"Every single great idea that has marked the 21st century, the 20th century and the 19th century has required government vision. ... In the middle of the Civil War, you had a guy named Lincoln paying people $16,000 for every 40 miles of track they laid across the continental United States. No private enterprise would have done that for another 35 years."
-- VICE PRESIDENT Joe Biden at an October 2010 fundraiser
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Yes, and Al Gore created the Internet.
The veep's comments seem especially noteworthy in the wake of the resignation of one of America's greatest inventors, Apple CEO Steven Jobs. Biden's grasp of history is questionable, but what really stands out is the sheer hubris so evident in those who have spent a lifetime in government.
First things first. When the spikes of the Union and Central Pacific finally met in Utah, James J. Hill was most likely plotting his private railroad from St. Paul to Seattle with no federal aid whatsoever.
He eventually chose the most direct route, the best grade, and while Hill proceeded deliberately, his was, according to historian Burton Folsom, "the only transcontinental never to go bankrupt."
Yet government visionaries have little time for such corporate "robber barons" as Hill or, for that matter, Cornelius Vanderbilt or John D. Rockefeller, just to name a few.
They prefer the corporate state, as do the political entrepreneurs they patronize. They decry profit and exalt the common good, without ever realizing you can't have one without the other.
Which brings us to Jobs who, by most accounts, did more in the span of a few years to transform the lives of millions than did all the senators from Delaware in U.S. history. But Jobs was, as one insider put it, an "unsentimental" executive with an eye toward the bottom line.
As proof, Apple's most recent quarterly profit came in at a record $7.31 billion with a net profit margin that dwarfs most other firms, including Exxon Mobil. So while the well-deserved accolades pour in, the Jobs phenomenon presents a bit of a conundrum for antibusiness crusaders obsessed with corporate profiteering.
Of course, reconciling profits with social progress isn't difficult at all for the less dogmatic. Profits send market signals, raise capital, encourage efficiency and (if allowed to function) reduce prices by increasing supply.
Big labor might have you believe that exorbitant profits increase the price of goods and services, but no business gets to set its price. If so, there would be no such thing as bankruptcy.
Besides, as the late, great management guru Peter Drucker once said, "There is no such thing as a profit; there are only costs." Profits are the cost of capital -- would you invest in a company without them? -- as wages are the cost of labor.
Both represent the cost of doing business. The main difference is that the worker gets paid long before the capitalist does.
Which is precisely why you don't want to discourage the real entrepreneur with government red tape and taxes. You see -- and this is crucial -- there is no guarantee of profit at all.
So contrary to Warren Buffet, who already made his, the next Jobs and Steve Wozniak tinkering in a garage have no assurance whatsoever that their venture will bear fruit. State intervention merely increases the risk of an already risky proposition.
Mitt Romney was right -- what corporations earn eventually winds up in the hands of people. Profit being the interest income an investor earns for the time it takes to produce something of value.
You may not like the fat salaries that executives (or athletes and entertainers) earn, but those actually reduce profits. Cut them and profit goes up.
Contrary to Biden's bluster, it is government itself that enjoys the largest profits. While after-tax corporate profits hover around 8 percent of gross domestic product, the feds alone spend 25 percent.
Add in state and local government, and the total take easily approaches 35 percent of the nation's output.
Now who's gouging whom?
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Jason Lewis is a nationally syndicated talk-show host based in Minneapolis-St. Paul and is the author of "Power Divided is Power Checked: The Argument for States' Rights" from Bascom Hill Publishing. He can be heard from 5 to 8 p.m. weekdays on NewsTalk Radio (1130 AM) or online at jasonlewisshow.com.