Obama: Businesses Are Lucky & Should Thank the Government

President Obama:

[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.

The President goes on to qualify (sorta) the above by explaining that businesses wouldn’t be successful without all the “good stuff” the government provided via our tax dollars magic(?).

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. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

The National Federation of Independent Businesses responds:

What a disappointment to hear President Obama’s revealing comments challenging the significance of America’s entrepreneurs.
His unfortunate remarks over the weekend show an utter lack of understanding and appreciation for the people who take a huge personal risk and work endless hours to start a business and create jobs.
I’m sure every small-business owner who took a second mortgage on their home, maxed out their credit cards or borrowed money from their own retirement savings to start their business disagrees strongly with President Obama’s claim. They know that hard work does matter.
Every small business is not indebted to the government or some other benefactor. If anything, small businesses are historically an economic and job-creating powerhouse in spite of the government.

There is just enough truth in President Obama’s statement to seem sorta plausible. But it is true only from a stratospheric view in that our country, often through the government, did make these improvements or create programs that do help business at the macro-level. But individuals who create businesses–and who have also paid and continue to pay taxes that fund the government programs cited by the President–don’t gain any particular advantage over anyone else thanks to this stuff. Yes, they are also often supported by friends, family and community, but in the end they’re the ones putting their own asses on the line.
ADDENDUM: Jim Pethokoukis adds his thoughts:

The less damning interpretation is that Obama is merely parroting Elizabeth Warren’s blindingly obvious statement that private enterprise benefits from certain public goods that government provides, such as education and infrastructure, and thus investors and entrepreneurs and other wealthy Americans shouldn’t mind paying taxes for them.
But that’s a strawman argument — and a divisive one at that. Demonization through distortion. Few opponents of higher taxes are arguing that the most successful Americans should pay no taxes — only that with the top 1% making 20% of the income and paying 40% of the taxes, that the system is already progressive enough…..The more worrisome interpretation is that Obama is adding his own philosophical addendum to the Warren Doctrine: that there is no such thing as individual achievement or merit. All success is directly due to society’s collective effort as manifested by government. It takes a village — or at least its bureaucrats — to accomplish anything. There are no heroes, no great Americans other than The People who express the National Will through Government. As if the nation’s entrepreneurs all stand on the shoulders of the giants at the Commerce Department and the Small Business Administration and the Energy Department. If entrepreneurs really add no value to the efforts of government, why not not tax them at 90%? That way, more money for government — the “somebody else” in the Obama statement — to create more middle-class prosperity.

UPDATE: Perhaps this explanation by Charles Krauthammer will help people better understand the “strawman argument” being put forth by President Obama as well as the nuances that are being missed by some:

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Russ
Russ
9 years ago

Yes, who can even think of a small business that benefited from educated employees, roads and other infrastructure, or from computers and the Internet?
btw, thought that name sounded like astroturf…
http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=National_Federation_of_Independent_Business

Marc
Marc
9 years ago

Swing and miss Russ. Obviously not the point being made.
& We can play the “astroturf” game all day. I’ll call your “Sourcewatch” and play my “Discover the Network” page on them.
http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/printgroupProfile.asp?grpid=7352
DtN says Sourcewatch is affiliated with Center for Media and Democracy, which believes “capitalism generally, and corporations in particular, are the principal root causes of societal ills in the U.S. and abroad.” In the end, we’ll continue to not be persuaded by each other.
But thanks for the comment/traffic.

Monique
Monique(@monique-chartier)
Editor
9 years ago

“explaining that businesses wouldn’t be successful without all the “good stuff” the government provided ”
Would that be the “stuff” that we have all paid trillions of dollars in taxes for???
And, of course, that same business (especially the small one) would have been just as successful if the owner HADN’T put in 50-100 hours/week of work at it, not to mention some amount of his/her own hard earned money.
President Obama needs to focus on talking up his own accomplishments rather than denigrating those of others.

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

Everyone is provided with access to the same set of core government services – roads, police protection, public schools, and so on. Yet very few individuals start businesses or become wealthy through other means. Wouldn’t this necessarily imply that whatever made them successful is the extra result of their own efforts and is not the product of the government services that are provided to everyone?

ANTHONY
ANTHONY
9 years ago

What Marxist Hussein hates to admit is that private enterprise and the tax dollars generated thus fuel his Mama Govt. Hussein will not stop until he disables the engines that made this country what it is…Dirty Little Secret…..shhhh..he hates them. Unless they are Wall St donors of course.
http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2012/may/24/american-future-fund/american-future-fund-wall-street-obama/

Max D
Max D
9 years ago

“Yes, who can even think of a small business that benefited from educated employees, roads and other infrastructure, or from computers and the Internet?”
“Would that be the “stuff” that we have all paid trillions of dollars in taxes for???”
What??? That stuff isn’t free???

David S
David S
9 years ago

Marc, The comments from Obama make sense to me. Isn’t he saying that we are all connected and in some ways dependent on each other? Our systems of living are now connected and interdependent. I am not that happy with it. But forces larger than my wishes and yours have brought us to this place. I think most of us wish for a yesteryear of imagined freedoms and individuality while at the same time we wholeheartedly accept the new handcuffs our modern life offer us- access to millions of people and a connectedness only dreamed of in bad 1950’s scifi novels. I know you want to use Obama’s words for political purposes. Dumping on small business. I guess outside of defending Nazis , or Joe Paterno, perceived dumping on small business is the worst thing you can do.

Justin Katz
Justin Katz(@justin)
9 years ago

Most disappointing is how inarticulate the president is. But let’s try to tease out his underlying logic so as to make a determination of “fairness.”
So, we’ve all benefited from joint investment in shared infrastructure in the past… roads, utilities, I’ll even give him the Internet for the sake of argument. Imagine two people making use of the same shared resource that neither developed. One invests his time and resources to a high degree of risk, and the other does not. After a decade, the former is making significantly more money than the latter. Was it the shared infrastructure that made the former more successful than the latter? Of course not. So would it be fair to forcefully redistribute the wealth of the former to the one who did less to earn it?

Marc
Marc
9 years ago

David S. Justin and Dan more articulately explained it than I, but your basic understanding echoes what what I meant when I said that Obama’s statement is plausible from a stratospheric (ie; high up, macro) view, but that it misses the point that everyone has the same governmental advantages and same network to draw from (if we accept that premise) while business starters are the ones who take it a step further and put their butts on the line and take the risks to create wealth for themselves and their employees, etc.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
9 years ago

It is the beginning of hte “silly season” and he is preaching to his choir.
I wouldn’t be surprised is a survey were to show that a significant number of Americans agree with him. It serves as an equalizer.
I am not sure his Hollywood supporters would agree internally, but they would mouth it. Their favorite quote from Einstein “I stood on the shouldrs of giants”. Mr. E probably felt a social need to minimize his accomplishments. The prior knowledge was there for everyone else to see, but they didn’t run with the ball.

Patrick
Patrick
9 years ago

What about the opposite direction? What is the president saying about the other people? If the people who built a business, clearly due to the work of “everybody”, and they are wealthy and otherwise successful now, what does that say about the people who didn’t build a business and are wealthy now? Are we all dumb and lazy? I mean if the president wants to lower the successful back down to the mean, what does that say about the people on the other side of the curve?
Oh yeah, that’s what he calls his “base”.

JS
JS
9 years ago

Jon Stewart sums it up. “Nobody cares that Romney is rich. It’s Romney’s inability to understand the institutional advantage that he gains from the government’s tax code largesse. That’s a little offensive to people, especially given Romney’s view on anyone else who looks to the government for things like, I don’t know, food and medicine. ”
See last night’s show opening (July 16) for more.
http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-july-16-2012/democalypse-2012—bain-damage—romney-s-blind-trust

dave
dave
9 years ago

The Choom Gang member got everything for FREE from Affirmative Action all his life and now EXPECTS everyone else to mooch like him by taking other people’s money.
More Hoax and Chains.

Mike
Mike
9 years ago

Walking the dog backwards, it’s claer that the President’s core philosophy is Marxist: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. Too bad that this utopia has never proven feasable as those with ability get tired of fulfilling the ever-growing needs of the lazy and unproductive.

Monique
Monique(@monique-chartier)
Editor
9 years ago

“the government’s tax code largesse”
WHAT??? The “government’s tax code largesse”??? Like 100% of everybody’s money belongs by right to the government and they generously allow us to keep some of it?
Shame on the usually intelligent Jon Stewart for falling for that completely upside down and dangerous way of thinking about taxes.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“Obviously not the point being made.”
Ummm, it’s not? Obama says, “if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own” and you take offense. Pretty clear you think businesses owe nothing to their country and the taxpayers who make all this possible. That’s not the view of small business or entrepreneurs; that’s the view of the multinationals and corporatists.
Interesting you don’t attempt to disagree that the NFIB is a big business/Republican party front group. For those that want info on SourceWatch, here you go…
http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/printgroupProfile.asp?grpid=7352
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SourceWatch

SourceWatch (formerly Disinfopedia) is a collaborative online wiki operated by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), an American liberal organization. According to the project’s website, it “aims to produce a directory of public relations firms, think tanks, industry-funded organizations and industry-friendly experts that work to influence public opinion and public policy on behalf of corporations, governments and special interest groups.”

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“Wouldn’t this necessarily imply that whatever made them successful is the extra result of their own efforts and is not the product of the government services that are provided to everyone?”
Buffet summed this up…

I personally think that society is responsible for a very significant percentage of what I’ve earned. If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru or someplace, you find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil…

Max D
Max D
9 years ago

“Pretty clear you think businesses owe nothing to their country and the taxpayers who make all this possible.”
Nice gem Russ. Not only does business pay their share but they also contribute to the share of 50 per cent that don’t. You know, the 50 percent that continue to use our infrastructure, education, and the majority of our government services while paying nothing. Who owes who?

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

“Pretty clear you think businesses owe nothing to their country and the taxpayers who make all this possible.”
Russ – Please show us where Marc says anything even resembling this argument or that would directly imply that he believes it.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

Let’s look at this one…
“Businesses… don’t gain any particular advantage over anyone else.”
This of course is utter bunk. Ask yourself, do you enjoy patent or copyright protections? No? How about limited liability to protect your personal assets? Hmm, don’t have those either. There are myriad protections for corporate interests not afforded to individuals (which is why one incorporates in the first place). Not to mention that police powers to protect private property are by definition enjoyed more by those who own the most property.
“Please show us where Marc says anything even resembling this argument or that would directly imply that he believes it.”
Just as soon as you show me where Obama says “there is no such thing as individual achievement or merit.”
Look we can argue how much is the appropriate amount, but Marc is simply repeating big business, election year talking points.

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

“Ask yourself, do you enjoy patent or copyright protections?”
Yes. I’m not sure who told you that these are exclusively “corporate” protections, but that is false. You can patent inventions yourself, and copyright protections already apply to your creative works. I’m not a fan of intellectual property for a number of reasons (with the possible exception of trademarks), but it is important to be accurate.
“Not to mention that police powers to protect private property are by definition enjoyed more by those who own the most property.”
Policing costs are far higher in low-income areas. In fact, large corporations typically hire their own security privately.
But ALL of this is missing the main point. Obama and Marc are both talking about people who start and run their own businesses, not faceless megacorporations.

Marc
Marc
9 years ago

Well Russ, I didn’t write “Businesses… don’t gain any particular advantage over anyone else.” I wrote “individuals who create businesses…don’t gain any particular advantage over anyone else”. Ie; everyone has the same baseline & opportunity to start a business. I wasn’t talking about businesses already created. That’s a tangent. As was your attempt to turn this into a discussion about big business (as Dan just pointed out). Have a good summer.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“Yes. I’m not sure who told you that these are exclusively “corporate” protections, but that is false. You can patent inventions yourself.”
This is sort of like saying teachers pensions aren’t special interests. You too can get a teaching certificate and find a job teaching. I’m pretty sure most here wouldn’t buy that one. In any case, it’s clear that business interests benefit inordinately from those types of protections vs. the average joe (who might even benefit by their curtailment if not removal).
“Obama and Marc are both talking about people who start and run their own businesses, not faceless megacorporations.”
Fair enough, but that’s just a matter of degree. Successful small businesses owe a debt of gratitude to the people of this country. It’s actually kind of funny that you folks disagree. United we stand? Not so much!

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“your attempt to turn this into a discussion about big business”
You quote a big business front group, who pretends to speak for small businesses. I don’t doubt you’d prefer not to discuss it. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!
You folks would have us believe we owe nothing to our fellow Americans. Clearly the view of small businesses everwhere?

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

“You folks would have us believe we owe nothing to our fellow Americans.”
Nobody here said that or anything that would directly imply that we believe it. Please stop deliberately mischaracterizing our arguments.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“Please stop deliberately mischaracterizing our arguments.”
I’ll admit it’s pretty confusing trying to figure out what you folks mean. I was thinking earlier that the tribal areas in Yemen would be an ideal place to start a small business without those pesky goverment services. Something to think about.
Speaking of mischaracterizations, still waiting to hear where Obama said:

…there is no such thing as individual achievement or merit. All success is directly due to society’s collective effort as manifested by government. It takes a village — or at least its bureaucrats — to accomplish anything. There are no heroes, no great Americans other than The People who express the National Will through Government.

The funny thing is you folks accuse liberals of appealing to emotional arguement. This one is nothing but that.

Marc
Marc
9 years ago

We’ve now reached the “diminishing returns” portion of the comments section where we are all better off just leaving Russ to talk to himself. He will take this as proof that he has won the argument because of the irrefutable evidence he has provided and I (and you, fellow commenters) simply can’t refute his evidence.
Of course, the truth is that his arguments–as always–are based on appeals to liberal authorities (the only ones he considers valid) as well as willful mischaracterizations of our actual statements, which–along with the thoughts he likes to put into our heads–are the fertile ground from which he grows his strawman arguments. Further, he often legitimates these constantly shifting grounds by arguing that I–or we–were the ones who brought this, that or the other up. And we cannot forget his favorite “go to” move: the “argument from silence” whereby he believes that because we don’t address some (or all) of his masturbatory debate points (often because they are–again–addressing items we didn’t actually comment upon or are based on his filtered divination of our “true” motives), he must have won the argument.
Finally, because having the “last word” equals victory to Russ, he will also continue trolling to ensure he has the last comment on this thread. He can’t resist responding. Wait and see.
I, however, am done and advise the same to you all.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“He can’t resist responding.”
Fair enough, Marc. I’ll stop responding to all of your posts if you like. You’re clearly troubled by commnents from those with differing viewpoints. Megadittos!

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“Finally, because having the ‘last word’ equals victory to Russ”
Oh, and it’s actually when the personal attacks come out that I know you’re out of ideas to defend your position, a victory of sorts.

Marc
Marc
9 years ago

First Russ, thanks for proving me right.
Second, you also resorted to another gross mischaracterization. I’m so troubled by differing viewpoints that I peruse and comment upon stuff written by Bob Plain, engage other Progressives on Twitter, cite them, etc. I’m all for back and forth and engaging in debate. I think I’ve got 7 years worth of stuff on here to back me up.
I won’t beg you to comment on my stuff, but feel free. If nothing else, you’re a case study in logical fallacies.

Justin Katz
Justin Katz(@justin)
9 years ago

I’d like to put in a vote for getting Russ to continue. I might make a new post out of this gem:
“Successful small businesses owe a debt of gratitude to the people of this country.”
This actually relates to Obama’s underlying philosophical offense. Successful small businesses are included among “the people of this country.” For his own political gain and aggrandizement of government officials (who fall decisively on the “you didn’t build that” side when it comes to the economy), the President is turning the joint effort of our society into a division of spoils. Who owes whom what? Let’s tally this up; first I’ll take my portion as a government arbiter. Next, I’ll take your fealty for giving you an advantage that you otherwise don’t deserve in the distribution.
The gratitude should be mutual and must be expressed through willing interaction, not government confiscation.
For the record, I hold several copyrights to my work. The blame for their lack of value is largely my own… although I’d love for some big-name publisher that some folks built and others continue to maintain to pick the books up and spread them along the networks of stores and Web sites that others developed to get my words into the hands of people who earned the wealth that they use to purchase readers’ rights.
Russ illustrates that those on the Left have strong suspicion (even if they’ll deny it) that success is its own proof of misdeed.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

I’m reminded of words of another “liberal authority” who opined that all property outside of that needed for subsistence could be considered public property (“who by their laws have created it…”).
press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch16s12.html
“those on the Left have strong suspicion (even if they’ll deny it) that success is its own proof of misdeed.”
More nonsense arguments from the right. Yet another liberal authority put it best…
“I care as little about riches as any man, I am a friend to riches because they are capable of good. I care not how affluent some may be, provided that none be miserable in consequence of it.”
Since we’re on the subject, I’ve incorporated a business (more than once), copyrighted material, registered trademarks, etc. All enabled by laws that primarily benefit business concerns. I’m not arguing against those laws, only acknowleging them and their benefit. Is it really so noxious to the fringe-right to admit that we benefit from being Americans, especially those who enjoy the most success?

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“The gratitude should be mutual and must be expressed through willing interaction, not government confiscation.”
You’re talking like an anarchist now. To be clear, you don’t think representative democracy is a form of willing interaction? Pretty radical thought for a “conservative.”

Justin Katz
Justin Katz(@justin)
9 years ago

Gee whiz, Russ. Democracy is about the closest that society can get to willing interaction for social activities that have an element of imposition, which defines the proper scope of government: police, military, maybe some ground-leveling infrastructure. The closer the tier of government to the people involved in it, the more latitude is tolerable (town… state… nation).
But Democracy is not the only form of willing behavior, and it is not the appropriate one for most human interactions. Indeed, conservatives’ concern (referring back to Tocqueville) is that the more interactions it processes, the less democracy is a willing interaction.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

Ah, things we do together that allow us to thrive? Perhaps you’d do less, but you’re sounding as if you don’t disagree in principle with what the president said.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“How ‘You Didn’t Build That’ Violated Conservative P.C.”
nymag.com/daily/intel/2012/07/how-obama-violated-conservative-pc.html

The clear and obvious takeaway from the “you didn’t build that” controversy is that it’s another instance of a campaign seizing on its opponent’s mangled syntax to accuse him of believing something he clearly does not believe. There have been several of these episodes already — “you people” being the most recent — and there will undoubtedly be several more.
To the extent that this latest gaffe debate reveals Something Larger, it’s the extraordinary hypersensivity surrounding the egos of the rich in our current political culture. The best analogy I can think of is the touchiness surrounding race and gender in the political microclimate of Ann Arbor (and other left-leaning academic environs) when I attended college in the earlier nineties…
The outrage is that Obama would, even in the course of hailing the contributions and achievements of the rich, introduce context that in some way minimizes them. Nobody actually disputes Obama’s claim that government contributes some measure toward the success of business owners. They concede it is true, even banally so. Conservatives, nonetheless, feel angry that he would verbalize it.

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