Recipe for Disaster

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Let us begin with a thesis: scarcity breeds excellence, and abundance produces garbage.

I am compelled, naturally, to write about this topic thanks to yet another multi-trillion dollar federal boondoggle, this one in the form of the “once in a generation opportunity to invest” announced by the President. Of course, this statement implies that the federal government has been cautiously and conservatively watching every penny for years and now, at long last, it will finally loosen the purse-strings and actually spend a bit on the country. This is, of course, patent nonsense, as the $28 trillion in debt incurred by countless years of government waste, quite plainly attests.

Let us return to my premise, however, and I’d like to offer a few simple examples from the world of media as evidence.

Consider the film The Godfather, widely considered to be, if not the greatest film of all time, certainly in the top five. If you’ve ever seen a documentary about the making of this film, you know all too well what a struggle it was to get it made in the first place. Almost every single thing you like about the film was going to be different, if the powers that be had their way, and Francis Ford Coppola had to move heaven and earth, as well as beg, borrow, and steal, to get the picture made. (To say nothing of the fact that he had to perform multiple miracles to get the studio to allow Brando to perform, as opposed to the studio’s choice for the role………..Danny Thomas, for God’s sake.)

I cannot do justice to the struggles that Coppola went through, including him literally mortgaging his home, but once the film came out, it was considered a masterpiece. There were struggles, problems, and headaches, but through Coppola’s creative genius and sheer force of will, a film got made which, half a century later, will still stop any man in his tracks who is flipping the television channels and compel him to watch it.

That was scarcity, and that bred excellence.

Fast forward a couple of decades. Coppola is fabulously wealthy and has infinite resources. The first two Godfather movies (which were largely filmed at the same time, but was obviously way too long of a story for a single movie) were world famous. And, thus, in this sea of abundance, Godfather Part III gets made. There’s no need to go into its awfulness, but as a gentle reminder:

Dad?

There are many other examples from the world of movies. Consider the Blair Witch Project. It cost less to make than a run-of-the-mill family car, yet it was a huge sensation. They had basically zero money and they made zillions of dollars in box office sales. The Blair Witch sequel? A total and complete bomb.

Or how about Star Wars? George Lucas had to pull the same kind of miracles that Coppola did, since even the idea of a science fiction movie in the mid 1970s was seen as a guaranteed box office disaster. And yet I dare you to compare the original Star Wars, made with relatively little money and practical special effects, to any of the first three big-budget prequels. So, yeah, you get the point.

The same holds true in the real world. The largest corporation on the planet, Apple, was funded by the $1300 that Woz got when he sold his VW Bus and HP calculator. Apple’s growth from a two-person garage company to a multi-trillion dollar monster was achieved through genius, skill, luck, and the drive of thousands of truly smart people. Indeed, Apple almost went bankrupt in 1997, and yet managed to pull through. Apple is a great American success story and in the permanent pantheon of free enterprise legends.

What if, in 1976, you gave two employees of the federal government the same $1300 and told them to create a personal computer company? Or $13 million? Or $13 billion, for that matter. I don’t even have to know who is involved, because it would fail. Just by definition, if you want something done at huge expense and yet still end in disaster, get the government involved. After all, the government spent $1.5 trillion (yes, with a “T”) on the F-35 program alone, and it was a complete and total boondoggle.

So the government plan, as you have heard, is to crank up taxes on corporations and the rich and turn right around and spend it (oh, sorry, “invest“) on so-called infrastructure. Here’s a sampling of the desired expenditures………..

  • $85 billion for public transit
  • $80 billion for Amtrak and freight rail
  • $174 billion to encourage electric vehicles (EVs) via tax credits
  • $100 billion for broadband
  • $400 billion for in-home care
  • $46 billion for government agencies to buy fleets of EVs
  • $35 billion in R&D programs for “cutting-edge” new technologies
  • $10 billion for a new Civilian Climate Corps.

Public transit? Like the empty buses I see being driven every day by drivers being paid six figures? And Amtrak? AMTRAK??? Look, railroads were cutting-edge technology in 1870, and vital to the growth of the nation, but if Amtrak had vanished in 1945, I don’t think anyone would have noticed. And I can’t even imagine what $100 billion in broadband is for. Virtually everyone in the country is already online, but let’s just generously assume that 100 million people are still entitled to broadband for whatever reason. That comes to $1,000 a person. Why? What for?

Once these spending programs start, they never stop. Over two years ago, I wrote with some glee that the ridiculous California High-Speed Rail Project, which had already wasted tens of billions of dollars, was being terminated by the governor. Well, I’m not sure what happened, but he didn’t “terminate” a thing. I know this because it was just reported another “two year delay” in this catastrophe. I suspect by the year 2035, when it’s still not open, they will finally shutter the ill-fated fiasco, probably $100 billion too late.

As for the trillions that are about to be wasted, there’s nothing any of us can do about it, of course, except to try to look out for ourselves. There’s little doubt that the United States is bringing about its own ruination, $1 trillion at a time.

As Ernest Hemingway famously said of bankruptcy, we are going to get there very slowly, and then all at once.

And the reason, paradoxically, is because the nation had such an abundance to work with. In short, our country is completing its journey as a geopolitical incarnation of Godfather Part III, and our once-marvelous republic, in its own way, is going to keel over onto to those opera house steps in surprised and silent agony.