boulder) published this article on January 30, 2010.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “The State of the Union’s Fatal Conceit

  1. nub

    Really, Brian? Really? Of the many things you could criticize Obama for – civil liberties and detainee policy being number one on my list – this is what you choose? Going after him for not following a custom that hasn’t been in place for a century?

    I fear your continued associations with the right-wing fever swamp are beginning to undermine your objectivity.

    Bonus snark: gee, I can’t wait until Republicans take back Congress and the White House and we can go back to the utopian free market paradise of 2000-2008.

  2. nub

    Really, Brian? Really? Of the many things you could criticize Obama for – civil liberties and detainee policy being number one on my list – this is what you choose? Going after him for not following a custom that hasn’t been in place for a century?

    I fear your continued associations with the right-wing fever swamp are beginning to undermine your objectivity.

    Bonus snark: gee, I can’t wait until Republicans take back Congress and the White House and we can go back to the utopian free market paradise of 2000-2008.

  3. nub

    Something else from Hayek, for what it’s worth:

    ” Nor is there any reason why the state should not assist the individuals in providing for those common hazards of life against which, because of their uncertainty, few individuals can make adequate provision.

    Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the efforts to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of assistance – where, in short, we deal with genuinely insurable risks – the case for the state’s helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong… Wherever communal action can mitigate disasters against which the individual can neither attempt to guard himself nor make the provision for the consequences, such communal action should undoubtedly be taken,” – The Road To Serfdom (Chapter 9).

  4. nub

    Something else from Hayek, for what it’s worth:

    ” Nor is there any reason why the state should not assist the individuals in providing for those common hazards of life against which, because of their uncertainty, few individuals can make adequate provision.

    Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the efforts to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of assistance – where, in short, we deal with genuinely insurable risks – the case for the state’s helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong… Wherever communal action can mitigate disasters against which the individual can neither attempt to guard himself nor make the provision for the consequences, such communal action should undoubtedly be taken,” – The Road To Serfdom (Chapter 9).

  5. Ben,

    This piece was for the Boulder Daily Camera, where the question was what you thought of the SOTU address. It was not about Obama’s first year as president.

    I think I was criticizing all modern presidents with how the SOTU speech has changed. I wrote that the State of the Union speech is “an infomercial for the president and his party targeting the electorate” and that “mentioning “the children” has become typical of presidential addresses, as have other themes.”

    I did not say it’s an infomercial for Obama and the Democrats. I kept it general. But it happens that a D is president now, not an R.

    I did not “go after” Obama for this. It’s an observation of a trend I do not like.

    I also wrote that Obama sounded like Bush. This was not praise. And who started the “stimulus” I criticized? Bush was president then.

    What do you mean by “continued associations with the right-wing fever”?

    And I don’t get the “snark” about Republicans. Criticizing a politician of one major party does not mean one is a fan of the other major party. (Not to mention that I did not put Bush’s policies in a good light here, either.) I just don’t get the snark.

    Re. Hayek: If I agree with something an economist says, does this mean I am committed to agreeing with all of his policy positions? If so, why?

    Why not talk about the ideas and policies, rather than the people or parties that espouse them? Or do we have to be on somebody’s “team” all the time?

    Anyway, I see your point in a rhetorical way. The “even Hayek supports the welfare state” argument.

    Here’s an article about friction in the libertarian movement about the issue:
    http://reason.com/archives/2009/12/18/a-tale-of-two-libertarianisms

  6. Ben,

    This piece was for the Boulder Daily Camera, where the question was what you thought of the SOTU address. It was not about Obama’s first year as president.

    I think I was criticizing all modern presidents with how the SOTU speech has changed. I wrote that the State of the Union speech is “an infomercial for the president and his party targeting the electorate” and that “mentioning “the children” has become typical of presidential addresses, as have other themes.”

    I did not say it’s an infomercial for Obama and the Democrats. I kept it general. But it happens that a D is president now, not an R.

    I did not “go after” Obama for this. It’s an observation of a trend I do not like.

    I also wrote that Obama sounded like Bush. This was not praise. And who started the “stimulus” I criticized? Bush was president then.

    What do you mean by “continued associations with the right-wing fever”?

    And I don’t get the “snark” about Republicans. Criticizing a politician of one major party does not mean one is a fan of the other major party. (Not to mention that I did not put Bush’s policies in a good light here, either.) I just don’t get the snark.

    Re. Hayek: If I agree with something an economist says, does this mean I am committed to agreeing with all of his policy positions? If so, why?

    Why not talk about the ideas and policies, rather than the people or parties that espouse them? Or do we have to be on somebody’s “team” all the time?

    Anyway, I see your point in a rhetorical way. The “even Hayek supports the welfare state” argument.

    Here’s an article about friction in the libertarian movement about the issue:
    http://reason.com/archives/2009/12/18/a-tale-of-two-libertarianisms

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