Senator Scott Brown has an Op ed in Politico today in which he hits President Obama and Elizabeth Warren over the “didn’t build that” controversy, arguing that Warren is essentially the intellectual inspiration for Obama’s speech and that the idea driving Warren’s candidacy is “anti-free enterprise.”
That’s par for the course. But there’s a nugget within Brown’s Op ed that’s worth a look, because it gives away the game, revealing what this whole “didn’t build that” controversy is really about:
This anti-free enterprise attitude, epitomized by Elizabeth Warren, the liberal Harvard professor who has made it the calling card of her Senate campaign against me, is that every achievement in life is a collective effort....
These entrepreneurs understand — better than any politician — where small businesses fit in the community, and how, in a free society, we all depend on one another....
Only the most rigid ideologue would come along and insist that these men and women — the ones who do most of the hiring in America — have failed in some duty to their communities or to their country.
America’s entrepreneurs have built great things on their own. If only leftists like Warren and all Occupy protesters weren’t so wrapped up in taxing and regulating them without end or in denigrating their achievements, these men and women would do even greater things and hire even more workers.
In Brown’s telling, what’s really preventing businesses from hiring more workers is Warren’s disdain for their achievements. You can almost hear the small business person’s lament: I would like to hire you, but I can’t, because Elizabeth Warren is demeaning my success by arguing that I didn’t succeed in a vacuum!
This is what this whole thing has been about from the start. It's about selling voters a bill of goods — a narrative about what ails the economy that obscures the fact that Republicans don’t have a plan to fix the short term unemployment crisis. Brown and Mitt Romney want voters to believe that the recovery is being held back by taxes, regulations, and Obama’s and Warren’s disdain for your success. If we just put people in charge who want people to succeed — who would of course promptly cut regulations, government and taxes on the rich — then the recovery will roar forward.
This is a pleasing little tale, but it’s wholly at odds with the consensus view of many mainstream economists, who think the problem lies in weak demand. Economists believe that government spending, in the form of Obama’s stimulus, did bring down the unemployment rate. Economists don’t believe that high end tax cuts will produce the runaway growth necessary to bring in the revenues to pay for them. Economists don’t believe that getting rid of Obamacare will solve the crisis. As Mark Hopkings of Moody’s Analytics has put it: “The central problem is not burdensome regulations. It’s that people can’t sell anything.” Nor do economists believe that cutting government will fix the crisis; in fact, reduced government outlays are partly responsible for slow growth, and economists say that in the short term, more fiscal austerity will slow growth further.
Neither Obama nor Warren demeaned success or individual initiative, but even if they had, the idea that those sentiments are responsible for holding back the recovery is just snake oil. From the start, this whole thing has been about selling people a storyline about the short term economic crisis that covers up the fact that Republican ideas wouldn’t do anything to solve it.