President Obama gave a speech last weekend that was so utterly out of touch with American values, so clueless as to how things work in this country, that I have to add a few footnotes to his performance.
You’ve probably seen this already. It is essentially of reprise of Elizabeth Warren’s famous “Moocher’s Lament” that made such a sensation among liberals on the Internet. It’s all stock footage from academia but here, for the record, is what the President said in front of another one of those 24-and-under junior-college audiences in Virginia.
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. (Applause.)
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.
Now let’s make a few points here. First of all, anybody who thinks that somebody who starts their own business doesn’t “make it on their own” hasn’t the slightest idea of what they’re talking about. I’ve started two small business efforts in my life. Both of them were complete failures and I lost a lot of money on each. But what I did learn is that when you’re trying to start your own business, nobody is going to help you. You can hire people to work for you, you may persuade a few cohorts of the potential of your vision so that they join you — with the expectation that they will be rewarded later. But when you’re starting a business, the only person who is wholeheartedly interested in making it succeed is you. From the minute you wake up in the morning, you know taking only an hour off, a day off, even five minutes off, means your effort comes to a standstill.
In the opening pages of Socialism, Ludwig von Mises’s monumental 1921 critique of that system, the great free market apostle presents a quote from V.I. Lenin in which the Great Leader of the Future That Works explains that all there is to running a business is keeping the accounts and adding up the profits as they come in. Lenin, said Von Mises, had “the errand boy’s view of what business is about.”
Obama has approximately the same view, spritzed up with a little faculty-room chatter. His is the assistant law instructor’s view. “If you’ve got a business – – you didn’t build that. Somebody else made it happen.” After all, we make the laws. That’s makes a business possible. The difference between them and us has nothing to do with being smart or ambitious. It’s just that some people get lucky or are more willing to take advantage of others. After all, that’s what business is about, isn’t it?
What Obama really embodies is the college professor’s resentment that even though he’s always been the smartest guy in the room — valedictorian of his high school, scoring over 750 on his college boards, editor of the law review — there are still people out there much less smart who are making more money. You can see it right there on the page. “I’m always struck by [business] people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there.” Ah yes, I wonder who we’re talking about here? “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.” Indeed, there are millions of people who work very hard at their jobs. But to start a business you’ve got to do more than work hard. You’ve got to create something entirely new. You’ve got to be sensible, you’ve got to be ambitious. You’ve got to be willing to quit your day job, run up a lot of credit card debt and maybe risk everything in order to turn your dreams into reality. It’s a lot different than taking college exams.
A high school classmate of mine became a millionaire. He started a small insurance business in his garage and eventually sold it to a major company. He wasn’t very smart in school. When I saw him at the last reunion he told me he was once featured in the student newspaper as a kid who couldn’t spell. Yet he had the intelligence and gumption to create his own way of doing things and make it succeed. He now wears a little gold earring just to remind you how successful he’s been. I admire him tremendously.
America was built by people like my high school classmate. It was built by people willing to pursue their own dreams, working around the clock, 24 hours a day, sometimes for ten or twenty years before they succeeded. And it was also built by all the people who had similar dreams and tried to build them into something and failed. They succeeded, too.
Our prosperity has been built by entrepreneurs, not by government bureaucrats. The government could pave the road in front of your house twelve times over and it wouldn’t help one bit in bringing a dream to fruition. Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, is filled with magnificent boulevards that would make any city in the world envious. They just doesn’t have any cars driving on them or shops lining them or even people walking on them. That’s what government without free enterprise gives you — public monuments without prosperity.
I’ll tell you one other thing about starting your own business. If government takes any interest at all in you, it’s going to involve collecting taxes. I hadn’t been incorporated for a month before I started receiving letters from the New York State Department of Taxation telling me when I could start paying them. There were incorporated business taxes, workmen’s compensation taxes, unemployment taxes, Social Security taxes and on and on. Nearly all the correspondence I received while I was trying to start a business involved the government telling me how much money I owed it. I gave up the business in 2001 yet until last year I was still receiving letters from New York State trying to collect more taxes. They tracked me through three changes of address.
Democrats in general and Obama in particular have no idea what makes our economy prosperous. They think if we put enough people to work paving roads and repairing bridges we’ll have full employment and all be rich. We’ve been hearing this since the first days of the Clinton Administration. Sure we should keep our roads and bridges in good repair, but what does that give us? Are we going to sell them to China? (China may be buying up our infrastructure soon enough, but that’s a different story.)
You don’t become a rich country through public works. You become rich by inventing things to sell to ourselves and to the rest of the world. In order to do that, you’ve got to have creative people who can invent new ideas and who are courageous enough to risk everything to turn them into reality. And you’ve got to let them keep most of the rewards if and when they do succeed. You can’t come around mooching afterwards with, “Hey, we built that road in front of your house. We made you a success! You owe us.”
Obama is Public Employee #1. He’s from the same ranks as those repairmen in the New York City subway system who tell you, “Hey, if it wasn’t for us New York City would shut down in a couple of days” and then go on strike to prove it. He hasn’t the faintest idea what it means to be in private enterprise and hates it wherever he sees it.
And we may have another four years of this.