Forget Elon Musk, Here Comes Joe Biden

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Did you see the town hall on ABC last week with that geezer the Democrats nominated for president? There are surely people out there — people who vote — who will be all excited about what we learned.

We almost missed it. Fortunately, there was a social worker in the audience, one Michele Ellison, who asked this Biden fellow what industries he had planned for Southwest Pennsylvania, and indeed the entire nation.

Wow! You talk about innovation! The world hasn’t seen political leaders stepping up to plan new industries and allocate capital among them since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Apparently, this guy Biden was actually in the Senate at the time, and he remembers all of that. So he was ready.

If you’re like most Americans, you’re not used to having politicians do this kind of work. Our new industries tend to arrive by surprise, when somebody gets an idea in their head, tries it, and it turns out to be something people really like and want. The next thing we know, thousands of people have jobs making this new thing, and the guy who thought it up is filthy rich. And maybe even famous. A few of these people become household names: Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos. Many people have heard of a few more, but don’t know much about them: Sergey Brin, Ray Dolby, Buckminster Fuller. In fact, there are thousands of such people, because virtually everything we have was invented by somebody.

Ideas that go on to become industries are for the most part serendipitous. We humans do not know the future in advance, so when an idea takes off and becomes ridiculously successful, it is virtually always because somebody got lucky. There do exist a very few individuals who demonstrate an amazing knack for guessing correctly about “what the world needs” even when it doesn’t yet exist, but such people are exceedingly rare. Thomas Edison, Akio Morita, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk are about the only entirely new industry “repeat offenders” that I can think of in the last hundred years.

So you can imagine the excitement when this guy on television the other night grabbed hold of Ms. Ellison’s question and began reciting all the new industries that he is going to invent. He’s going to create millions of jobs and everything! And best of all, unlike Elon Musk and the rest of these rich bastiges, he’s going to do it on a government salary!

If you’re like most people, you’re probably a bit skeptical that some politician in his late 70s, who hasn’t invented anything so far, is suddenly going to go off like a Roman candle, pumping out new inventions that turn into huge industries and employ millions of people from sea to shining sea… provided that we elect him to high office. It’s easy to see why you might have doubts.

Biden appears to have anticipated this: he laid out exactly how he is going to do it.

The Biden Plan for fostering new industries and creating the jobs of the future is simplicity itself. He is going to take the money that people like Elon Musk use to bootstrap their new ideas — take it right out of their hands so they can’t fund any more rocket ships or electric trucks — and invest it. And then he’s going to raise corporate income taxes — suck the money right out of them — and invest that as well. You know as well as I do what happens inside corporations when money gets tight: they cut the R&D budget, and they put in a hiring freeze. So instead of 3M doing R&D on magic adhesives that turn into Post-It notes, or IBM inventing a new approach for simulating molecules inside a quantum computer, we can have different things that politicians like Joe Biden think would be good. Plus we’ll have hiring freezes in all the big companies.

Democrats believe in this approach because, as a government official, Joe Biden will have better and more forward-thinking ideas than private actors like Elon Musk or IBM. Many people today have no memory of just how well government allocation of investment capital worked. That’s because the economies of the countries that were doing things that way collapsed. Alas, the knowledge of how well it was working was lost. That must be why so many of our young people look forward to trying it again.