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Immunized against Failure

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Pick up any self-help book at the local bookstore (or, in more modern parlance, order it via your Kindle or iPad) and you’ll invariably read a collection of quotes about failure. Most of these quotes frame failure as an opportunity to learn from mistakes; success is defined as enduring failure numerous times until you reach a favorable outcome. One of the qualities that makes America so unique is the freedom to fail continually until you finally reach your goal.


Some of America’s greatest political and business leaders understood that failure isn’t a bad thing—unless you allow the verb to become a noun. Theodore Roosevelt observed, “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” And American tycoon Henry Ford commented, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”

The great inventor Thomas Edison perfectly represented the unrestricted, can-do spirit of American inventiveness when he proclaimed, “Hell, there are no rules here - we're trying to accomplish something.” Americans want to accomplish something—but they need the freedom from government intrusion to do so—even if it means they might fail along the path to success.

More recently, Glenn Beck succinctly summed up America’s unparalleled opportunity this way: “The American experiment was about freedom. Freedom to be stupid, freedom to fail, freedom to succeed.”

If there is one overarching motivation for progressives, aside from their desire for control, it seems to be preventing failure. One way to achieve this is for all men to be the same (what progressives mislabel “equal”). If there is no difference, there is no opportunity for failure.

Glenn Beck

Another way to ensure no one fails is to place such restrictions on liberty that no risks are taken—the very risks that are necessary to achieve success. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. This seems benevolent, but really it’s the exact opposite. Why would a parent allow their child to ever remove the training wheels from their bicycle? After all, the child could fall and be injured. True, but then the child would never learn to really ride a bicycle and experience all the joys and freedom that skill provides.


Somewhere along the way, America’s confidence in itself was shaken to the core. Instead of abiding by its intrinsic instinct to risk failure for the option of great success, America suddenly flinched. Now every government policy, law or regulation is justified by how many people it will protect from failure, or from feeling the sting of their poor decisions. But protecting people from failure means that their freedom must necessarily be limited.

The Dodd-Frank financial reform bill was sold as a means to protect investors (and especially the little guy) from another financial crisis and the risk of losing their money. At 2,300 hundred pages long, the Wall Street Journal called it “the biggest expansion of government power over banking and markets since the Depression.” Such a pronouncement should send a chill down the spine of any capitalist.

One of the big selling points for the bill is getting rid of the “too big to fail” bailouts that were so odious to taxpayers during the Wall Street bailout. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner pronounced, “These reforms will benefit the prudent and constrain the imprudent.” (Interestingly, the bill doesn’t constrain the powers of the imprudent government that pushed the risky loans almost guaranteed to fail.)

Despite the claims of its proponents, the bill doesn’t actually address any of the problems that led to the financial meltdown. In explaining their opposition, many Republicans pointed out a glaring absence of any reforms for the two institutions at the center of the market crisis—Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Instead, it empowers unelected bureaucrats at 10 regulatory agencies to institute their own rules—estimated to be hundreds of new regulations that will be established over the next several years.


No wonder the market is so skittish these days—Wall Street can’t even read the laws that will govern it until regulators make up their minds at some point in the future. Government predictably fosters market stability.

And while the financial reform bill is supposed to protect average citizens from financial panics in the future, the new regulations will actually make it more difficult for businesses and consumers to get loans. The very people the bill was designed to aid will actually find their opportunities restricted. That’s a complete immunization against failure—never even having the opportunity to succeed or fail.

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