In Roanoke, Virginia last Friday, President Obama explained during a campaign event that anyone who was successful owed a debt to society.
Here is part of the text of his remarks from the White House transcript www.whitehouse.gov:
“[L]ook, 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.”
Oh, really? You didn’t build your business? Someone else did? Pray tell, who was that? The tooth fairy, perhaps. These words are nothing less than an insult to every risk-taking visionary in America. Of course, the President was no doubt speaking to a friendly crowd most of whom are probably waiting with bated breath to be told what goodies the current regime will dole out to them. He can get away with it perhaps because those building businesses are inner-directed folks who couldn’t care less about the opinions of drones who don’t have the gumption of a turnip.
Perhaps they should.
I may be taking this far too personally because I have been self-employed in businesses and profession for the past 35 years, and have siblings and friends who have done likewise. Speaking only for myself, I don’t believe I was “so smart” though I take exception to the notion that many more than a few worked harder, longer, and more persistently than me, or other self-employed business people. Persistence and willingness to put off the enjoyment of the carnal fruits of enterprise are the key, not smarts or talents. Though such abilities can certainly can help in particular endeavors, they are more often than not squandered. Tortoises live longer than hares for a reason.
Much of the reward of entrepreneurship comes from doing it, not necessarily the economic or financial benefits. The latter quite often are a long time coming. When they do, our President and his ilk want to take it away. I am not bashing the impecunious, most of them want the chance to better themselves. Far too many are unwilling to pay the price.
Further analysis of the President’s words is appropriate. Did somebody along the line give every entrepreneur some help? Well, most businesses have employees — sometimes referred to as “the help” though that term seems to have become somewhat of a pejorative. Thus, business creates jobs (nowadays, seemingly an end in itself), and they pay those employees. Employing someone means taking on numerous responsibilities and potential liabilities. Employees have to be paid, regardless of how poorly they perform or how incompetent they turn out to be – and before the business owner gets paid! Some ventures attract investors, which is “help” I suppose, but those investors are expecting a return, and wouldn’t invest unless there was a good chance of one. As for bank loans, does anyone really think they are gratuitous?
What about the great teacher? Well, again I can speak only for myself, but the teachers, apart from those in elementary and high school, that helped me the most really did so by at least seemingly trying to do the opposite. I speak of the numerous faculty members of Screw U; real world denizens.
What about the vagaries of chance? Well, to use the card game metaphor, we are all dealt a hand. Playing it is what counts. Even the great guy that teaches you how to fish probably won’t buy you bait and tackle from then on, and certainly won’t make you get off your duff and go to the lake.
Yes, I am grateful to God, fate, or just random luck (depending on your belief system) that I was born and raised in this “unbelievable American system” that was founded 236 years ago. The system that was grounded in individual liberty, not collective entitlement. Our government was instituted to protect individuals, and particularly their property, from predators, foreign and domestic, to enforce contracts, and to foster free trade. When government exceeds these functions, it begins to become oppressive and tends to stifle entrepreneurship. The limits of those functions can be debated all day long, but it is safe to say that they have been exceeded by a good bit. Suffice it to say that the prosperity that facilitates the ability for those functions to exist at all is individual liberty and the free market capitalism it fosters.
Back in the late ‘60s when I was finishing up school, I mentioned to a local store owner that I would like to start a business someday. He said to me that when he started, he would have told me to “go for it” but no more. Too much paperwork; too many regulations to keep up with, he told me. He didn’t know the half of it.
Why, then, would anyone be an entrepreneur? I suppose the short answer might be to become rich. Well, there are many who do not become wealthy, but they are nonetheless happy. There is always that chance. Nevertheless many persons are discouraged from even trying to start-up an enterprise, as well as they might be since statistics show that most start-ups fail within the first three years. Many persons are content with their lot, and have neither the gumption or the inclination to take the risk. Also, there are many competent and highly trained persons who took the trouble to acquire skills in demand who would rather be employees rather then put up with the headaches and land mines of self-employment. Stanford University historian and archaeologist Ian Morris believes that the story of civilizations is the story of lazy, greedy, and scared people. If American exceptionalism means anything, it means there are fewer of those folks here then elsewhere.
The real explanation almost has to be that the spirit of entrepreneurship is so great in many of those who have it that the more minefields and roadblocks that are put in their way, the more they enjoy navigating to overcome the obstacles. Given that reality, I don’t see Atlas shrugging for awhile. In some ways, it’s really too much fun playing the game. Cheers!