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A Cumberland Gap between Obama and Econcomic Literacy

This past weekend Barack Obama once again displayed his ignorance of how the national economy and businesses operating within it work when he said:

Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research invented the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

With the last two sentences of Obama's statements, he reveals how he thinks the economy works. To Obama, the government invents and builds various things so that private enterprises can profit from them. Of course, one flaw in the example that Obama gave is the fact that the Internet was actually created so that researchers in the Department of Defense could share information with one another. There was never any intention that the technology would be shared with the private sector, so at the time the Internet was invented it is highly doubtful that anyone ever dreamed how it would actually end up being used as a tool for business, job and profit creation. But for purposes of pointing out Obama's warped view on the economy, his assertion about the Internet will be allowed to stand for now.

Obama's comment about roads and bridges is actually more interesting. Essentially what Obama is stating is that the government builds roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects and that then in turn leads individuals to be able to build successful businesses which utilize those government creations. But a brief history of some of America's earliest roads does not bear out that pattern.

Take for example the Cumberland Gap, which is of course a low-altitude passageway through the Appalachian Mountains in an area where the modern-day borders of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia converge. Historically, the Cumberland Gap was a key point along the Wilderness Road which connected the areas of the east coast into the central region of early America. That in turn led to the development of various towns in the state of Kentucky leading all the way up to the city of Louisville located on the bank of the Ohio River.

So was it the British government or the early American government that developed this passageway so that entrepreneurs of the day could prosper? Absolutely not! The Cumberland Gap and the Wilderness Road were developed by early explorers and pioneers - the most famous of which being Daniel Boone. And Boone and others were not government workers, but instead the were working on developing the Cumberland Gap and Wilderness Road for the benefit of private companies owned by entrepreneurs who were looking for ways to make doing business in these new territories easier, safer and more efficient.

At some point, after the United States was formed as a country, there was a recognition that the federal government should become involved in the construction of roads and bridges. However, the interstate highway system was not officially created until 1956 under President Dwight Eisenhower. And today it is an accepted belief even by the staunchest of Libertarians that the federal government should be in charge of the interstate highway system to avoid a situation in which every private company or even every state is designing and building its own roads and bridges wherever they desire.

But what is very clear, though, is that it was the success of private businesses which pulled the government into the need to get involved in creating a national highway infrastructure policy. This reality is the opposite of Obama's view that it was the government infrastructure policy that led to the success of private businesses. People like Daniel Boone and others took the risks of exploring unchartered territories and expanding the areas of civilization which in turn created the need to find better methods of traveling to and from those boundaries. There was no government which built a bunch of roads and bridges to the far reaches of the new frontiers in hopes that prospective entrepreneurs would someday utilize them for their own benefit.

This is not a chicken or the egg question in which there is still doubt about which one came first. There is absolutely zero doubt that it was the entrepreneurial spirit of early American settlers and citizens which forced the government to adopt policies and create infrastructure projects necessary to keep up with the pace of those entrepreneurs. It is clear what happens when the opposite happens and the government tries to create a framework which will lead to successful entrepreneurship - in a word: Solyndra. Most Americans understand this difference. Sadly, Obama does not.

Rob Binsrick

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