When Obama says something stupid I think about Jar-Jar Binks getting excited when Obi-Wan Kenobi shows up. “OB!” He says. “OB” is dumb Obama, and he may have gotten a little ahead of himself at a campaign speech. In the speech he was trying to make the case that rich people didn’t get there by themselves and should be prepared to pay a little in taxes to give back.
I thought that he was making the case for demand being the driver of economic activity instead of “job creators”. But he was talking about all the great things government has provided that made it possible for people to attain their wealth. Look at Mark Zuckerberg. He went to a public high school for a time, drives on public roads, and built his company on the internet. So he’s certainly benefited from the ground work the government laid.
And Obama’s message indicated that because Zuckerberg, or any successful person, used public goods to become wealthy, they didn’t really do it themselves. Naturally, anyone that doesn’t like Obama will pounce on this line. He even started a meme.
The most damning quote is this “If you’ve got a business. you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen”. Out of context that looks pretty bad. In context it makes more sense. Many wealthy people believe that the source of their success is based on their own brilliance. As such, they shouldn’t have to give up the rewards of their success to the government. Obama is saying that some of that success can be attributed to work the government did for you and so you shouldn’t bitch about some additional taxes.
In a rational universe both sides make sense. If only such a universe existed. Obama is right though. We all owe some of our success to the government. Most of us went to public schools and use roads and are happy our army protects us.
But there’s room for divergence that Obama didn’t acknowledge. The benefits of government basically give us all the same opportunity. And we should all give back because that opportunity puts us in a much better place than say someone in tribal Africa. But it’s what we choose to do with what government provides us that sets us apart. Zuckerberg chose to use the public goods to make himself a billionaire. Someone else chose to use those same public goods to try to meet 12 year olds online. Obama’s logic risks implying a pedophile isn’t responsible for their actions either.
In the US we all generally have access to the same public goods from the government. We choose to use them in different ways and ultimately we’re responsible for the way we use them. Obama really didn’t mean to imply that businesses owe their success to the government. If he could rephrase he would likely say that the funds that lay the groundwork for the success of America are at risk of running dry and perhaps some people should pay more than they have in the last few years.
And in a rational universe we could all just have a conversation about the issues. Instead Obama went a tick too far and gave opponents what they needed to attack. And yes, that’s something that OB did build.