The Fine Art of Doing Nothing


It is not too much of a stretch to think that after Trump’s second term is over in 2024, there will be books written comparing the policies of the Obama years to the policies of the Trump years and the success and failures of each of those 8-year periods. Obama’s years will surely be described as the most progressive since the FDR years and I think Trump’s will likely not be viewed as “conservative” – at least as we know conservatism – rather more “Smithian” (not me – Adam Smith) due to his penchant for preferring more passive nullification actions and letting the market take care of itself. Trump’s philosophy runs far more toward the Hayek/Von Mises/Rothbard/Friedman side than Obama’s blind faith in collectivism and active Keynesian statism.

Trump is no professor – or even a “lecturer” like Obama – so his approach is that of a layman – he may appear to lack the sophistication of the elite and may not relate in excruciating detail the intricacies of the policies – but he’s seen them work before and believes they will work now.

The truth is that most of us can’t provide mathematical and statistical proof of the correctness of our business decisions – but we know from our experiences they work – or at least have a strong chance of success – we go with our “gut”. A long winded dissertation explaining a policy doesn’t make it successful but that is what we have come to expect from our “experts” in government.

Given the role of government in the mortgage bust and the subsequent global financial meltdown, Obama was presented with a true once in a generation opportunity. He had a chance to let creative destruction rage and clean up the market, making it hardier and more efficient once the carnage was over – but he didn’t. He and George W. before him were scared into the creation of the “too big to fail” notion and saw the government as a combination of a messiah and the lender of resort.

For 8 years, Obama increased government intrusiveness, creating the monstrosity called Obamacare which stuck its tentacles into every single area of both public and private worlds. It began to metastasize almost immediately while meeting none of its stated lofty goals of insuring everybody, “bending the cost curve down” and making health insurance more affordable. Taxes went up, incomes went down, employment stagnated as the labor participation rate was negatively impacted and public debt (including unfunded liabilities) skyrocketed. A credible argument has been made that FDR’s statist actions actually prolonged the Great Depression – I would not be surprised if a similar argument will be advanced that Obama’s actions prolonged the Great Recession.

The most insidious lie of government – and the one responsible for the greatest destruction of liberty – is that one can receive something for nothing. Government does not create, it destroys. It is a parasite, a veritable regulatory remora attached to the soft, fleshy underbelly of the Republic. For government to have anything to give to one, it first must take it from another – and yet politicians become elected officials through promising to take from the “other” to give to you.

The problem with this line of thinking is that at some point, everyone becomes the “other”, they become the “forgotten man”, the man that Yale University professor William Graham Sumner identified in an 1876 essay as:

“As soon as A observes something which seems to him wrong, from which X is suffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X. Their law always proposes to determine what C shall do for X, or, in better case, what A, B, and C shall do for X… What I want to do is to look up C. I want to show you what manner of man he is. I call him the Forgotten Man. Perhaps the appellation is not strictly correct. He is the man who never is thought of…. I call him the forgotten man… He works, he votes, generally he prays—but he always pays. “

nothing1Trump seems not to have forgotten the “forgotten man”. He should continue to resist the impulse of all elected officials, that of “We must do something, even if we don’t really know what that something is!” Do nothing other than continue peeling the fingers of the state off the throat of the American economy.


Trump can be remembered as a great president for simply doing that. Sometimes wisdom is not in “doing something”, it is knowing when not to do something.

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