Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"you didn't write that"

I want to highlight the two best pieces I've read on the Obama "you didn't build that" - gate.

The first  comes from Josh Barro over at Forbes.

The second comes from Carolina's own Kindred Winecoff.

Both are highly recommended.

People, what do you think about this issue?

Is it an out of context molehill made into a mountain, or a disturbing peek behind the curtain?

You know where to let me know.


MikeMcK said...

My response is "okay, fine. charge me for education, roads, bridges, and r&d. charge me to maintain property rights and contract enforcement. charge me to maintain a common fire service. you can even charge me for NASA, and tuition grants and foreign aid.

charge me for all the things you say built a middle class and all the things you say helped rich people become rich. i'm okay with that. charge me for all of that stuff.

but no more.

because i'm happy to pay for that stuff. even when it's inefficient. even when it's wasteful. even when it's ineffective.

fine. whatever.

but then we have to talk about social security. then we have to talk about medicare and medicaid. then we have to talk about health care. then we have to talk about military spending. then we have to talk about corporate subsidies.

because no one complaining about the national debt it talking about fire departments. and until we start talking about tax reform, entitlements, and war you're just wasting my time."

also, if the feds get an assist for every business that uses a highway to deliver their goods, do they bear some responsibility every time a murderer uses that highway to flee the scene? shouldn't the language apply to them as well. walter white doesn't sell blue sky on his own, he uses public roads, public water, the legal system, etc. he didn't build that either.

Dave Hansen said...

MikeMC--they should be talking about fire departments: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2012/07/firefighters-dont-fight-fires.html

On the main question...
In a strict sense, the quote is being taken out of context. When Obama said, "You didn't build that" the "that" was referring to the roads. I've seen people try to argue otherwise.

BUT, why is he saying "You didn't build that" (the roads)? Because he wants to argue that everyone's success is dependent on government spending, so it does seem like he also means to say "You didn't build that" (i.e. your business) completely on your own because it depended on this other thing you didn't build (the roads).

Whether the "that" referred to roads or private businesses, the overall sentiment is the same--he thinks the watch dogs own the house.

As an aside, I really love it when big government types use the existence of public services that don't necessarily need to be publicly funded but now are (and have crowded out private spending in those areas) as evidence that we all need more government. Do they really think there would be no roads connecting major cities if not for Eisenhower's push for the Federal Aid Highway Act, or that no child would get educated if not for public schools, or that no worker would ever save up for their retirement if not for social security? The list goes on.

And as an aside to the aside, I love how their love for "public goods" like huge freeways leading out of every major city and connecting middle of nowhere Nevada to middle of nowhere Idaho led to white flight, more CO2 omissions, and more suburban sprawl, which they all hate.

Hasdrubal said...

I'm confused why there's even controversy over what the President meant. It's an almost verbatim quote of what Elizabeth Warren said, when she was talking about businesses profiting because of government funded infrastructure.

I have the same question for the President as I had for Warren: If the publicly provided services, which EVERYONE has equal access to, are the driving factor behind a business or businessman's success, why are some rich and others not? Are they ignoring that some people use those resources better than others? Are they trying to tell us that the only reason some people are successful is through luck, that we have no control over our destinies?

The latter pretty much denies the possibility of the American dream. It's also pretty obviously wrong. I'll never be even a normal business owner, not because I'm unlucky, but because I'm not willing to put in the 80+ hour weeks necessary, not willing to risk bankruptcy, not charismatic (and careful enough with my own money) to convince people to lend me money. I certainly don't have the unique ideas or drive to sell that rich business owners have. None of that has anything to do with roads or schools, that's me, and all of those are crucial to building a successful business.

Anonymous said...

It was a peak behind the curtain. The federal government doesn't build anything--it just give money (much of which is printed out of thin air) to state DOTs to maintain federally mandated highways. Even then, it is the private sector that builds the roads and bridges.

If all it took to create a successful business is infrastructure, why do businesses fail? Obama's quote is the equivilant of telling Barnes & Noble didn't build their business because Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press. Yes it is a handy invention, but is by no means the reason why they have been successful.

Pelsmin said...

This isn't a tough one. Even if the "signature line" is taken out of context, and Mr. O meant "they didn't build the ROADS" vs. their businesses, it doesn't matter. This is the ultimate smoking gun on his real views. His contempt for self-made business owners was explicit, repeated and emphasized. He mocked people for believing they were the captains of their own fate. He ridiculed people defined only by their success. He showed a lack of understanding of what everyone business owner knows, whether they run an empire or a hot dog stand. Success equals some favorable combination of smarts, hard work and risk, with the risk creating an opportunity for luck to come into play. If you take on no risk, you have effectively no chance to become a massive business success, no matter how you rate in smarts and hard work, so even people who just "got lucky" deserve credit for not just taking a job at the post office.

What more do you need to know about the man?

Chris B said...

Clearly a molehill and I can't believe so many people here think otherwise. As Dave Hansen pointed out Obama was clearly referring to roads, not to the businesses, when he said "You didn't build that".

I also can't see why anyone would argue his bigger point. We all are where we are partially because we had a functioning society to work with. Therefore we all should contribute a reasonable amount to funding the services we benefited from.

So far I really don't see how anyone could possibly disagree. Now, Obama thinks that rich people currently do not contribute a reasonable amount and therefore their taxes should go up. There's plenty of room for disagreement here. There's also room for disagreement about what types of services the government should provide.

But I really can't see why not every single American would happily agree with the actual statement that was made that success does not come from oneself ALONE.

Thomas W said...

The "you didn't build that" is strictly out of context, he means the infrastructure we're all dependent on.

However, the previous remarks, which imply that successful people are not smarter or harder working than others, and that they had somebody who made them successful, supports the "you didn't build that" theme, and I think the criticism and ridicule has some justification.

Obviously there's luck and chance involved in success, but a look at the number of serial entrepreneurs shows that some people have a knack for success, whatever the reason.

Michael said...

President Obama's defenders are coming out in full force to scoff at interpretations that the he was trying to minimize individual achievement.

If they really believed that, you would expect them to be honor-bound to admit that he worded it poorly. Nope, that has not been the case. They are saying, How Dare You Misunderstand His Clear, Concise Point.

Just what was he getting at with all that talk about how everyone in the audience is smart and works hard, but not rich? We know exactly what he was saying.

kebko said...

An analogous situation would be if Romney gave a speech at some country club and said (in an angry tone) something like, "I'm always struck by these poor people who say that we owe them a living, and it's just too hard to work. Look, a lot of people out there work hard. These people need to pick themselves up and go make something of themselves."
That would be offensive and thoughtless, and it wouldn't be a defense of it to say, "Well, nobody denies that people are better off by working hard. He's just saying something we all know is true." Yet, this is how people (like Chris B. above) are defending Obama. Obama's defenders are blind to the bigotry he's peddling, so they don't see the problem with the speech like they would see it in my made up speech.

Jet Beagle said...

Obama is very wrong, and very insulting. It's not a molehill, as Chris B asserts above.

No one - not government, not family, not friends - worked the 80 and 100 hour weeks I had to work in building up my business. No one signed their names alongside mine on the 5 year commercial lease I signed.

My 15 years of success with my first retail business is exactly the result of good decisions and hard work.

My 4 years of failure with my second retail business was the result of bad decisions I made, despite all the hard work I put in there.

All small business creators know that government is an obstacle which must be overcome. One of our biggest frustrations is the time we must waste dealing with endless government bureaucracy, reporting, and regulation. Those who are most determined succeed despite government, not because of it.

Anonymous said...

As Sam Popkin wrote in "The Reasoning Voter," never tell people they're selfish and never assume they're not (paraphrasing). I guess that could be amended to never say anything that could be construed as telling them they're selfish.

On success, see Duncan Watt's work in "Everything is Obvious Once you Know the Answer." Basically, he argues that success is due to largely to chance-and once people are successful, of course, it's easy for them to put a positive spin on it. The bottom line is that there are lots of people who work hard-90 to 100 hours a week-and their businesses fail. Why did yours succeed. Obviously because you worked hard, yes. But also because of a lot of random reasons.

Chris B said...

Jet Beagle, since government was such an obstacle to your companies' success I assume said companies must have been in either the extortion business or in professional killing. Most other people tend to appreciate having cops on the street as well as a relatively smoothly working judicial system.

Dano said...

"Jet Beagle, since government was such an obstacle to your companies' success I assume said companies must have been in either the extortion business or in professional killing. Most other people tend to appreciate having cops on the street as well as a relatively smoothly working judicial system."

Well since Jet Beagle said he had retail businesses, I'm guessing that his businesses are (or were) involved in extortion or professional killing. It is true that most people benefit from cops and the judicial system but there are many ways governments can be an obstacle to a company's success.

An anecdote: when my wife and I moved into new York (the state, not the city), my wife had trouble showing enough proof of identity (some had middle initial, some did not, some had her name hyphenated, some was not, and her out of state professional license didn't count. As the supervisor was doing an override so my wife could get a license I muttered about the red tape. The reply was "welcome to New York." And then continued that "this was the worse it (red tape) would be unless you are starting a business." Though now NY claims to be open for business, clearly it hasn't been.

John Covil said...

It's one of the oldest rhetorical justifications for increasing government and you can see it everytime there's a referendum on a local tax increase. The increase in government at the margin is needed to find vital services that are largely non-controversial among the general public, even though by definition, changes in spending at the margin by definition affect the lowest priority spending. They never talk about the more controversial things money is spent on, they talk about things like police and fire protection.

Anonymous said...

So no one owes anything to their grandparents for fighting the Nazis or Japanese?

No one owes anything to the grandchildren who will be the people feeding us in our old age?

You think you can buy military protection with money? What kind of soldiers do you think money buys?

So this idea of a "fair price" for the state you live in is nonsense. Some give their lives for their country. Others wont even pay their taxes.

Shame on you.

Kenneth Gauck said...

Obama declared he was follower of John Rawls. His prior actions and other statements also suggest this, but a lot more people were paying attention because of campaign season.