Joe “Don’t Know Much About History” Biden credits the government for all things good

by editor on October 28, 2010

Speaking at fundraiser for in Manhattan on Tuesday, Joe Biden played a little fast and loose with history. But knowing Biden, he was just making crap up as he went along.


The two railroads met at Promontory Point, Utah. Joe Biden was unable to attend.

The New York Daily News has the details:

“Every single great idea that has marked the 21st century, the 20th century and the 19th century has required government vision and government incentive,” he said. “In the middle of the Civil War you had a guy named Lincoln paying people $16,000 for every 40 miles of track they laid across the continental United States. … No private enterprise would have done that for another 35 years.”

The fact that every word Biden said is either oversimplified, misleading or incorrect tends to weaken his argument about the importance of government intervention. But this is, after all, Joe Biden, so let’s not let the truth interfere with a good story.

Fact is, the transcontinental railroad wasn’t built because of government vision. The term “government vision” is an oxymoron. The concept of a transcontinental railroad had been proposed and pushed by private citizens and private companies for decades. It’s a little known fact of history that Abraham Lincoln represented several major railroads and those with interests in the railroads long before he ever ran for office. It’s been suggested that he was owned – lock, stock and barrel – by he railroads. He continued to represent their interests as long as he was in office.

Sorry, Joe, but the railroads were paid $16,000 for every mile, not every 40 miles. In fact, they were paid $16,000 per mile over relatively flat grade, $32,000 per mile across the Great Plains, and $48,000 per mile in the mountains. But that’s just the beginning. They were also given what today would amount to trillions of dollars of free land in alternating ten square miles parcels adjacent to the track they laid. Instead of calling them government “incentives,” it might be more appropriate to refer to them as government rip-offs. One is tempted to say that the numbers Biden quotes about the costs of constructing the railroad are almost as inaccurate as every other number this administration quotes.

Biden also neglects to mention that the transcontinental railroad project was marred by the most egregious corruption in the nation’s history. Credit Mobilier, a scam run by the Union Pacific railroad, was the greatest scandal of the 19th Century. It made today’s $700 toilet seats and $1200 monkey wrenches pale in comparison.

Was the railroad really built during the Civil War as Biden claimed? Hardly. It was approved during the war, but only after the extraordinary manpower and financial demands of the Civil War wound down that there were enough of each so that construction could begin to advance more rapidly.

Want specifics? Here you go.

The Civil War ended on April 9, 1865. The Central Pacific, building east from Sacramento, had only completed 54 miles of track by November 29, 1865. In July, 1865, as Stephen Ambrose says in “Nothing Like It In the World,” “Stanford invited the Speaker and his party to travel with him to the CP’s end of the track, then at mile 50” (out of a total mileage of 742 miles of track the CP eventually built between Sacramento, California and Golden Spike, Utah).

The west bound railroad, being built by Union Pacific, showed a remarkably similar lack of progress during the war. Again, according to Ambrose, “The 1864 Pacific Railroad Act required the UP to complete the first hundred miles of track by June 27, 1966. Durant had talked confidently of building that amount in 1865, but he didn’t come close. In September 1865, he confessed that the UP would be lucky to complete sixty miles by the end of the year, but he didn’t come close to that, either. By December 31, the UP had laid forty miles of track.” (Out of a total of 1086 miles from Omaha to Golden Spike, Utah.)

Because of the rush to build as many miles of track as possible in order to qualify for the government’s generous grants of land and cash, both sections of the track were marred by remarkably shoddy workmanship. Speed (inspired by greed) was much more important to the builders than quality. Vast portions of the track eventually had to be rebuilt.

Biden also neglected to note that the Union Pacific went bankrupt three years after the railroad was completed.

What can we learn from all this?

Like most government projects, the vision comes from the private sector. Like most government projects, costs eventually run out of control. And like most government projects, corruption is endemic.

But mostly we learn that Joe Biden doesn’t know history any better than he knows economics.

Source: New York Daily News

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Idalee July 7, 2011 at 10:57 pm

This inofrmtaion is off the hizool!

Jim Stewart October 28, 2010 at 10:31 pm

And to think Dan Quayle was excoriated over a goddam “E” in potato.

USN-RETIRED October 28, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Joey, Joey, how many times I gotta tell ya? READ what Mr. Teleprompter says. Don’t try to wing it, you’re just gonna screw it up and look stupid.

Warren October 28, 2010 at 6:25 pm

He probably was reading from the teleprompter 🙂

YT October 28, 2010 at 7:43 am

The only positive developments I can think the government really helped along were spun out of military research or the interstate highway system which was copied out of Hitler’s playbook.

Joe has his facts right: the government creates incentives for everything and skews all markets but comes to the incorrect conclusion that throwing money at pet projects is the cause of results.

danybhoy October 28, 2010 at 9:58 am

The military tells private industry what it needs, & private comapanies produce it. Defense contrators like Boeing, Raytheon, Northrup Grumman, Lockeed Martin, & General Dynamics to name a few, produce the weapons systems that keep the USA & the world safe. The gov’t does’nt have much to do with developing anything. If anything, things are developed despite the gov’t, not with it. They might flip the bill, but could never produce what they want or need.

YT October 28, 2010 at 7:34 pm

It hasn’t always been that way and developments may have been done by contractors but that doesn’t mean the market would have done them for a consumer due to the cost.

CDMA, frequency hopping/spread spectrum, GPS, digital filtering, the internet all come to mind as things generated out of military requirements or ideas that probably would never have been invented in the private market due to the unknown startup costs.

SCDiver October 29, 2010 at 9:35 am

Joe Biden created the Internet.

Or was that somebody else?

USN-RETIRED October 29, 2010 at 4:33 pm

I though Al Gore did it in his spare time.

matthew s harrison October 28, 2010 at 7:37 am

Ford created the assembly line for a contest the government was having, titled “the government cool invention contest” And Edison was working on a grant from the not-yet-created DOE(he went forward in a time machine to get that one), and those crazy Wright Brothers had a contract with the USPS to create mail delivery bicycles that could also fly.
Mr Biden is brilliant, and we would all be in deep shit, were he not there to guide we morons through these dark times!

YT October 28, 2010 at 7:34 am

Man, I am SO glad Sara Palin is not the VP. She would be a national embarrasement and say stupid things all the time!!1!one!

Warren October 28, 2010 at 6:19 pm

I know right? Like talking about the Tea party in 1773! Sheez what a mah-roon. OF COURSE she must have been wrong in mentioning that we party like it’s 1773! Sheez what kind of person would stick to the facts when tweeting?

I mean that was a gaffe right? All the liberal blogs/newshows/twitterites told me so.

YT October 28, 2010 at 7:29 pm

Ya I know! I read she doesn’t even like to smell her own farts! What sort of backward hick is she?

Warren October 28, 2010 at 8:18 pm

Sheez I bet next she’ll be telling us that the constitution is a valid document! HAHAHAHAHAHHA Such an old document that no one should pay attention to any longer!

randfan October 28, 2010 at 6:19 am

Every facepalm of the last two years has required the assistance of Joe Biden.

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