Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.

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.
 
That's it.
 
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.

Comments (Page 1)
on Jul 17, 2012

Hear, hear.

on Jul 17, 2012

Government is, in my perfect world, an organization created to pool resources in order to provide those things that benefit all of our society.  Police, Fire, roads, parks... I'm sure there are a ton more. 

Why they feel the need to go beyond these things to encroach into already covered areas baffles me.

Anyway, you're right on.  You paid the government for those services as part of a business expense.  You built your business through your three key things that I'll never have, so I won't have a business like you or be rich like you.  I can't begrudge you that, because you paid a price I'm not willing to pay.

I will, however, continue to benefit from your business, because I like to acquire licenses to use software from your company.  Mostly game software. 

So keep being successful so I can keep playing great games from a great company.

on Jul 17, 2012

Well put, Jytheir.

It's about trade offs. Being successful in business isn't the same as being successful in life. Too many people equate money with happiness. They have very little to do with one another.

Being successful in business brings a lot of other side-effects - failed relationships, lawsuits, never-ending stress and uncertainty, etc.  It's a trade off.  Being wealthy doesn't make someone better than someone else. It just means that in this one measurable area, they've accumulated more "stuff".

on Jul 17, 2012

I've enjoyed learning about the gaming industry from your blogs.  It's been quite enough, thank you, to keep me from ever wanting to make a real effort into that area.  At least, never a commercial effort - hobby board game design is still on the table.

I certainly don't equate money with happiness, and I'm glad you brought that up.  There is a correlation, however.  People with more money tend to be happier.  The problem is that, due to the human ability to adapt, one gets used to what one has, and then one doesn't stay happy.

Happy is a sort of weird concept to base anything on, anyway.  For example, I don't want a happy marriage.  Happiness is a feeling that will come and go througout the marriage.  Even what makes me happy will change.  A solid marriage, however, is something that is very desirable, even if we're not gushing with happiness at the moment.

I'm sure Obama would say that the government contract of marriage is what made the marriage solid, or that the roads and different government programs did it.

on Jul 17, 2012

Obama just slapped the face of every entrerpreneur in the country!  What an insult! 

Thanks for the article. You nailed it. 

 

This just goes to show Obama is not your average politician. Far from it. Obama has dreams...dreams of becoming dictator-king, and not only of the USA, but of the whole world.

It's one more reason to boot him out this coming November election. 

on Jul 17, 2012

lulapilgrim
Obama just slapped the face of every entrerpreneur in the country!  What an insult! 

Thanks for the article. You nailed it. 

 

This just goes to show Obama is not your average politician. Far from it. Obama has dreams...dreams of becoming dictator-king, and not only of the USA, but of the whole world.

It's one more reason to boot him out this coming November election. 

 

I don't know if I would go that far, Lula.  Not from this particular issue, at least.  But, I suppose a population of entrepreneurs owing everything they are to the state would be a good first step in that direction.

on Jul 17, 2012

So... you didn't take any tax write-offs?
Business loan?
You are a one man corporation? Or did you hire uneducated homeless people off the street to prove your point?

Uh huh....

You should probably go read a Governor's Story...

Or maybe better, look for the low corporate tax nations / states that tried to pull a Laffer curve (the holy grail of Republican economic thinking) and see how well they are doing now.

Hint: The nations that are winning are the ones with strong government + business partnership plans.

on Jul 17, 2012

LORD-ORION
The nations that are winning are the ones with strong government + business partnership plans.

Very good point. One just has to take a look at Europe to see to see the contrasts. One simply has to ask themselves why a country like Germany who has higher govt restriction and higher employee wages than the U.S. is doing so well (decent growth and very low unemployment) while some of the other European countries who have followed much of what the Tea Party prescribes for the U.S. have already fallen back into recession or never recovered in the first place.

 

on Jul 17, 2012

Draginol
Being successful in business brings a lot of other side-effects - failed relationships, lawsuits, never-ending stress and uncertainty, etc.

These are the exact same things people who are in the labor force face. Maybe not as many or any lawsuits if one is lucky but if you don't think people in the labor force experience financial uncertainty, stress, relationship problems and other uncertainty then you live in a bubble.

As far as risk.....looks to me like the ventures I have made into small business with friends and family have been far less riskier than say money invested in Wall St. They also appear to be far less riskier than relying on a pension plan which many have seen "taken" from them in recent years. Ive been fortunate. The companies that I worked for had 401k's which were under my control but i have see others who have lost much of there's to corporate raiding and mismanagement.

on Jul 18, 2012

lulapilgrim
Obama just slapped the face of every entrerpreneur in the country!  What an insult! 

Thanks for the article. You nailed it. 

 

This just goes to show Obama is not your average politician. Far from it. Obama has dreams...dreams of becoming dictator-king, and not only of the USA, but of the whole world.

It's one more reason to boot him out this coming November election. 

Jythier
I don't know if I would go that far, Lula.  Not from this particular issue, at least.  But, I suppose a population of entrepreneurs owing everything they are to the state would be a good first step in that direction.

Yes, that's exactly what Obama is trying to sell isn't it?

He said, "If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen." 

In other words, "it takes a village" (government)! Collectivist utopia. Followed by you now owe us and it's time to pay up.

It begins with a USA village and becomes a global village.

 

 

 

 

 

on Jul 18, 2012

Customers from other countries bought my product?  I better send them money.

on Jul 18, 2012

Excellent article, Brad.

I'm not even remotely near your financial level of success--I spend 50+ hours a week as a finance manager at a dealership and I spend a good 25 a week programming apps that I sell for the PC as well as iOS. I'm not making a killing on the apps--but I'm making enough to keep my wife at home with the kids.

What I'm trying to say is this: when I'm home at night, I work at my programming. I do it on my days off. I fit my kids into that schedule when it should be the other way around. I do make money from it but perhaps not enough to justify spending time away from the kids (especially as a finance manager--a lot of hours but good living...) I work hard at it because of your reason #3--persistence. My skills at iOS programming, for example, are getting pretty damn good and I'm writing some pretty good apps and hopefully, it will pay off financially.

If this happens, the government will have nothing to do with it. I didn't learn to program from school--I'm self taught like you are. I bought a few good books, watched some good tutorials late at night when others are watching mind-numbing TV shows, practiced, etc.

I can see what Obama is trying to say--that without a good country, this could not happen. For example: could you run Stardock out of Iran? Probably not--but I feel that his attitude and policies actually hurt small businesses, not help them.

All in all, great article.

 

Marv

 

 

on Jul 18, 2012

I feel it takes three things to accomplish the success you did

Talent , Hard Work, and Luck.    You had all three (you might not agree on the luck) .  Most folks don't.  

 

None of those, except maybe where you are born, are due to government.  That said, success and the ability to be successful, the government can help some and harm others.

 

A government's responsibility is to society- and maximizing social utility.  Unfortunately, that responsibility gets co-opted by the fact power is a really damn great investment- why else are billionaries spending nine digits on this election?  (and I think that's bad for folks like Brad in the long run- it makes the voice of smaller businesses less important)  People also have different visions of how to maximize social utility.  Democracies tend to be populist and short-sighted (which is similar to public corporations, one thing I think helps Stardock is that Brad isn't bound by this and takes long-term approaches)

 

Government services are an investment: you pay for things with tax dollars that will generate (given competent government) more benefit over time (like building economy buildings in strat games).  I think there is a need for some moral authority to do this.

 

I could make an argument that a wider social net could help businesses develop, because a wider social net would reduce the risk of failure.  Would you have taken the same risks if say (extreme example) failure meant you and your wife would have been thrown into debtors prison like how it used to be?

 

I think your argument has merit, but I think the other side has a little more merit.  However, if the roles were reversed I'd feel the same way you do, I'm sure of it.

on Jul 18, 2012

I've had pretty crappy luck over the years.  I've often felt like the guy who built swamp castle.  Luck is more of a force multiplier. And I don't think talent is a primary component (I'm not very talented). And there are lots of people who work hard but fail at business.

on Jul 18, 2012

Luck is a product of work.. There is no direct correlation, in that you get so much luck per hour of work.  Only that to have luck, you need to put in work.  Some need to put in more than others to get the same amount of luck..  Luck aint fair, but nor is life.  Government can't make luck fair, and it shouldn't try.  No amount of money put into government will make luck fair, if anything, it will decrease those trying to get lucky through hard work, which is bad news for all of us.. 

 

For the record, I hate Brad and his luck.. ok, not HATE, hate, just a jealous, envious hate(one of these days I may get over it, he is younger than me and has done so much more, life aint fair,WAAH.. ok.. ) Why did he take all those risks and get so lucky.. oh yeah, i didn't.. 

Brad, seriously continued good luck and Congrat's to your current success.. keep up your blogging and hard work..  I guess I don't hate hate you personally.. and yeah, I do hope you stay lucky, it gives us all incentive to try harder..   (I think there are people that need to understand what envy is, and learn how to use it for incentive for their future, and not for justification to take away from others.  Human nature is to be envious, nobody is immune to it, it is best to recognize it in ourselves and use it for motivation for your own improvement, not to bring down others)..  

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