President Obama has now attacked "Americans for Prosperity" by name more than a dozen times, nearly every time comparing our name to “Americans for Apple Pie” or “Moms for Motherhood.” The transcripts have the word “laughter” inserted after the comparison, although crowds have been nearly silent while Obama himself laughs awkwardly.
The sad truth is that, while prosperity should be a universal American value, in this administration it has repeatedly been sacrificed to other, lesser values, which is one of the reasons our economy remains mired in the weakest recovery since World War II and is at risk of tipping back into recession.
Prosperity depends on economic freedom. An abundance of historical and international evidence shows that countries that embrace economic freedom—including labor mobility, free trade, low tax rates, low government spending, and strong property rights—have significantly higher living standards than less free countries.
For the past ten years, the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal have measured economic freedom and charted the connection between economic freedom and prosperity. In the 2010 edition of their report, they noted: “The positive relationship holds true at all levels of economic freedom but becomes even more dramatic as economic freedom increases.”
That’s cause for alarm because while the United States remains in the top ten in economic freedom, it is falling fast under this administration. In 2010, for the first time, the United States was rated as “mostly free” rather than “free” as a consequence of the extraordinarily interventionist government policies of 2009. We now rank as less free than Canada and six other countries.
The decline of American prosperity – and of the economic freedom on which it depends – was not an accident. It was a consequence of deliberate policy decisions. President Obama took office during a serious recession, and chose to focus on policies like health care and global warming that had almost nothing to do with prosperity. Moreover, his “spread the wealth” redistributionist ideology clearly elevates the value of equality of outcome above prosperity, which discourages work, savings, investment – leaving us poorer as a society.
President Obama’s derisive comments about the name “Americans for Prosperity” being a truism suggest a belief that we will prosper even as we pursue an agenda based on central economic planning and the elevation of other values above prosperity. But prosperity cannot be taken for granted. Economic prosperity, and indeed nearly all human progress, was stagnant for a thousand years before the enormous boom that began in the 18th century and accelerated dramatically in the 20th century—the American century. But stagnation can and will return again if we undermine the policies that make prosperity possible by elevating other values.
One of the starkest challenges to economic prosperity comes from federal regulations. The U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy recently estimated the annual compliance cost of federal regulations at an astonishing $1.75 trillion. The cost for small businesses this year tops $10,500 per-employee, per-year – 36 percent higher than for their big business competitors. Environmental regulations are the worst culprits, costing small businesses 364 percent more than their competitors.
That could dramatically escalate next year as the Obama administration pursues its global warming fallback plan (after the collapse of cap-and-trade) of shoehorning greenhouse gas regulations into the 1970 Clean Air Act. That action, set to take effect this January, could result in a construction freeze for industrial facilities in the United States. Such an extreme regulatory measure, especially during perilous economic times, is hard to understand from a president who asserts that “Americans for Prosperity” is a truism.
Also consider Obama’s director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, John P. Holdren. Technology should be a driver of prosperity, but Holdren’s academic work has been persistently critical of economic growth. He infamously wrote: “A massive campaign must be launched to restore a high-quality environment in North America and to de-develop the United States… Resources and energy must be diverted from frivolous and wasteful uses in overdeveloped countries to filling the genuine needs of underdeveloped countries. This effort must be largely political.”
So it seems fair to say that Mr. Holdren, a top Obama adviser, may be an American against prosperity.
President Obama recently said: “So if you’re just watching the screen you think, well, gosh, Americans for Prosperity -- I’m for prosperity and they’re saying all these horrible things about the Democratic candidate. Maybe the Democratic candidate is not for prosperity.”
That decision, ultimately, is up to the voters. But with the precipitous decline of economic freedom over the past two years, and even more extreme policies that will undermine prosperity in favor of wealth redistribution and environmental extremism on the horizon, voters can be forgiven for questioning whether this administration and its congressional supporters are for prosperity. Maybe that’s why Obama’s awkward joke about “Americans for Prosperity” isn’t getting many laughs—what’s at stake is far too serious.
Mr. Kerpen is vice president for policy at Americans for Prosperity.