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Did President Obama Turn Full Circle in India?

8:01 AM, Nov 12, 2010 • By ANDREW B. WILSON
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So what happened to the Obama who put the “buy America” clause in the stimulus bill, who campaigns ceaselessly for greater government regulation across the entire spectrum of banking and finance, health care and health insurance, energy and the environment, and who constantly touts the advantages of “government investment” in ventures that win little or no support from private enterprise, including windmills, solar energy and electric cars? What happened to this License Raj Obama who constantly seeks to increase the power and scope of government at the expense of the free play of individual choice and economic competition?

Of course, it is not uncommon for a politician to speak out of both sides of his mouth. Politicians fall easily into the habit of telling people what they want to hear.  But in this instance, there was at least one telling omission – one thing Obama could not quite bring himself to say in praising India for following a set of policies that are diametrically opposed to those that he has pursued in the United States.

He could not bring himself to say: “Good for you, India.  You have done well in abandoning the dirty and blood-soaked banner from your socialist past – the banner of class warfare. Good for you for celebrating the success of your entrepreneurs and for letting your people know that they will be able to enjoy the fruits of their own success.”

That, truly, would have been a bridge too far for this president, who continues to harp on the idea that the “rich” in our country – defined by him to mean someone who makes at least $200,000 and who may have two children in college who cost half that amount on a pretax basis – are not “paying their fair share” in taxes. Upon leaving the United States for India, Obama appeared to be firmly resolved to raise taxes on everyone he broadly defines as “rich,” which includes many entrepreneurs and small business owners. And let us leave aside the little fact that top two percent of taxpayers in the U.S. are responsible for roughly 40 percent of all income tax revenues, while nearly half of all people pay no income tax at all.

If Obama has paid any attention to what has happened in India, he would know that today’s India is famous, among other things, for its growing number of billionaires. As Forbes noted in its annual survey of the world’s richest people:

India was one of the world’s poorest economies when it won its independence from Britain in 1947. Incredibly, 60 years later, the country’s emerging economic clout has made it Asia’s top spot for billionaires. This year, for the first time in two decades of wealth tracking, we counted more Indian than Japanese billionaires in our annual tracking of the world’s wealthiest people. 

India produced 36 people with 10-figure fortunes, worth a total of $191 billion, versus Japan’s 24, who are worth a total of $64 billion. Three Indians even made it to the list of the top 20 of the world’s richest.

It was a vastly different story in 1987 when we began tracking fortunes around the world. That year the only Indian family to make the cut was the Birla family, with a net worth of close to $2 billion.

You cannot travel around today’s India without being acutely aware of the fact that ordinary people have been inspired by the extraordinary success of its richest citizens. One finds the same kind of the-sky-is-the-limit attitude that characterized Silicon Valley (itself filled with a good many people of Indian descent) during the 1980s and 90s.       

Without a doubt, that is a great attitude to have. It is an attitude of people wanting to work hard and wanting to succeed – as opposed to an attitude of looking to the government to protect a marginal or unneeded job, or looking to the government to compensate people for being unable or unwilling to find a job.

Will President Obama become a convert to this way of thinking?

Not a chance, I would say.

Andrew B. Wilson is a writer and business consultant.

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