November 25, 2010
One of my favorite television programs is “How It’s Made” on the Science Channel. The documentary series shows “how the everyday objects people use become the things they are.” From ketchup and flip-flops, to nail clippers and snare drums, to NASCAR engines, hydraulic cylinders and motor homes, the show takes viewers on wondrous autobiographical journeys of the mundane products we too often take for granted.
Though it originated in Canada and has become a global phenomenon, “How It’s Made” is largely a tribute to individual American ingenuity and American entrepreneurs. The show’s myriad episodes spotlighting U.S. inventions also serve as potent antidotes to the government-centric vision that reigns in the White House these days.
Last summer, President Obama opined that the proper role of private entrepreneurs is to fulfill “the core responsibilities of the financial system to help grow our economy”—and that “at a certain point you’ve made enough money.” Last month, Vice President Joe Biden boasted that “every single great idea that has marked the 21st century, the 20th century and the 19th century has required government vision and government incentive.”
Such command-and-control narcissism is completely alien to the unique American culture and marketplace that have bred so many successful inventors. Consider the electric carving knife that so many of you will use without a second thought this Thanksgiving holiday season. Jerome L. Murray, the New York City man who invented the ubiquitous kitchen appliance, was an insatiable tinkerer from his teens until his death in 1998 at the age of 85. He was driven not by a social justice agenda or by the need to “grow the economy” to boost government employment figures, but by a constant desire to solve problems, cut costs, satisfy his own intellectual curiosities and pursue the profit motive.
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