John Stossel, live and impassioned

(Image by Luigi Novi)

The Marin County Republican Party, which last year hosted the late, great Andrew Breitbart, was able to entice John Stossel to come visit as part of his book tour for No, They Can’t: Why Government Fails-But Individuals Succeed.

To no one’s surprise, during his half hour talk (followed by a Q&A session) John Stossel made compelling arguments in favor of smaller government.  My favorite was his OSHA riff.  Mr. Stossel put up a graph showing that, since OSHA’s creation, workplace casualties have declined consistently and dramatically.  Hmm.  Why in the world was Mr. Stossel, a small government advocate, showing that slide?

The answer came quickly, when Mr. Stossel showed a second graph charting workplace casualties for an extended period of time (going back to WWII or before).  That graph revealed that the decline began before OSHA’s creation and that OSHA had no effect whatsoever on the trajectory.  Before OSHA’s expensive, business-killing creation, what was driving down workplace industries was the market place itself:  between a more educated workforce, changing social mores, and the manufacturers’ realization that dead workers were expensive (lawsuits and retraining new workers), work places were becoming safer without an expensive, oppressive government agency interfering in every American business.  As Mr. Stossel said, the government is like someone who jumps in front of a parade and pretends that it’s the leader.

I could go on dredging my rather pathetic memory for more examples of Mr. Stossel’s proof that government is the problem, not the solution, but you’d do better to buy and read his book, as I did. Indeed, when I asked Mr. Stossel during the Q&A session if the big government egg could be unscrambled, to much laughter, he joked that the best way to get the ball rolling would be to buy his book, and to knock Rachel Madow’s book out of the No. 1 position on the best seller lists.

Of course, that’s only sort of a joke.  Mr. Stossel is right in that we cannot change government unless we change how people think about government.  As Mr. Stossel explained, for most people it’s counter-intuitive to believe that a large, visible entity such as the government cannot “fix” things.  People find it almost impossible to believe that Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” is the real answer to most of the problems we face.   Getting more people to understand the Invisible Hand, and doing it in clear, 21st century language, with 21st century anecdotes, rather than trying to convince through Adam Smith’s 18th century prose, is a good start.

I left the gathering well-satisfied.  As was the case with Andrew Breitbart, John Stossel manifestly and passionately believes in bringing an end to big government.  Although he must have given this talk hundreds of times before, it felt fresh and invigorating.  This was in stark contrast to David Axelrod’s talk before a huge audience in the Marin County Civic Center, which I attended last year.  After noting that Axelrod came across as rather charming, I had this to say:

Axelrod was also dull. The Italians call his kind of speech “fried air,” meaning that there were lots of words, but there wasn’t much content.  (I’d be really good at that kind of speech, plus being charming.)  He described how he met Obama, how wonderful the young Obama was, how wonderful the mature Obama is, etc. He made a few half-hearted attacks against Republicans (especially Perry, which was interesting), but mostly he just wandered on with his canned speech. At periodic intervals, he spouted obligatory conclusions about the wonderfulness of his liberal ideology and the foulness of the Republican world view, but he never made the case for either of these points — which is unsurprising, I guess, since the audience was already on board with his position.

The whole thing was lifeless and lackluster. Axelrod seemed tired and, while the audience was very friendly, it lacked energy.

Axelrod is a cynic; Mr. Stossel a true believer — and I believe too.