In a recent speech Obama made the statement that implied business owners didn't build their businesses -- "someone else made that happen"
I'm going to put the full text and context of what was said because I've seen left-wing writers trying to diminish what Obama said by claiming it was taken out of context.
So here's the full context:
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.
This is a view held by many liberals -- mostly ones who have never actually made payroll. The argument goes as follows:
The liberal argument in a nutshell
Your business can only thrive because it exists in a country with good infrastructure, an uncorrupt court system, property rights enforced by the government, free education for you and your work force and even the Internet itself was started as a government endeavor. Therefore, you owe your success to the government.
This can be boiled down to saying that you didn't really draw that picture with that pencil. Something else made that happen -- a tree.
Lots of people have "built a house". Yet, I don't think I've ever heard someone correct someone who has said "Yea, this is the first house we've built" to remind them "No, you didn't build that, someone else did -- carpenters, brick layers, etc."
Why it's nonsense
First off, the President's argument is a strawman. I've never met an entrepreneur who thought they succeeded because "they were just so smart". Intelligence isn't even a key ingredient in being successful. The fact that Obama said this indicates to me that he hasn't even bothered to read an article on the topic because what makes someone a successful business builder is an oft-covered topic.
To recap, here are the key ingredients in being a successful entrepreneur:
1. Risk taking. This is the single biggest element that differentiates an entrepreneur from everyone else. I have had (And lost) friends over the years who just couldn't understand how I, someone they considered inferior to them in terms of intelligence, polish, people skills, etc. became so financially successful. The key difference - risk. I was willing to risk losing everything I had to pursue a dream.
2. Perseverance. Very few business owners meet success right away. I know I sure didn't. My first major entrepreneurial endeavor was to write an OS/2 game called Galactic Civilizations. And I didn't make a dime on it because the publisher never paid royalties. It cost me not just 2 years of my life but one of my best friends who felt very burned by the whole thing. It requires years and years of sustained hard work to become successful in most cases.
3. Delayed gratification. This is another non-obvious and yet crucial ingredient to success. While my friends were getting sports cars, DVD players (back in the early 90s a big expense), and putting down payments on their first houses, I was driving a Chevette, owned no stereo or other consumer gadgets and lived in a tiny apartment. This meant I could focus my very limited financial resources into the business. I went without, for years, to pursue a longer term goal.
Those are the 3 key things. Note that "being smart" isn't one of them.
None of those 3 skills I developed were because of the government. If credit can be given they can be given to society. But society is not government. Culture is not government. The values my mom drilled into me and the ideas my dad, uncle, etc. gave to me have nothing to do with the government.
It was our society -- our culture, that includes a respect for the rule of law, property rights, and a general "can do it" spirit. Our government (historically) is a reflection of our society. Government doesn't create culture.
Government services are not an "investment"
Yes, I had some really great teachers growing up. My 5th grade teacher made a huge difference in my life. I had a high school English teacher who made me the editor of our literary magazine which gave me the confidence in myself. Public schools, paid for by tax payers. Taxes my parents paid on my behalf while I was growing up and then taxes I paid myself when I started working when I was 15. This does not take away the importance of education or any of the other important public goods I benefited from.
A person does not owe another person anything beyond the agreed upon price for a product or service. If a man sells you a hammer that you use to build something, the hammer seller has no claim on what you build with it. He made a trade with you that both parties thought was equal. He was not investing in you with the expectation that he had some claim to what you created.
The government has no money other than the money it extracts from its citizens. We have no moral obligation to the government in itself anymore than you have a moral obligation to your power company or cable provider. It provides a set of services to us that have been agreed on by our elected representatives and we pay for those services through taxes.
Government has no more claim on anything we do that makes use of those services than a tree has a claim on what you create with a pencil.