President Obama will from time to time describe himself as a strong believer in the free-enterprise system. Yet these avowals are often expressed in a defensive tone or as preambles to a follow-up clause carrying an implicit “however.”
In this Inaugural Address, delivered as the U.S. economy emerges from the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, it would be welcome to hear the president deliver a positive statement about the dynamism and creative potential of marketplaces and entrepreneurship. Too often, the president’s statements leave behind an impression that he sees the enterprise system as part of an unjust status quo; that government and only government can deliver wider opportunity and accelerated innovation. If that’s not the impression he wishes to leave behind, and I don't think it is, then this inaugural address offers a never-to-be-repeated occasion to correct the mistake.
Over the past four years, bad news has called forth creative responses from private industry. Hard times force economic change. Change becomes the foundation for future growth.
No decade saw more commercial invention than the 1930s. Television. Refrigeration. Radar. Passenger aviation. The first superhighway. The first supermarket. For three decades after World War II, the U.S. economy mainly implemented ideas developed during the Great Depression.
So it may be with us after the Great Recession. Over the past four years, oil and gas production has surged. U.S. manufacturing has revived. Tablets and cloud computing have reshaped the information industry. Real-estate development has shifted from exurbs to central cities.
Whatever your thoughts on the stimulus, all agree that economic revival will depend on the efforts of private business. Let the president say so! And say so in ways that do not sound grudging, that underscore his understanding, appreciation, and respect for the people and institutions that create this nation’s wealth. This president has aspirations to use that wealth in different ways than in the recent past. That’s politics. But even as he redistributes the golden eggs, let him say a friendly word to and about the goose that delivered them.