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Misconstruing History, with Professor Biden

Government incentive helped build the transcontinental railroad ... but not without wasting tens of millions, enabling massive fraud, and running the Union Pacific company into the ground, ruining its shareholders.

by
John Rosenberg

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November 7, 2010 - 12:00 am
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Recently, Vice President Joe Biden told a roomful of Democratic contributors in New York City — who had paid $1000 for the privilege of hearing him — that:

Every single great idea that has marked the 21st century, the 20th century and the 19th century has required government vision and government incentive.

In the middle of the Civil War you had a guy named Lincoln paying people $16,000 for every 40 miles of track they laid across the continental United States.

No private enterprise would have done that for another 35 years.

Perhaps on another occasion the vice president can describe the “government vision and government incentive” that was “required” for the ideas of, for starters, Darwin, Marx, Freud, and Einstein. Of course, the vice president might simply have meant (it is often difficult to determine his meaning from his words) that every government idea requires government vision, but that tautology would seem to be even emptier than most campaign pronouncements that strain for profundity.

In any event, let us limit our concern now to the one idea he mentioned, the transcontinental railroad. That project, though undoubtedly grand, may have been a more revealing precursor of the fruits of Obama administration public policy than Professor Biden realizes.

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