Shawn Mitchell
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Let’s talk words, specifically the wrong words.

The president displayed his customary grace this week when he accused Team Romney-Ryan of pedaling "trickle-down fairy dust." It’s gratifying the president realizes he faces a serious economic and philosophical challenge, one that calls for vintage, anti-Reagan artillery. But, strictly speaking, the taunt he threw has always been an incoherent mess.

“Trickle down economics”--what does it mean? That if we don't tax the snot out of the rich, maybe they'll pour some spare pennies down on the heads of the poor? Nonsense. Beyond achieving a miserly-sounding sneer, the pairing is exactly wrong in at least three different ways.

First, in the ordinary course of things, the wealthy don’t actually trickle anything down on anyone. They pay for things they need and want, with whatever effects that produces in the economy. What progressives seem to prefer is a system to wring the rich like a wet towel and politically drizzle the money on the needy—what’s left anyway after government waters its favored causes and cronies.



That's the ostensible approach of the shake-down state economies of the Euro-moribund zone and of the great Peron-Castro-Chavez banana tradition of strongmen gaining power, neutralizing competing power centers--like checks and balances—asserting economic control, and chocando the fortunes and freedom of rising Latin powers. (“Chocar” doesn’t mean “to choke” but close enough).

That turns out to be the real “trickle down”: extract lots of money from the rich, feed it through the digestive tract of government and its many corrupt parasites and dribble what’s left on the heads of the grateful, dependent poor, thus securing their suicidal votes.

Come to think, “trickle down economics” also reasonably describes the redistributive obsession and promises President Obama has powerfully and empirically debunked in an exhaustive four year field study. Bravo, Mr. President!

Second, what liberals call “trickle down” is just good ole’ “supply side" or “free market” economics. It means human freedom in commercial activity. Get out of the way of people’s pursuit of happiness and gainful labor, so free exchange and economic growth can build prosperity. Investors, entrepreneurs, managers, and workers build enterprises that hire employees to market goods and services. Opportunity spreads out from there.

Third, interestingly, if any vertical-spatial metaphor makes sense here, it’s not “down,” but “up.” “Trickle up economics” describes free enterprise far better than “trickle down.” The way to build wealth in a free economy is to satisfy the market, as in consumers. That is, to get rich you have to offer goods or services for which A) people are willing to pay you; B) a price higher than your cost of providing; and C) in sufficient quantity that profits proliferate. And your offer has to be more attractive than your competitors’.

If people get wealthy in a free economy, it's because the wealth trickles up as a result of others’ free choices pursuing their own benefit. All the related suppliers, employees, contractors and others also gain from the same flowing currents of wealth generation. Apart from charitable giving--a different subject--the rich don’t pour or trickle anything down on less fortunate heads; rather the middle and working classes earn income in the streams that trickle up toward success.

Ever since this silly insult first trickled harmlessly off Ronald Reagan’s Teflon, its logic has been amiss.

But when you hear it, be charitable. The speaker probably also has difficulty navigating “effect” and “affect”, and “your” and “you’re.” He’s literally a verbal kindergartner--figuratively speaking.

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Shawn Mitchell

Shawn Mitchell was elected to Senate District 23 in the Colorado General Assembly in November of 2004. Shawn is an attorney at private practice in Denver and Adams County.