“If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that.”

In a speech on July 13, 2012 (Friday the Thirteenth no less!), President Obama was heard saying the following (I’m including enough context to avoid any criticism that I’m taking it out of context):

“There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.”

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.” [Emphasis added]

I heard U.S. Senate hopeful Ted Cruz comment on this yesterday. He aptly said that a political gaffe is when a Democrat says what he really thinks. Not since his 2008 “spread the wealth around” comment to Joe the Plumber has Barack Obama been so up front about his political ideology.

This is the essence of the Left-Right divide. On the Left, there’s the notion that the collective is the ultimate source of success. It can best be summed up by the title of the book by Hillary Clinton: It takes a village. On the Right, the notion is that although success is not achieved in a vacuum, ultimately it’s the individual’s drive, determination, innovation and perseverence that are the determining factors. The Left wants equality of outcomes; the Right wants equality of opportunity.

I think this was best expressed by Paul Ryan, when he recently said “Government helps create the space for innovation and prosperity, but government does not fill that space – and it should not try to, as the last few years have shown us. Only free citizens create things that improve our lives.” The Internet is a perfect example of this. Government research did indeed create the Internet (as President Obama points out), but without the innovation of Tim Berners-Lee (who came up with the idea of the World Wide Web), the Internet would continue to function as a very limited network within the scientific community.

If the determining factor were the fact that “someone along the line gave you some help” (as President Obama says) how can you explain the difference between my two brothers-in-law? My older brother-in-law has been a successful accountant and investor for most of his adult life. Although he’s been laid off several times in his career and has had investment setbacks, he always finds his way back on target before too long.

Compare this to his younger brother (who grew up in the same environment with the same opportunities). This brother-in-law has had run-ins with the law his entire life and has been basically unemployed for the last two decades. Fortunately, he’s finally getting his act together, but it’s taken him until well into his fifties to do so.

Ultimately, the difference is all about choices, initiative, hard work, perseverence and exploiting the opportunities afforded to you. When the government attempts to ignore these individual differences and level the playing field irrespective of individual effort, Atlas will shrug – which is at least in part why our economy has been stagnating for the last half decade or so. Why exert all that energy only to feather the nest of someone who hasn’t?

NOTE: I’ve expressed some of these ideas elsewhere on the Internet (with a few variations here and there). If you can find them, you’ll be able to discover the true identity of Curious Texan (my nom de plume in cyberspace).

One Response to ““If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that.””

  1. Curious Texan says:

    With the new NFL season approaching in a few weeks, I recently thought of another analogy that illustrates Paul Ryan’s statement about the role of the government as opposed to the role of the private sector.

    Every Sunday, stadiums will be filled with fans paying good money to see high quality professional football. But what draws these fans to the stadiums? Is it the players (i.e. the producers; business) or the referees (i.e. the regulators; the government)?

    If President Obama were an NFL coach, he would be constantly reminding his players that passing, receiving, rushing, kicking, blocking aren’t what really matters – it’s the officiating that all those fans pay to see.

    If the President were an NFL owner faced with declining attendance, he’d exclaim that “the team [i.e. the private sector] is doing just fine” and invest – not in quarterbacks, wide receivers, tight ends, running backs, kickers and defensive linemen; but in referees, head linesmen, line judges, back judges, field judges and umpires.

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