Monday, September 05, 2011

On any given Sunday

If it's Sunday, you can almost depend on Scott Gillespie to chamber either Katherine Kersten or Jason Lewis into the squirrel gun and fire it wildly into the air. This week it's Jason, and you'll never guess: he's complaining about government in Who makes things happen around here?

Now that you've recovered from your surprise, let's chat about it a little, shall we? First, the executive summary:

If Jason was a baseball player, he would believe he built the diamond, too.

The thing that got Jason's underwear in a bunch this time and gave him the inspiration for his homily was a comment by Joe Biden, quoted in the column:
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.
No! sputters Lewis, James J. Hill build a railroad from St. Paul to Seattle without any dad gum gubmint help!

Apparently, Hill decided to build a transcontinental line from St. Paul to Seattle in about 1889, and the line was completed in 1893. Joe Biden is given to a little hyperbole now and again, but he wasn't far off here. But that isn't really even the point. (Moreover, the first plan for an transcontinental railroad was floated in Congress in 1845.)

Hill had an advantage, going second; he was indeed a brilliant entrepreneur, and he doubtlessly took advantage of things learned -- per mile costs, routing considerations, etc. -- in the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, completed in 1869. Even Jason will have to admit that the Transcontinental Railroad was the true pioneer here. Experience from the Transcontinental Railroad certainly made it easier for Hill to find investors for his transcontinental line.

Moreover Hill did have friends in government and used eminent domain in his railroad building ventures. It is inaccurate to say he did it all by himself. Not that it's a criticism of Hill; just a note to Jason.

Bank of N.D. photo
Finally, on a somewhat related note, one great government idea that is having impact in today's economy is North Dakota's decision to create a state bank. In the linked Truthout article, Ellen Brown first counters the argument that oil is responsible for North Dakota's economic health:
Oil is certainly a factor, but it is not what has put North Dakota over the top. Alaska has roughly the same population as North Dakota and produces nearly twice as much oil, yet unemployment in Alaska is running at 7.7 percent. Montana, South Dakota, and Wyoming have all benefited from a boom in energy prices, with Montana and Wyoming extracting much more gas than North Dakota has. The Bakken oil field stretches across Montana as well as North Dakota, with the greatest Bakken oil production coming from Elm Coulee Oil Field in Montana. Yet Montana’s unemployment rate, like Alaska’s, is 7.7 percent.
Brown continues, describing the role of the bank, and describing how it works and its results:
Access to credit is the enabling factor that has fostered both a boom in oil and record profits from agriculture in North Dakota. The Bank of North Dakota (BND) does not compete with local banks but partners with them, helping with capital and liquidity requirements. It participates in loans, provides guarantees, and acts as a sort of mini-Fed for the state.
You should ask a small business person sometime if better access to credit would help his or her business. Smaller banks can almost never find participations on loans for small to medium-sized customers.

The entire piece is quite interesting; I recommend it.

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