In Search of Builders

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

When CCNY professor Aaron Barlow  presented a defense, of sorts, of the president’s “You didn’t build it” claim to American businesses, we posed six questions to him in an open letter, of sorts. Below are his answers:

  • Which came first, the industry or the service? If you look at American history, you will see that the road, the dredged river channel, the canal, and the railroad made way for industry. All of these were subsidized by government. First, of course, was the ship on the ocean… paid for by government and, later, by religious organizations. Private business came on their heels.
  • What happened in those communities where services were created in hopes that industry would flock there, i. e., The Field of Dreams economy—“If you build it, they will come?” The same things that happen to the vast majority of start-ups. Failure is a major part of business (as I know, having seen businesses come and go, having created and run my own successful store and cafe for over a decade before becoming an academic and closing my store). Expecting government to be more successful, generally, than business makes no sense.
  • What was going on in Detroit, Pittsburgh, Bethlehem and Hershey before auto, steel and chocolate manufacturers set up shop there? If you look, in all of these cases, transportation and resource possibilities were in place before industry arrived.
  • What has been happening since they left? Billy Joel wrote a song about one of them. It goes like this: “Well we’re living here in Allentown and they’re closing all the factories down. Out in Bethlehem they’re killing time, filling out forms, standing in line.” Isn’t this an argument for government safety nets and for recognition of the dangers of relying on industry? Things aren’t quite so simple as you would like to make them–situations can be seen in a number of ways.
  • Which came first, the university or the industry that gave it seed money? Yes, some universities began on industry money, but many more started through government or through religious institutions.
  • With Dr. Dewey’s gifts for seeing connections, why was he unable to connect his gracious hosts in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics with the widespread reports of forced famines in the Ukraine there in the 1930s? Were you able to see that there were no WMDs in Iraq a decade ago? Was Henry Ford able to see the dangers of fascism? Does your failure to understand Iraq make everything else you say wrong? Does Henry Ford’s inability to understand world politics make his cars worse?

Dr. Barlow’s points are well taken and we thank him for his responses. Indeed, asking whether industry or infrastructure came first may be a modern variation on the chicken and egg question. Nevertheless, if industry is impossible without infrastructure, one wonders what difference roads make when there is nowhere to go.

As for Dewey, it is true that, as Paul Kengor points out in his book Dupes, Dewey signed onto a letter in 1933 urging the U. S. to diplomatically recognize the Soviet Union at the same time that the U.S.S.R. announced its agriculture collectivization program. Still and all, Dewey had more than an inkling of what Stalin was up to on his first visit on Soviet soil and dismissed obvious warning signals.

“In spite of secret police, inquisitions, arrests and deportations of Nepmen and Kulaks [businessmen, industrialists and farmers], exiling of party opponents, including divergent elements in the party, life for the masses goes on with regularity safety and decorum,” Dewey wrote in The New Republic.

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail