Donald Trump failed at business…a lot. USFL, Tour de Trump, Trump Resorts, Trump Airlines, Trump University, etc. Leftists love to point that out. But that’s not the whole story. Trump had great successes as well. Not only has he developed world-class properties around the globe, but he was also produced and starred in one of the most popular television shows for more than a decade. Most telling of all was his renovation of the Wolman Ice Rink. New York City had spent $13 million and six years trying to renovate the Central Park icon when, in 1986, NYC admitted it had failed and must start from scratch. Trump offered to do the job in six months and under the $3 million budget. Reluctantly, the city gave him the contract and he finished in 4 months at a cost of $2.25 million. In just four months Donald Trump demonstrated exactly how dysfunctional government is!
But it’s his failures that provide the life lesson that leftists never get: Whether in business, love, or most non-government-related things, failure is the sign that someone was willing to risk the consequences to try and accomplish something. I say “non-government related” because government is one of the few areas of life where failure is the rule rather than the exception and it rarely results in soul searching.
Proof abounds! From a failed fifty-year War on Poverty to the abject failure of government schools to twenty-year wars that end exactly where they started, government continues to grow and accumulate more power year after year, regardless of its demonstrable and perpetual lack of success.
But government is not the nation. Government is not the people. Government is supposed to be a mechanism by which citizens protect individual rights and defend the nation—but that’s not what it is today. Today it’s everywhere, all the time. There is nothing in our lives that is more ubiquitous than government regulation.
In 1958, Leonard Read wrote an essay called I, Pencil that looked at the countless elements and activities necessary to make a #2 pencil. The whole point of this Cold War-era piece was to demonstrate how complex it is to make a simple pencil, how society benefits from freeing up markets to provide all the necessary inputs, and how it’s unlikely government control could accomplish that task. It’s extraordinary and it’s just a simple pencil!
Now, exponentially expand that complex process for a pencil to our modern society and you understand what the challenge is. On the one hand, you look at the iPhone or Google or Tesla and you might conclude we’re doing pretty well with government regulating as much as it does. Actually, that’s a mirage. While a Tesla may be a step up from a ’55 Ford, it’s still just a car. While carrying your iPhone in your hand is a leap from being tethered to a wall phone, it’s still just a mobile phone and a personal computer, both invented in the early ’70s, years after the internet began.
Over the last 50 years, things have gotten smaller, faster, and portable, but we haven’t cured cancer, we don’t have teleportation or time travel (as far as we know), and we haven’t been back to the moon or beyond. We have lots of apps and services, but not much truly revolutionary.
Compare that to the 50 years from 1850 to 1900 when Americans invented such revolutionary things as the light bulb, the safety elevator, the telephone, the phonograph, the vacuum cleaner, and the dishwasher. Or between 1900 and 1950 when they invented air conditioning, plastic, vulcanized rubber, television, talking movies, the photocopier, and the transistor. Not to mention airplanes, helicopters, and nuclear power.
While technology is most certainly unleashing heretofore impossible advances in research, medicine, and data analysis (the MRI machine, sequence of the human genome, etc.), the relative lack of tangible revolutionary advances is extraordinary. And why is that? Are we at the end of science? Have we accomplished everything that man can do? Obviously not. It’s almost as if there’s something holding America back…
There is. It’s called regulation. Federal regulation from a seemingly endless array of agencies: IRS, EPA, OSHA, DOE, DOT, etc. The Competitive Enterprise Institute estimates that federal regulation alone costs the US almost $2 trillion per year in lost productivity. That’s essentially 10% of our GDP, annually!
Over the 50 years between 1921 and 1970, the American GDP grew at an average annual rate of 4.02%, while between 1971 to 2020 it grew at an annual rate of 2.73%, dropping down to 1.77% for the last 20 years.
The result of that slowdown has been staggering. In 2020, after growing at a rate of 2.73% a year for 50 years the American GDP was approximately $21 trillion. Had it instead grown at the same rate it had the previous 50 years, the 2020 GDP would have been almost twice as high, $39 trillion. Imagine the Research & Development a whole additional US GDP could fund! $18 trillion or, put another way, every American household would have had another $50,000 to spend annually.
But households don’t. And it’s directly related to regulation. The Code of Federal Regulations contains every law and rule of the federal government. In 1938 it was 18,193 pages. After dropping down to 9,745 pages in 1950 it shot up to 56,720 pages in 1972 and by 2019 it stood at 185,984 pages.
On every one of those pages are rules that govern Americans’ lives. From what goes into their food to the employment conditions of every person who manufactured or transported or sold every single product they buy. From reporting rules for companies to bank deposit info to what’s printed on the side of a can of corn or a box of cereal. Then there’s who you can or must rent your home to, how much energy your computer monitor uses, what you pay for gas and, now, what you have to put into your body.
That is the world the swamp dwellers have built, the one Donald Trump fearlessly leaped into a cauldron of fire to fight. Sadly, far too many Americans are either part of that system or comfortable with the illusion of security it provides. This exemplifies G. Michael Hopf’s statement that “Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times.”
Those who oppose Donald Trump’s attempt to save America from itself are those “weak” men. Like the European nations that grew soft under the security umbrella the United States provided, those “weak” men flourished and took over media, academia, Wall Street, and high-tech even as working America was focused on building on the promise of opportunity.
Weak men’s control of culture has undermined the nation that allowed them to flourish in the first place. However, as Joe Biden delivers the omnipresent government they desire, reality will shatter the illusions of security they hid behind while strong men’s failures and successes were building Pax Americana.