President Obama: Stilling the Waters

Robert Morrison

7/24/2010 12:01:00 AM - Robert Morrison

We all recall how Newsweek editor Evan Thomas last year gushed that President Obama hovered over the nations “like a sort of god.” That was then. The only thing gushing lately has been the BP oil spill, now mercifully capped.

My wife and I had an experience recently that suggests Mr. Obama can still the waters—of the Chesapeake Bay. We were invited by friends to take a boat ride from Annapolis to St. Michael’s, Maryland.

We headed out on a beautifully clear Sunday afternoon. Our friends Tom and Ann own a 37-foot motor boat. Tom is a successful entrepreneur.

Riding over smooth waters at 30 knots, Tom explained how the businesses he has started functioned. He’s in pharmaceuticals. His companies—he’s started up several innovative ones—are not giants, but they are all competitive. In order to develop and bring to market new drugs, entrepreneurs have to make many false starts. Like those prospecting for new sources of oil, there are many “dry holes.” But the successes more than make up for their failures. And Americans and people throughout the world are the beneficiaries.

Tom pointed to drugs that treat acid reflux. Decades ago, this condition called for surgery, which is especially hazardous for the elderly. The cost of the drugs has to be weighed against the lost time and productivity for recovering surgery patients, not to mention the lost lives.

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Tom explained how Canada works to undercut the free market. Because the Canadian government has a huge, controlled market, they can buy drugs in vast quantities. They can guarantee a U.S. developer of a new drug, say, 20 million doses. They can make it profitable for the American and re-sell the drug for less than U.S. retailers can afford to sell it. That’s why so many Americans—especially seniors on fixed incomes—like to get their medications in Canada.

So what’s the downside? Tom explains it: Canada is using the free market against itself. The number of new drugs Canada has brought to market in the last decade? Zero.

Half-way across Chesapeake Bay, Tom looked around and asked: “Notice anything different on the bay today?”

I was so enjoying the wind in my hair that I had not noticed anything unusual. (Alright, I’ll admit it—the wind was blowing in my ears. It’s been a long time since I could let it tousle my hair.)

“Notice how few boats there are on the water today,” Tom said. He was right. I’ve always enjoyed the water. I haven’t been out in awhile, but it was eerily quiet on Chesapeake Bay on this beautiful summer’s day.

When we arrived in St. Michael’s, we tied up and stopped for lunch at a crab house. Normally, there would be standing room only at this popular eatery. This day, there were six to eight empty tables.

There were lots of empty boat slips there. And many boats were being offered for sale.

They had names like Live Wire—not too lively. Dream On was tied up next to Compromise. Less Business seemed to be a complaint, not a pleasure craft.

When the boating industry hits a slump, it’s not just the rich who are hurt. Young people who work in the boatyards, wait tables in the seafood restaurants, and staff the Marinas—all these are affected, too. It’s fun, no doubt, to yell “Soak the Rich,” but it’s the rest of us who usually get all wet from the politics of envy. This is the real-world impact of Obama’s economic policies. As Winston Churchill once put it: “Capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; socialism is the equal sharing of misery.”

As a candidate, Barack Obama promised that the day he was nominated was the day the seas would cease to rise. Well, they have. It seems he has effectively stilled the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

There was one hopeful sign we saw that day: Billboards for the forthcoming congressional elections. I have never seen campaign signs go up this early for a midterm election. That suggests that people are hoping for change on November 2nd. Now, that should make some waves.