Bottom up, citizen. That's right... bend over.
I'm gonna share some of my personal history here. A real-life example...
In 1990, I got out of the Army with a 30% disability. Feeling sorry for myself, I walked around with a cane and didn't work. I took food stamps and housing aid. I started college about 4 months later. But during this time, I lived off the government. I figured I was owed. Call it my own personal reparations.
I was also a devout liberal at this time. I wrote editorials to the Des Moines Register protesting the Gulf War and President Bush. They were published, and I felt like I had a voice.
I was just killing time until school started. I didn't mow my grass (I have a cane! My foot hurts!) and my neighbors thought ill of me. The guy next door flew a flag every day right outside his front door. I was a disgrace to him. He was a World War II vet. He would ask me why I didn't have a job and why I wouldn't mow my yard. I would explain my Army injury and he would shake his head. "You're not that hurt," he would grumble and return back inside his house.
I moved, started college, and there I found a lot of like-minded folk - professors and students. I was an English major. I was married and had three kids. Every month was tough and we were barely scraping by.
My foot was slowly getting better and the idea that I could not support my own family without government assistance began to grate on me. I could still hear that old man ask me what was so wrong with me that I couldn't work. I knew he was right. I started working for minimum wage at the college bookstore.
Prior to joining the Army, I had washed windows, and so I found that if I walked a certain way, I could manage a ladder without hurting my foot. As I had done in the past, I went door-to-door, asking if people wanted an estimate for getting their windows cleaned. I made extra money that way, and our financial situation improved a bit.
Here's the great question to ask: did the government assistance help me? Honestly, no, it hurt me. I rationalized the assistance, convinced myself that it was deserved, and propped myself pitifully and unbeckoned on the backs of others, expecting them to carry me and my family.
It wasn't until I took my situation in my own hands and worked to earn my own way that I gained in self-esteem and confidence. I realized that it was easier to be lazy and rationalize my dependence. Too easy. But I couldn't trade away my sense of self for it. My self-respect was on the line, and the disgusted words of an old vet woke me up.
While I received money from the government, I didn't create any jobs. I was a net drain on the economy. I made all of you pay my way. I'm sorry for that...
It wasn't until I determined to take responsibility for myself that a job was created - when I went around creating my own work through window washing. Which later led to many late nights and all-nighters teaching myself how to work on computers. The government didn't do that. That was me again taking responsibility for myself.
What's more, as people with money who created companies wanted to grow their money, they hired people like me who had expertise in skills that they needed. I went from working a minimum wage job in 1992 to making $75,000 in 1997. I had dropped out of college, so it wasn't the government or college that sparked my rise in income. It was me spending many late nights improving myself and rich people willing to hire me for my skills that increased my income.
The term for this is called "trickle-down economics." The formula is: I made myself productive and attractive to people with money, and then they hired me to help them make more money. In the process, I made more money. Substantially more. Minimum wage sucks, and the government didn't help me out of that. Nor did a degree from college.
Obama's using the phrase "bottom-up economics" these days. Former Clinton treasury secretary Robert Reich wrote about this recently:
The long-term answer is for America to invest in the productivity of our working people - enabling families to afford health insurance and have access to good schools and higher education, while also rebuilding our infrastructure and investing in the clean-energy technologies of the future. We must also adopt progressive taxes at the federal, state and local levels.The article he wrote is longer than that, obviously, but what's missing is a common sense accounting of where the money for all this comes from. He talks about investing in the productivity of our working people, and then lists buying health insurance for people, rebuilding infrastructure, and clean-energy technologies. What does any of that have to do with productivity? It's spending - spending from some magic bag of money. Oh yeah - greater progressive taxation, at all levels. There's the magic bag. That equals productivity? How does any of that lead to greater income for anyone? They're all busy reaching into the magic bag of money...
Call it bottom-up economics.
Now here's the rub... the idea of a bottom-up economy was discussed before, but in a very different fashion:
This new style of business, birthed by the Internet, is ignored at any company's peril. In an excellent new book, "The Future of Competition: Co-Creating Unique Value with Customers," authors C.K. Prahalad and Venkat Ramaswamy describe the consumer's new role: "from isolated to connected, from unaware to informed, from passive to active." These are very different concepts, but they could look similar to someone who wanted them to appear that way.
In the bottom-up economy, presuming you know what the customer wants is the ultimate error. Prahalad and Ramaswamy instead call for "co-creation of value": The successful products and services from now on will be those developed jointly -- company and customer working hand in hand.
The first wants to even out wealth and reduce competition through compulsory participation. The latter wants to seek out competitive advantage by broadening volunteered consumer engagement.
- A bottom-up economy, progressive taxation-style: non-consented, co-owned wealth and property.
- A bottom-up economy, business/customer-style: consented, co-created value of products and services.
But they're called the same thing, unfortunately. Which is what happens when you want to change society: you begin by changing the meaning of its words.
If elected, I'm sure that the Obama will work, as Hugo Chavez has worked, to re-educate us in his re-engineered words and phrases. Hence my cartoon yesterday, showing him searching for a phrase that can be turned into something more palatable than "spreading the wealth" and "patriotism" through higher taxation.
"I believe in you," is seemingly at the heart of both definitions of a bottom-up economy. But Obama would act as the Thief-in-Chief in the progressive model - a model that lacks universal freedom of choice, as the second model does. It is truly, therefore, theft. Which is why it has to be stopped. Theft can never grow an economy, bottom-up or otherwise.