The Story Behind “Uncle Sam Can’t Count”

by Burt on April 15, 2014

Anita and I are in New York City today to promote our new book, Uncle Sam Can’t Count: A History of Failed Government Investments, from Beaver Pelts to Green Energy

In many ways, during these last two years we both would have preferred to relax, travel, do some teaching, and send out occasional tweets. Why did we, instead, write this book? Why is it important? The answer: Because our country will go bankrupt very soon if we don’t learn to say no to government subsidies. We wanted to tell the story of how well-intentioned government aid began, how it became accepted by both political parties, and how it has damaged not only our country but also those who have eagerly accepted government cash under the guise of “stimulating economic development.”

From subsidies to the fur trade, to steamships, to railroads, to inventing the airplane, to ethanol, and to electric cars–we see the argument that a good thing will be made better if it receives federal aid. It doesn’t. We have been amazed at the stories of how subsidies in one industry led to subsidies in other industries and how such aid slowed economic growth and then ruined the people who received them.

It’s easy to imagine that a subsidy might fail, but it’s more startling to learn in example after example that subsidies do actual harm to everyone involved. In fact, federal subsidies help explain why unemployment goes up, not down–from the Great Depression of the 1930s to the oil crisis of the 1970s to the Great Recession of 2008.

Anita and I have described the problem of well intentioned government, but we are both optimists and we regularly include success stories of market entrepreneurs, who have created marvelous inventions and products that have offset the damage from political entrepreneurs–those who rely on government aid.

Throughout American history, we see the clash between market entrepreneurs and political entrepreneurs. Both groups talk about the tradition of freedom in the United States, and how much they want to make the country better. But which group actually improves society? Time after time it is the market entrepreneurs. Why? To use the words of Steve Jobs, “They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see them as genius because the ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” The United States became a world economic power when its statesmen showed character, and its market entrepreneurs were encouraged to dream.

Uncle Sam Can’t Count: A History of Failed Government Investments, from Beaver Pelts to Green Energy tells that story. For more information click HERE.

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