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When the Nobel Committee Got it Right

9 October 2009

From Edmund Phelps (Nobel Economics Laureate, 2006):

Both the unreasoning rejection of capitalism by some and the baseless triumphalism of others are ridiculous. They are not grounded in a full look at the upsides and the downsides of the system over the past 200 years…

…most observers now acknowledge that capitalism, even in the midst of the 1930s depression, has long been creating unprecedented, unimagined levels of productivity and wage rates—for the rest of the world as well as for the handful of capitalist economies themselves. Now, however, some philosophers and social critics are suggesting that even capitalism has outlived its usefulness—that pursuit of new goals requires another system.

It must be clear by now that this analysis overlooks what has been the key dimension of capitalism from its first functioning early in the nineteenth century. This dimension is what capitalism’s dynamism offers to human experience and human benefit—the true moral dimension of economics, in other words. Well-functioning capitalism, where it is attainable, is of undimmed value because it allows human beings to realize their true nature as creators and innovators.


In contrast, however, an unapologetic redistributionist – whose only real accomplishment has been so thoroughly to snow the American people that they would elect him to the highest office in the land – has been extended another “absurd” gratuity on par with Phelps’, an award that will only add shimmer to the mirage.  Surely this emperor cannot get any more naked, nor his court any more shamelessly obsequious.

His spokesman says that the president is “humbled” by the award.  Would that it were so; that would be progress.


POSTSCRIPT:  In today’s New York Times, the estimable columnist Thomas Friedman (The Lexus and the Olive Tree, From Beirut to Jerusalem) has provided the president with the text of an acceptance address that would certainly be a step forward in asserting the United States’ essential leadership in global beneficence while affirming the need for military might as long as the true enemies of peace – President Bush famously called them out with the accurate but bracing phrase, “Axis of Evil” – try to assert their character.


Normally a pretty reasoned voice, Peggy Noonan had this to say in relation to this “wicked and ignorant award:”

How to redeem this? That is a hard question, but here is one idea. The president will deliver a big speech in Oslo Dec. 10: white tie and tails, a formal, bound statement. The world, as they say, will be watching. He should deflect the limelight. (Can he?) He should make his subject bigger than himself. (Is there a subject bigger than himself?)

It would appear that Ms. Noonan is not persuaded of the president’s humility, either.


And this TV snippet hit the Web today:

But Bob Schieffer, host of CBS’ “Face the Nation,” said in his brief editorial commentary Sunday that the committee may have done Obama a disservice.

“I would guess no one at the White House was praying for the president to win the Nobel just yet, not because they’re selfless humble souls whose only goal is to help humanity but because they are very good professional politicians who would know better than most of us that an undeserved accolade has a high probability of backfire,” he said. “I generally agree with the president’s approach on foreign policy, but the Nobel Committee did him no favors by giving him the award before he had anything to show for his efforts. … What the Nobel Committee has managed to change — and I am sorry to say it — is the way we look on the prize.”

No, Mr. Schieffer, it hasn’t changed it; it has confirmed it.


10 Comments leave one →
  1. 9 October 2009 8:10 am


    My, my…. Aren’t we a wee bit ideological and judgmental this morning? “Well-functioning capitalism” is actually capitalism chastened and controlled by a sense of morality, justice and humility. Because there is more to life than the balance sheet, law and regulation are necessary. Statist redistributionism, though sometimes clumsy and arbitrary, is needed when capitalists in their boardrooms forget that it is God who blesses–A. Smith’s invisible hand doncha know–and engage in corporatist shell games.


  2. 9 October 2009 8:29 am

    I understand Phelps precisely, Coop. I read the entire article and found him squarely on the mark. (That’s why qb is not a libertarian.) In fact, I used the term “unapologetic” rather than the more accurate “radical,” when applied to the president’s redistributionist inclinations, to distinguish between his imprudent, naive, punitive, anticapitalist posture and a conservative’s understanding of the need to restrain virulent economic amorality with prudent regulation.


  3. 9 October 2009 9:26 am


    Why would you think Obama is “imprudent, naive, punitive, anticapitalist”? Evidence? The Left is reflexively accusing him of being in bed with corporatist capitalism and the Right is reflexively labeling him a “socialist.”


  4. 9 October 2009 9:44 am


    By the way, two other matters. (1) Obama has clay feet–like all of us. My guess is that he realizes it. Making him godlike or demonizing him is unseemly. (2) Phelp’s article is thoughtful and I generally agree with him.

    Blessings and peace!

  5. 9 October 2009 11:36 am


    If you will reflect for a while on the FDR presidency and the conceptual outlines and academic origins of the New Deal, an overwhelming case will emerge that the biggest corporations have an enormous stake in enabling redistributionism in or by the Oval Office. Bush 43 and Obama look for all the world like Hoover and FDR.


  6. 9 October 2009 2:20 pm


    You and I generally agree here. But we have what we have. Personally, I have no objections to a measured amount of “corporatism,” but rather to corporate abuses such as Enron, AIG, Bank of America, Citibank, Merrill Lynch, and so on where corporate redistributionism morphs into lavish getaways and executive bonuses and claims on the 1st Amendment–to the detriment of Joe the Plumber. I also have no truck with non-profits such as ACORN which abuse their “blessed” status.


  7. George Cooper permalink
    12 October 2009 8:31 am


    The peace prize is a lose-lose situation for Obama and a win-win for his critics. The “axis of evil” was a rhetorical conjuring of a country traumatized by 9/11: behold, the pests of the 2000s are the equivalent of the fascist bogeymen (who in fact controlled entire states) of the 1930s and anything that smells of appeasement is to be rejected. Sadly, it worked. The people who cooked this up were the same people that were caught with their pants down on 9/11.


  8. 12 October 2009 9:07 am

    It might surprise you – it shouldn’t, but it might – to note that qb is not interested in a win-win for the president’s critics, Coop. I would far rather have a president who evinces a thoroughgoing humility (e. g., a Calvin Coolidge, an Abraham Lincoln, a George Washington), even if he is politically liberal (in the modern sense), and a world community that is inclined to be a bit more grateful for what our particular brand of constitutionalism and liberalism – properly construed in its historical, Madisonian sense – has provided the world in our short tenure on the global stage. We do not need, nor do I desire, fawning sycophancy or mindless, auto-obscurantist flattery; merely a sense of proportion would not be too much to ask.

    Instead, we have a statist, redistributionist CEO with a messiah complex and a bunch of Western, old-Europe lobsters (not to mention the vicious, pan-Islamic despots) who cannot see past their lust to yank America back into the pot of economic, political, and social regressivism with them – which is the genesis, as I take it, of the Nobel committee’s peristaltogenic sycophancy, not just over the past week, but over the past century. This is a perfect storm, suffused with the potential for irreversible and tragic change in our nation’s self-understanding. The amnesiac 52% of our voting population who favor the statist, quasi-socialist agenda looks across the pond with a terrible naivete, a form of rose-colored glasses that cannot see what has become of these once-great peoples who gave us Burke, Bach, Berlioz, and the Bard.

    A couple of years back, I had the misty good fortune, accompanied at an observant distance by my beloved, generous, and self-effacing mother, to wander in and out of the moonscape of Pointe du Hoc and to raise a mug of Leffe Blonde in a brasserie near the spire of St. Mere Eglise. She was wondering what I was thinking. Here’s what: the times have changed, and the enemies have changed, but the essential goodness of America’s better angels – Rudder’s Rangers among them – is worthy of sustained reflection. America, for all of its many faults, foibles, and, yes, systemic social evils, still holds out more hope to the nations than the rest of the world taken together. A little humility about his place in a larger narrative of liberty – of speech, of association, of conscience, of existential pursuit – is well within the pale of expectation of the current steward of our presidency. He and his wife do not deserve the honor we have conferred upon them.


  9. George Cooper permalink
    12 October 2009 9:48 am

    Wow! What big words you use, granny. Your judgmentalism in the political realm, qb, is astounding, as is your assessment of the presidency in our media-driven world where spin meisters control. And speaking of Lincoln and Coolidge in the same breath suggests an eccentric understanding of history. Read Lincoln’s contemporaries, both supporters and critics. Hardly testimony to his “humility.”


  10. 12 October 2009 11:02 am

    I reserve my political judgmentalism for those figures who clearly deserve it, Coop. This president is a rare breed; not irredeemable, perhaps, but seemingly impervious to the chastening breezes of nasty, brutish reality.

    BTW, some of the best and most objective evidence of narcissism is found in the frequency of the first person singular in one’s prepared remarks and the transcripts thereof. This way of measuring one’s self-regard has a long and noble history in rhetorical analysis of all kinds. May I gently suggest that you review the most recent data?

    Cheers, qb

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