Heard on NPR, verified on Fox News

In a refreshing change of pace, this week it was President Barrack Obama making a major public gaffe (instead of Mitt Romney, the usual victim of foot-in-mouth disease) with his statement:

“If you’re a business, you didn’t build that. Someone else made that happen.”

Obviously, this implies that the collective input of many sources combines to make a business prosper. Which is true- to an extent. But especially to people wary of Mr. Obama’s capitalistic intentions already, it hints at something perhaps a little less Lockian and a bit more Marxist. Personally, when I heard this statement, I felt a small twinge go down my spine. I wonder how the small business owners I know feel about it.

Now, in fairness, here’s the full context of the speech.  Not quite as bone chilling, but I still don’t feel warm and fuzzy inside.  Yes, we live in a society, and yes, we all contribute to that society for the benefit of all.  But Apple would not exist without Steve Jobs, nor Ford without the original Henry.  Throughout history, we celebrate the entrepreneurs, the risk takers, the great men and women who took that societal infrastructure and made something great within it.


17 Responses to “Heard on NPR, verified on Fox News”

  1. BrianN says:

    It’s a stupid thing to say, period. He might as well say that you exist as you do today because humanity as a whole put you there; don’t forget your debt to the Spanish monarchy for discovering the New World. Is it just government we should be grateful for? I wouldn’t be able to get to work without my car, thanks Toyota motors corp. If it weren’t for our fine hospital food services, I would go hungry every day. So if I use these services that I already pay for, and get more out of them than other people should I be forced to pay more for them?

    There are reasonable arguments for higher taxes and arguments for more progressive taxes, but this is not one one of them.

  2. BrianN says:

    Actually, this is part of a larger issue that’s just generally turning me off from politics. It seems somehow a lot of adults are having a argument about “fairness.” I know people on the right think they aren’t but if you’re saying that someone deserves what they have because they worked hard for it, it’s still a fairness argument.

    Listening to a bunch of grown-ups throwing around the word fair is just sickening, and I wish we cold strike the word from the English language. Or at least keep it in the realm of the 3rd grade where it belongs.

    I’ve said for a long time that fairness was word invented by 3rd grade teachers so they didn’t have to think about their students as individuals, but I think Scott Adams said it pretty well, “Fair is a word that was invented so that stupid people can participate in arguments.”

  3. Pitt says:

    I agree with you on both points, Brian. I could spend the entire day listing off people and entities because of whom/ which I am standing here today doing whatever the hell it is I’m supposed to be doing. Would I be here without my bowl of fiber squares and milk this morning for breakfast? Or Timberland for making my steel-toed work boots? Yeah, we live in an interconnected economy. I get that. I got that in grade school. Almost nobody lives a 100% vertically integrated life.

    The difference is, reading Mr. Obama’s statement, he seems to be looking at the government as an entity separate from the rest of society, doing what’s best for society, and responsible for everything good that happens as a result. Those who take issue with what he said, like us, look at the government as something we created and support via our taxes anyway- for example, if the government builds a road, _I_ helped build that road via my taxes. It’s kindof the exact opposite of what he said.

    Don’t get me started on fairness. Nothing’s fair, there’s no way to judge fair, it’s completely subjective and has no real meaning. “Right” and “Just” are better words, still somewhat subjective, but easier to base a _substantive_ argument upon.

  4. Pitt says:

    A quote from one business owner:

    “He is a sad excuse for an American and a human being.”

  5. Pitt says:

    “So if I use these services that I already pay for, and get more out of them than other people should I be forced to pay more for them?”

    Actually, in my opinion, you ought to be celebrated and commended for using the resources provided to you in a more efficient manner so as to extract more value out of them. But that’s just the efficiency-oriented engineer in me talking.

  6. matt says:

    The paragraph as a whole:

    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.

    The argument seems to be whether “you didn’t build that” is referring to the individual business, or to the “unbelievable American system”. One interpretation makes the President look like he claims government is the root of all progress, and the other makes it look like he’s claiming government provides the infrastructure to make individual business success possible.

    It was clumsy wording, at best. Stupid slippery pronouns.

  7. matt says:

    From my posts on a… spirited… discussion of this on a classmate’s Facebook wall:

    Government builds infrastructure, business uses it. Government builds roads, Walmart uses them to move product. Government builds the Internet, Amazon redefines retail. Government invents the Space Shuttle, Iridium sends up satellites.

    The point of the President’s speech was that both government and business need to perform their roles in order for anyone to be successful. It’s not a matter of “promoting a government focused agenda”. Without tax revenues from citizens and businesses, government cannot do what it needs to; without government investment in infrastructure (physical, legal, educational, and so on), business cannot do what it needs to. They work together. Attempts to “drown government in a bathtub”, to use a phrase from the Reagan years, will have serious consequences for everyone who depends on government maintenance of that infrastructure.

    The President’s point is that government involvement provides a social milieu where businesses have a better chance of success. If you don’t think that’s true, why isn’t there a technological revolution occurring in Somalia or any of the other anarchic states of the world? They’ve certainly got plenty of people and brainpower, but without things like a stable legal system or public education, they can’t bootstrap into a modern economy.

  8. Pitt says:

    One thing that bears mentioning, it’s interesting that the president feels that he needs to make such an obvious statement as “having a government and a stable society makes capitalism possible”, which, if you take a benificent view of his remarks, is what he’s really saying. But in attempting to state the obvious, he made immediate fodder for his opposition.

    Once again, the extreme polarization of _politics_ in this country has created a distraction to the real issues. Almost nobody believes that the government should be building roads, maintaining a police force, etc. There’s no real point in having these discussions. But people closeted inside the beltway just don’t seem to have a grasp of reality, and what real people who live real lives care about.

  9. matt says:

    I think he needs to make obvious statements like that to counteract the relentless drumbeat from the Tea Partiers about how government is bloated, and useless, and doesn’t do anything right, and just stifles the Job Creators(tm).

  10. BrianN says:

    OK, I’m calling out Pitt for using reported speech to introduce name-calling and Matt for moronic strawman (the Somalia argument).

    Seriously, though. I don’t think you can parse Obama’s words into a misstatement; he want’s you to think not agreeing with him is unpatriotic, if that sounds familiar. You can be grateful to your nation and not believe you were born in a cave and discovered fire and skyscrapers all on your own and still disagree about a policy.

    We already have taxes and they are already progressive, the only argument is how progressive and how much it should be. So arguing over these absolutes as if the choice is between having Communism and just dissolving the federal government is not productive.

    If Obama wants to make the argument for higher taxes and more progressive taxation, his argument should be one of investment; sometimes the federal government makes investments that only it can make and somehow we have to pay for it. He needs to actually make the argument that government is best to do it (I do believe those teachers who may have inspired you weren’t on the government’s payroll, Matt). Furthermore raising taxes will do damage, but we need to do the least damage, and this is why this plan does the least damage. Maybe he can even sprinkle in a dash of Hope and Change ™, and make us think we’ll get something for our money.

  11. matt says:

    “Seriously, though. I don’t think you can parse Obama’s words into a misstatement; he want’s you to think not agreeing with him is unpatriotic”


    Fifteen yards and loss of down for apostrophe abuse.

    Every politician wants you to think that not agreeing with them is unpatriotic. That’s why they use semantically null language like “Real Americans” to refer to the people who happen to think the same way they do.

    And you’re right. The two extremes are untenable; as I tried (and apparently failed) to articulate, the relationship between government and business is complex and symbiotic in this country. But people do love black and white answers.

  12. BrianN says:

    OOhh, look who knows how to spell apostorophey

  13. Pitt says:

    15 yards and loss of down is a pretty black and white game.

    And I love Somalia. It’s a Libertarian Utopia.

  14. BrianN says:

    Let’s go and be pirates!

  15. matt says:

    “And I love Somalia. It’s a Libertarian Utopia.”

    Ron Paul would love it. They don’t have a central bank.

  16. BrianN says:

    Hey, if government is responsible for all my success (which isn’t much), can I also blame it for all my failure?

  17. Pitt says:

    I bet they can smoke pot in Somalia, too. So all those pothead Paul supporters I keep hearing about would be in favor.

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