- - Friday, September 9, 2011

Steve Jobs, chairman of Apple Inc., became a billionaire not by force or manipulation but instead by understanding the central tenet of free-market capitalism: He served other people. Millions the world over have voluntarily handed over their hard-earned money in return for his high-tech smartphone, which ushered in a new age in communication. In some ways, the iPhone is, in fact, emblematic of America itself.

With its infinite combination of applications and settings, the iPhone, like many other smartphones that followed, can be as individualized and personalized as the free people who buy it. The Democratic governing class, however, is stuck in an era long since cast aside. It stands astride the 21st century bitterly clinging to its monolithic, government-control mindset. Its miscalculation - the epic political miscalculation of our lifetime - is the belief that free Americans who demand bottom-up, personalized phones and individualized music playlists will accept top-down, one-size-fits-all government rule.

Contrast the Democrats’ magnum opus, Obamacare, to the free market’s smartphone. One of these conforms to your desires, while the other demands you conform to it. Americans who are accustomed to the freedom to control their own telephones are not eager to submit to government control of something far more consequential such as their family’s health care.

As a thought exercise, try to imagine what an iPhone might look like if the government took it over. Nothing about it would be smart.

In fact, consider the consumer-electronics sector at large. In an era when big government micromanages children’s lemonade stands, there’s no industry left untouched, but consumer electronics - and more important, consumers of electronics - enjoy something that still resembles a free market. Compare that to the sectors of our economy that are most heavily regulated. Take your pick: health care, education, energy supply, food supply. Each of these drives inflation, despite our purportedly transparent government’s exclusion of many of their volatile elements from its official measure of inflation.

While politicians fiddle, the free market roars with such enormous success in consumer electronics that we take it for granted. We hesitate to purchase the latest gadget not because its price is too high or its quality has declined. Quite the contrary. We hesitate because we know that tomorrow, the same product will be improved and cost less.

Consider that for a moment. The first videocassette recorders cost $30,000, and today’s high-definition Blu-ray DVD players cost less than $100. This didn’t happen by accident, and it didn’t require government regulation or “stimulus” spending or even a 2,700-page Movie Viewers Protection and Affordable Entertainment Act. Increasing quality and decreasing prices are the natural consequence of free competition. This in turn creates accessibility. When the first lady donated her time at a soup kitchen for the homeless, for example, even the downtrodden there photographed her with their high-tech smartphones. Consider this: The free market is so successful with consumer electronics that the megastore Best Buy offers “buy-back” insurance to address the “problem,” of increasing quality and decreasing prices.

Some problem. Imagine health care, education, energy supply or food supply - under the control of the government - being forced to address consumers’ concerns about rapidly increasing quality and decreasing prices.

Today’s predictable liberals, when confronted with these realities, sound a familiar chorus. The free market, they say, may work for something as simple as a cellphone but it can’t be trusted for more complex matters like health care. I’m not certain that interpreting an MRI or delivering a baby (I’ve done both) is any more complex than the microchips and circuitry of today’s electronics, but leaving that aside, the liberals find themselves in interesting company with that argument.

Benito Mussolini, the founding father of fascism, believed the same. In fact, it was a central tenet of his rule. Il Duce, “the Leader,” believed that the more complex an endeavor was, the more imperative it was that his government control it. It’s doubtful but immaterial whether today’s American liberals even realize that their affinity for government control is in league with a discredited central tenet of Mussolini’s economic fascism. Either way, Democrats have staked out the position that Americans are not capable of being free men and women who can live their own lives when it matters most.

The Italian fascist dictator reportedly said and certainly believed, “Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.” Sound familiar? Jump forward to contemporary America.

If you want to know what a government-created iPhone might look like, just take a look at a Government Motors Chevy Volt, the overpriced, short-range electric car nobody wants. Or take a look at Solyndra, the government-funded and now bankrupt solar-panel maker. Or Johnson Controls Inc. Or Evergreen Solar. Or SolFocus Inc. Or any other of President Obama’s mergers of state and corporate power that are bankrupting our nation.

America rejected Mussolini’s brand of corporatism in the 20th century, and we should reject Mr. Obama’s less despotic brand in the 21st. It bankrupts a nation and ultimately destroys something far more valuable than material wealth: the human spirit. Instead of crony corporatism, we should get the government out of the boardrooms and once again embrace the free market that, without spending a taxpayer’s dime, incentivizes pioneers like Steve Jobs to create wonders that have bettered our lives.

Dr. Milton R. Wolf, a Washington Times columnist, is a cousin of President Obama’s. He blogs at MiltonWolf.com.