Thursday, July 19, 2012

The President’s Right, Businessman: "You Didn't Build That." Your Workers Did.


Apparently President Obama made a speech recently in which, echoing Elizabeth Warren, he recognized economic reality: we are all interdependent, and economic production is an inherently social activity.  Obama didn’t explicitly say so, but what that implies is that there is not justification for allowing the few at the top to take the lion’s share of the wealth:
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.
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.  
It threw the Right into a conniption -- but he's right, and it’s about time that he came out swinging this way.  I HOPE THAT HE AND HIS PARTY SHOW SOME POLITICAL COURAGE AND DON’T BACKTRACK. 
You see, we have this problem with language: we say things like "Steve Jobs made the iPhone" or "Bill Gates built Microsoft" or even "Frank Gehry built the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao." But those are  just metonyms: these individuals didn't build them: they may have designed some things, or made some organizational decisions, but those businesses and structures were actually, literally built by thousands or even millions of people, all working together to coordinate their actions. 

So go ahead and attack this, conservatives. You didn’t build that, businessman; your workers built it, mainly, with some small contribution from you too. It was a cooperative effort.  And guess what?  The government DID contribute, by making the conditions under which it is possible for anyone to build anything, you ingrate.  No, it isn't all hard work and smarts; these are (sometimes!) necessary conditions for success, but they are not sufficient conditions; you have to get lucky or have connections or be born into wealth too, because a business has fixed start-up costs which are a barrier to entry for most.  And you also depend for you success on your employees, you customers, your contractors, your communities, your country, and even the rest of the world. 

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