​Why worry about failing?

Government is here to save you...

Author - Speaker - teacher


May 2, 2002


Note: A clarifying editorial to this one has been added.Click here.


Farmers are in trouble. Milk, grain and livestock prices paid to farmers are not enough to sustain profitability. Without profitability, farmers go out of business.

Does the US Congress have a legitimate interest in making sure that farmers do not go out of business?

Has the US Congress done anything that limits farmers’ ability to farm profitably?

Congress is poised to pass a $170 Billion farm subsidy bill. Spread over 10 years, this new law attempts to ensure that farmers will be paid a fair price for their livestock, crops and milk. A “fair price” is determined by government bureaucrats, not taxpayers or consumers.

About the new farm bill, a May 2, 2002 news story quotes Minnesota US Senator Paul Wellstone: “I'm delighted that the freedom to fail bill has been put to rest, I hope forever.”

Wellstone long ago tabbed the 1996 Freedom to Farm bill as freedom to fail. Here Wellstone reveals a cancer that lies at the root of the liberal/socialist economic model – what I label as Wellstonian Economics.

Market forces do sometimes drive people out of business. Remember Braniff Airlines? The Studebaker?

Sometimes bad business decisions drive people out of business. AOL-Time Warner faces just such a conundrum today. And never forget the Edsel.

There are cheats and rascals who drive themselves out of business. Repeat after me: Enron, Enron, Enron.

Some businesses even fail because their owners are lazy.

In all, nearly 90 percent of new businesses have closed up forever with five years of opening their doors. Those that survive have hit a market at the right time with the right product. They have leaders who work hard to maintain profits, put off luxuries, sacrifice time with families and vacations; who put their lives on the line.

The market plays rough with those who fail, and knowing this provides a powerful motivator to survive. The owner who lays everything on the line to make his business successful is forced out of bed every morning. His energy to survive – to not fail – draws his family and employees together, all of them focused on surviving profitably.

But Paul Wellstone does not want farmers to have the freedom to fail. He wants them to rest easy knowing that the government will bail them out if they plant too much corn, too much wheat, grow too many beef cattle or produce too much milk. Never mind. “We are from the government and will ensure your success. Here is a check. Free money. From Senator Wellstone, by the way.”

This same philosophy is applied to businesses that threaten to leave cities or states for more fertile ground. “Oh no!” shrieks the Economic Development director, “we cannot let you leave. We are sorry that your taxes are too high, and your workers’ compensation costs are out of sight, that workplace rules stifle innovation. Here is $300 million.”

The idea that government (read “taxpayers”) must bail out failing businesses is quite common. But the Wellstonians among us cannot stomach addressing the real needs of businesses, those government-induced predicaments that threaten to send them into bankruptcy. Wellstonians cannot fathom that government interference in any business might actually be the reason they fail.

The classic Wellstonian Economics model is to reward those who make bad business decisions knowing that government will ensure that they do not fail. Good for Wellstone. He gets to stay in office to ensure that failure will no longer be a motivating factor. And he lets us taxpayers pay the costs.

Fear of failure motivates unemployed people to get a job and investors to risk capital on new businesses, or to pour more money into existing businesses.

Fear of failure motivates journalists to write better stories, radio hosts to improve their on-air skills, sales people to get out and make calls.

The veteran middle linebacker who looks over his shoulder and spots a first round draft choice ready to steal his job is motivated to work harder – not to fail.

The politician who sees a strong challenger nipping at his heals works harder to win votes.

The fear of failure acts as a correcting influence on all sorts of human behavior. But the Wellstonians decry this. They see government as an active agent in reducing the risk of failure. It is a handy thing for them, too, that those who receive their largesse also vote for them.

One need only to look at the great “successes” of the failed Soviet economy and their cooperative farms to see just how valid is Wellstonian Economics. Since it worked so well for the Soviets we might as well build and improve on their model, suggests a true Wellstonian.

Personally, I hate failure. It is one reason I keep on working to improve writing and thinking skills.

Unless Paul Wellstone sends me a subsidy, the economics of writing for a living may drive me out of business some day. I fear Wellstone won’t care – I am not on his list of potential donors or voters.


Note: A clarifying editorial to this one has been added. Click here.