Saturday, August 16, 2014

"You Didn't Build That!" A great, and so effective, political line that'll never die...

EJ Dionne quoting Elizabeth Warren in his May 18 Washington Post Column (HT William Anderson):
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own,” she said. “Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.” It was all part of “the underlying social contract,” she said, a phrase politicians don’t typically use.

Sound familiar?

I'll here attempt to turn Ms. Warren's logic on its head:

First came the risk takers. There was no government-provided concrete laid to support their foundations. As successful enterprises grew, the people saw the wisdom in promoting certain collective endeavors. While we may dispute the merits of public education, infrastructure and the like, make no mistake, the efforts of courageous, hard working, industrious private-sector individuals allowed for the establishment of this system Ms. Warren so passionately defends. Truly, the roads, the schools, the police and fire forces could not, cannot, exist without the efforts of entrepreneurs. Warren, as do all self-concerned politicians, would turn the truth on its head. She'd have us see government as benefactor to businessmen and women. When, clearly, it couldn't be more the opposite... 

Or how about something even simpler: 

Dear Mr./Ms. Businessperson,

I'm happy to pay taxes to pave roads and protect your interests, for I need you to safely and swiftly deliver to me the virtually countless number of goods and services I consume on a daily basis. Don't let those vote-hoarding politicians get under your skin. The infrastructure is there because we need you!!

I was about to close there, but I feel compelled to comment on the seedy side of government supporting business. Here's a snippet from my July 2012 essay Bending Context - or - The Truth Flatters Neither Side:
Now while there’s no disputing the former, the latter is worthy of a little deeper scrutiny. Not that the President meant ‘you didn’t build your business’, he indisputably didn’t. But when we consider the extent to which government has infiltrated the private sector, perhaps those who would bend context to their political benefit may be (entirely by accident) onto something. Perhaps there are businesses in our midst that in fact wouldn’t exist were it not for government favor. Perhaps, in essence, there are executives who indeed deserve the charge ‘they didn’t build that’. Think GM, Chrysler, AIG, and God knows how many other financial institutions and green energy firms that’d be gone were it not for American-style cronyism. Perhaps the liberals are every bit as culpable as the conservatives when it comes to cozying up to big business. Perhaps they’re just better at concealing it.

And lastly---back to my main point---just stumbled upon this one from January 2013:
Clearly, the President was simply stating that you, the business owner, didn’t build the roads and bridges. That your individual success was the result of group effort. That you received instruction. That you, in essence, received help (from people pursuing their own interests). And of course he was right.

You, the business owner, did not personally build what Mr. Obama says you did not personally build. And yes, you use infrastructure that 51% of the populace (including you) pays taxes to maintain. I do, however, have a serious gripe with the President’s lead-in to “you didn’t build that”: That would be the notion that you have been “allowed” to thrive by the grace of “this unbelievable American system”. Allow me to state, emphatically, that the President (as politicians tend to do) has put the proverbial cart way before the horse. Meaning, frankly, vice versa; “this unbelievable American system” has been allowed to thrive by the grace of hard-working, entrepreneurial-minded individuals. To say that government deserves credit, unless you’ve paid for political favor, for the success of your business, is like saying that your dog is responsible for your physical health because of the exercise you get while cleaning up his crap in your backyard day after day after day. Thus, if you’ll over-feed him and extend your fence, you’ll become remarkably fit. Ridiculous! The fact is you allow your dog to dirty your yard because you made a commitment back when he was a puppy (when he was smaller and his piles of crap were easier to manage), and you can still afford to feed him. Not that he doesn’t offer some utility—perhaps he barks off the occasional intruder—you just have to make sure he doesn’t ultimately destroy your landscape and eat you out of house and home…

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