In Defense of Creative Destruction

As usual, the silly season that is the fall political campaign has produced many entertaining moments, from candidates who either are former witches or Nazis or professed Marxists, to the usual insulting advertisements and laugh-out-loud conduct and blatant hypocrisies. Honestly, if it weren't for politics, where would David Letterman and Jay Leno get their material?

Amid this semi-annual circus, U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, who is fighting for his political life, has blasted his opponent, political newcomer Ron Johnson, for using the term "creative destruction" to describe how the economy works. By this point, Feingold was already grasping at straws, and while I give him credit for the courage to tout his vote in favor of Obama Care, he gets a cynical grade on this one.

Feingold used the term to make the point about how, in his view, trade agreements have cost Wisconsin workers too many jobs. It's probably good politics to bash trade, especially in brutal economic times when people look for scapegoats. But without the creative destruction Feingold laments, we don't transition from the horse and buggy to the automobile, which might actually please local car haters, but we also don't begin to make the transition from eight-track tapes to music downloads, and we need several devices to do what one hand-held iPhone can do.

Those are only two of countless examples of the constant innovative churn of the American economy, especially in the age of technology. Frankly, I'd much rather have Wisconsin manufacturing workers making stuff that people want and need today, rather than things they began to discard back in, oh, 1975.

Feingold is cynically trying to exploit whatever economic ignorance exists out there, and judging by the profound banality that comes out of members of Congress, there is no doubt an ample supply. Thus far, however, nothing seems to be working for Feingold. That's probably because most voters are tuning out the clutter because they are determined to make a change in this spend-thrift Congress. This year, it seems, weapons of mass distraction have lost their potency.

Whatever the case, it's interesting to note that Feingold, who was instrumental in pushing campaign finance "reform" that fell juuuust a little bit short of taking money out of politics, is losing to a well-financed opponent who runs a plastics manufacturing business in Oshkosh. A lot of people are offended by how much of their own money that wealthy candidates like Johnson and U.S. Senator Herb Kohl can apply to a given race, but not me. I'm not offended by all the money in politics, which amounts to a mere speck of what is spent on advertising products; I'm offended by all the lies and distortions it buys.

Which brings me back to "creative destruction," a term that speaks to innovation and to the job-creating dynamism (or at least the historical job-creating dynamism) of the American economy. We must not fear it because without it, there is no constant, innovative churn. There is no progress.

Makes you wonder how a political progressive can be against it.

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