Obama’s “Butterfly Effect” Economics
“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help….Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” – President Barack Obama
During a recent speech in Roanoke, President Obama outlined, in stark, unmistakable terms, the economic theory by which he believes that Americans who have become successful owe everyone else for their success. The gist of the argument is, no matter what you’ve done, no matter what you’ve built, it isn’t yours. It belongs to the people whose tax money paid for a road on which you might have driven on your way to market your brilliant idea. It belongs to the people who paid for a bridge that you might have crossed when going to a store to get materials to help grow your business. It belongs to us, not you…the caveat being, of course, that the federal government will collect what you owe “us,” to be spent as the feds see fit.
Obama’s theory is a fascinating riff on the “Butterfly Effect,” the theory that states that something as seemingly insignificant as a butterfly flapping its wings can lead to a mighty hurricane weeks later. This is Obama’s economic theory – “Butterfly Effect” economics (or “Butterflomics,” as I prefer to call it). Just as a tiny butterfly’s wing-flaps might set in motion the chain of events that lead to a hurricane, so might the paving of a federally-funded road one day lead to the creation of Microsoft.
Of course, after a hurricane, it’s impossible to back-trace the winds to the little butterfly that may have started it all. Similarly, one can’t really back-trace the success of a man like Steve Jobs to whatever federally-maintained roads he might have taken while coming up with his brilliant ideas. So, since the “true builders” of a business like Apple cannot be known, we can all take credit! If the true builders could have been any of us, we might as well act like it’s all of us.
It’s “Butterfly Effect” with a little Schrodinger’s Cat thrown in for good measure. We can’t find out which ones of “us” are the true builders, so we just have to assume we all are.
Butterflomics is the inevitable outcome of the “everybody gets a trophy just for showing up” generation, a generation represented ably by Obama. We ALL built Apple! We ALL built Microsoft! We ALL built Mattel, and Starbucks, and Southwest Airlines!
By Obama’s logic, a guy like me, who has never played a musical instrument in his life – can take credit for the music of Willie Nelson, whose tour bus uses the interstate highways. I’m also entitled to lay a claim on Denzel Washington’s Oscar, for surely he drove over a taxpayer-funded bridge at some point in his career. And the Teamsters? I built THEM, too, for surely who uses the interstates more than they do?
Butterflomics appeals to the losers and failures and layabouts of today’s youth. Before Butterflomics, they already knew they were the most special people on earth just for being born, just for being themselves. But now, their president is telling them that they are even better than that. They are the “true builders” of everything great in this country.
Expect this message to resonate well with young voters. If I wanted to make a few bucks, I’d start selling trophies that declare these young do-nothings the true builders of America’s great businesses. I know more than a few hipsters in Silverlake who’d gladly pay $10 for a trophy letting all the world know that their noble efforts built the company from which they purchase their daily latte.
Of course, there are a few flaws in “Butterflomics.” Perhaps the most serious is, it presupposes that anything built with federal government funding would not have been built anyway by some state, local, or private entity. For “Butterflomics” to appear viable, one would have to erase all memory that there were roads, bridges, hospitals, etc., in the days before the federal income tax. Considering that many young Americans are totally ignorant of anything that happened before their birth, erasing that history won’t take much, or any, effort.