[Wilson] Santa's New Suit | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

[Wilson] Santa's New Suit

As my half-completed degree from Reformed Theological Seminary can attest, I have a hearty sense for the true meaning of Christmas, but I'll let some other commentator discuss that.

Instead, I'd like to spend a little time talking about Santa's recent change in costume. No longer does the jolly old man smoke a pipe and wear a red jacket lined with white fur. Instead, he puffs on a cigar and dons a black pin-striped suit. No longer does St. Nick reside in the North Pole, but just off the Potomac in Washington, D.C.

The recent wave of bailouts has made Congress look more like Santa Claus than a governing body—giving "toys" to financial firms and now, it seems, to automakers.

When we were little, our parents footed the bill so that we could believe in Santa Claus. The sad part of the charade, however, is the moment when a child figures out what's really going on and learns the man in red isn't making toys magically appear. But now Congress is asking our children to foot the bill for their massive deficit spending compounded by the nearly $1,000,000,000,000 deficit. (Yes, that is a lot of zeros).

Even worse than trying to play Santa, though, Congress is also starting to resemble that great-aunt who always buys you those ugly sweaters she knows you hate. The "gift" of the bailout is something Americans are having to pay for themselves, and we don't even want it!

The dismal sales numbers released by American car companies in the last two weeks tell us one thing: Americans don't want and aren't buying what Detroit is selling. So what is the government's solution? To give more money to Detroit to manufacture cars that people don't want to buy.

If a local clothing store's products weren't selling, the little boutique would have to either change its products, change its advertising or go out of business. But instead of changing to meet the times, the auto industry is asking Washington to give them the money—by way of taxing Americans—that we are unwilling to give freely.

In his book "The Myth of the Robber Barons," historian Dr. Burt Folsom discusses the development of "Big Business" in America and debunks commonly held myths. An entire chapter is devoted to one of America's first federal bailouts—the steamship industryדthe Internet of its day."

Rather than allowing market forces to drive the industry, a man named Edward Collins approached Congress asking for a subsidy to "get his steamship business off the ground." After all, progress demanded it. That first year, he received $385,000, quite a sum of money in those days. After three additional subsidized years for Collins, Cornelius Vanderbilt angrily proclaimed that he could offer the same service for half the cost.

As time passed, Collins continued to charge six times the fare as Vanderbilt, while Vanderbilt's boats were safer, faster, and more reliable, and his staff was happier. Vanderbilt accomplished all of this operating strictly on the free market, while Collins relied on a grand total of $11 million in subsidies from the federal government.

The national debt at the time was only $60 million.

Driven by the interests of Congress rather than the interests of the people, Collins produced ships that no one wanted to ride in at prices no one could afford. And why should he bother being competitive or providing people with services they wanted? Congress would fund him whether the people did or not.

The free-marketcapitalist Vanderbilt accomplished what a government-financed and gov-ernment-regulated Collins could not—a transatlantic steamship line.

After years of failed subsidies, Congress learned its lesson and let market forces take control. The free market is responsive to people. Congress is only responsive to itself.

Fast forward to today. We all remember the El Camino: the pickup truck that doubled as a car. It was a dismal failure, and market forces caused the company to discontinue it. Had the El Camino been federally subsidized, it would still be haunting new car lots today.

If American car companies are going bankrupt, it is because they are doing something wrong. Perhaps they have too many employees, or pay their employees too much, or design poor-quality vehicles; any or all of these could be factors. In any event, the right thing to do is to allow market forces to make these companies either change or sell more cars.

The free market responds to our needs, the needs of the buyer. Congressional bailouts simply respond to the wealthiest person (or group) who can afford the best lobbyist.

As it stands, America looks to add even more to its national debt as politicians try to play Santa Claus rather than governing the country.

Mississippi has a constitutional clause allowing only a certain number of years of deficit spending before the state budget must be balanced. Maybe the best Christmas present our state could give America would be a federal amendment stipulating the same.

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