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Uncle Sam Can't Count: A History of Failed Government Investments, from Beaver Pelts to Green Energy by [Folsom Jr., Burton W., Jr., Folsom, Anita]
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4.6 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

In their fascinating history of government misadventure, Burton and Anita Folsom show why the Obama administration's urge to pick winners and losers in the private sector is doomed to fail.

From the days of George Washington through World War II to today, government investments have failed dismally. They not only drain the Treasury of cash but also impede economic growth, and they hurt the very companies they try to support.

Why does federal aid seem to have a reverse Midas touch? Simply put, federal officials don't have the same abilities or incentives as entrepreneurs. In addition, federal control always produces political control of some kind. What is best for politicians is not often what works in the marketplace. Politicians want to win votes, and they can do so by giving targeted CEOs benefits while dispersing costs to others.

Uncle Sam Can't Count is filled with examples of government failures and free market triumphs, including

  • John Jacob Astor, who owned a fur company that defeated a government-funded rival—supported by George Washington himself—by actively cooperating in trade with the Native Americans instead of trying to tell them what they wanted.
  • The Wright brothers, who, with two thousand dollars of their own money, successfully flew the first manned flight, while the government threw money at Samuel Langley, whose two failed attempts at flight both landed in the Potomac River.
  • George Mitchell, who spent seventeen years developing fracking, after the high taxes on oil drilling were repealed, while the government subsidized ethanol.

Uncle Sam Can't Count is a hard-hitting critique of a government completely incapable of either picking winners or learning from its many mistakes, which demonstrates why business should be left to private entrepreneurs.

About the Author

Burton W. Folsom Jr. is the Charles Kline Professor of History and Management at Hillsdale College, and the author of <em>New Deal or Raw Deal?</em>, <em>The Myth of the Robber Barons</em>, and <em>FDR Goes to War</em>, written with his wife, Anita. He has written for the <em>Wall Street Journal</em>, <em>American Spectator</em>, <em>Policy Review</em>, and <em>Human Events</em>.


Product Details

  • File Size: 893 KB
  • Print Length: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Broadside e-books (April 15, 2014)
  • Publication Date: April 15, 2014
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00DB3D7YE
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #766,797 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've always believed government subsidies were destructive to free economies, and now thanks to this book and the research of Burton Folsom the evidence is available for all who are interested in seeking the truth about crony capitalism. It struck me how many times throughout the history of this country the pendulum has swung between free markets and government subsidies, each time proving the disastrous results of government trying to pick the winners, yet with each crisis somehow further cementing the believe that government should be involved in and control more and more of the economy. Reading about events of the past that sound like headlines from today's news makes me realize how foolish we are as a nation, repeating rather than learning from past mistakes, and how destructive the policies of the current administration will prove to be. I only hope that we as a nation can wake up to the truth about government subsidies, crony capitalism, and unchecked government power and corruption. A good place to start is for every citizen, especially every voting citizen, to read this book.
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Format: Hardcover
Nothing about the failure of the recent government "investments" should surprise us. Santayana's observation, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it' is certainly demonstrated in this latest book by the Folsom's. It is a well documented and well guided trip through the history of past government folly in misspending the peoples money. Particularly interesting to me was the story of James J. Hill and the railroad across the Northwest that was constructed with no Federal aid. Other 19th century railroads that were provided government subsidies, fell to bankruptcy and corruption. It seems that throughout history men handle money that they did not earn with a carelessness that often leads to criminality. As they did in their last book, "FDR Goes to War," the authors patiently and perceptively use their extensive research to pull back the curtain of history and reveal the true cost of well-intentioned policies that ignore basic economic realities. That history is then linked to today's headlines in such a way that is neither sensational nor simplistic. Were it in my power, I would place this book in the hands of every legislator and bureaucrat responsible for disbursing funds and make it required reading before they cast a vote or sign a check. I do intend to get copies to my entrepreneurial friends to encourage them in their efforts.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Conventional history books focus more on superficial details without attempting to understand the underlying causes. It is one thing to explain that there was high inflation and an energy crisis in the 1970s, but quite another to deftly explain the government policies which directly led to it. It is all to common for such events to be depicted as externally caused and inevitable, when in fact they are both heavily influenced by government policy and quite avoidable.

Whereas the traditional textbooks have the general theme of "a problem occurred, often due to the failure of free markets to self-regulate, and the government came in and fixed it." The theme of this book is instead, "government regulations impeded markets, creating and deepening misery." It is important to not only speak about the intentions of government action, but the results. Most textbooks content themselves to superficially describe a historical problem and then the government policy created with the intent of addressing it. The full causes of the problems in the first place and the effects of the well-intentioned policies are seldom questioned. This book addresses these conventional failings.

Burt and Anita Folsom's insights are sound, as in their other books, but they are sometimes repetitive and patronizing in their tone. This is especially true of the introduction. The tone of his early books, "Myth of the Robber Barons" and "Michigan Entrepreneurs" was more focused and scholarly. This book includes many of the same stories, but with less detail and more judgmental language.

This book is well-referenced, but seems to be designed for an audience that is both less intellectual and more partisan than the audience of Folsom's earlier works on entrepreneurs.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
“The Government Can’t Count” is an amazing book. We previewed it at one of our group meetings and everyone was astounded. How can a simple idea be so brilliant? It is when you have historians follow a premise through history and discovery that the results are the same every time. What made the book so much fun is that most people are familiar with the stories, but don’t get the outcome right. It is a great read for anyone who wants to understand how free enterprise can get something so right and the government can get it so wrong.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have been eagerly awaiting the Folsoms’ latest book. I bought two copies the day it came out: a hardback and the kindle version so I would not have to wait two days to begin reading. I was not disappointed. In fact, I find myself telling stories from the book to my friends on a daily basis. The premise is that the government cannot give enough money (subsidies) to make a business successful. The end is always a lot of wasted money with dismal results at best and no results at worst. The first example in the book is about the fiasco when the government involved itself in fur trading. The government spent huge amounts of money to try to get the Native Americans to trade for items they had no interest in, such as plows and hoes. Astor became the top fur trader, however, because his company supplied to the Native Americans what they wanted. One of my favorite accounts was about the history of the first manned flight. The government invested a lot of money in Samuel Langley, head of the Smithsonian Institute and author of Experiments in Aerodynamics. Langley had successfully flown a small, unmanned airplane in a circular path over the Potomac. It did seem to be one of the government's safer bets. After all, the Wright brothers never went to college and owned a bicycle repair shop, yet they, with very little money, beat the well-funded Langley to manned flight. I doubt even the most shrewd investors would have taken the bet that the Wrights would beat Langley to the record books. Another lesson here is that it is impossible for the government or anybody else to know who is going to be successful, although history definitely shows you should bet against any corporation or individual that the government bets on.Read more ›
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