One’s Debt to Society

“They know they didn’t — look, 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.  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.”

Indeed, this excerpt from Obama’s recent rant in Roanoke was more than political fodder; it was an outline of his personal and economic philosophy. His core argument here—one adopted straight from Marx—is that success and prosperity are achieved on the backs of society, past and present. The extent to which this is true creates the moral authority to redistribute wealth in the way that companies distribute dividends to their shareholders. If one’s wealth isn’t earned, then one doesn’t really have a right to keep it. Of course, this is an easy sell to many who don’t see themselves in the successful category, as it grants them moral access to the fruits of their neighbor’s productivity.

But there are two glaring logical flaws here. First, the President is asserting that each of us is born with an unsolicited “loan” whose repayment schedule is aligned with his or her productive ability. Such a claim is illegitimate because it does not bestow upon the individual the right to accept to decline the loan. Like it or not, he or she is forever owned by the collective.

It’s true that some of us are born with “advantages” that others might not have, but this is the result of a productive and free society, not a loan to our kids. We build schools and pave roads because we want to enjoy a better world ourselves and pass along something better to the next generation. Put another way, the inheritance we enjoy as Americans is due in part to the quasi-capitalist system that has created it, and in part to the gift—not the loan—we received from our parents and others.

Second, let’s assume for the sake of argument that Obama is correct and that business success is owed to government. Where does he think government amassed the resources necessary to “invent the Internet,” hire the great teachers, or build the roads? Government merely extracts wealth from the private sector and spends it. It creates nothing. If you’re born with a debt then it’s to the private sector, not government.

But we cannot reject Obama’s claim completely. The US has drifted to a mixed economy of capitalism, socialism and fascism. The crony capitalism we see today is an outgrowth of this amalgamation. Here’s the irony. By definition, those who have profited on the backs of government and society are the crony capitalists. We should root out the corruption that has unfairly benefitted firms like GE and GM, not hold them up as evidence that “business needs government.” Obama has this backwards.

The blessings of our country can be attributed to individual and business successes independent of government. When individuals have the freedom to create, compete, and retain the lion’s share of any profits earned in the process, they work harder, smarter, and more productively. They build cars, invent computers, and discover new treatments for dreaded diseases. Obama is fundamentally changing this system by creating a system where individual and business prosperity depends on government regulation, planning, or “investment.” It’s no wonder that our economy has grinded to a halt.

3 thoughts on “One’s Debt to Society

  1. This one is so ripe for the pickings, it’s hard to know where to start. But I’ll go with Federalism. When I was growing up in SC, they had a slogan, “see the best state on the best roads”. I’m not sure about truth in advertising, but I am sure that the roads were built out of state taxes. Now it appears that Obama has taken ownership of all roads and bridges in the U.S. and has been running around like Chicken Little for the last three years yelling “infrastructure, infrastructure!”. You people didn’t build these roads. Oh yeah? Maybe Romney ought to add to his first day list to get the GAO to audit the Department of Transportation to find out what happened to the $40 to $50 billion per year in fuel taxes that is supposed to go to keeping the “infrastructure” in shape. Not to mention gas taxes to the states is probably more. So, President Obama, since we have a structure for maintaining the infrastructure, why not just raise gas taxes? Instead, he tells these successful people since they drive to work on these roads, they need to pay more taxes. Oh for shame.

  2. You either have liberty or you have tyranny. In Obama’s world, everyone receives from the state and owes the state. In the world of the founding fathers, the state exists only to to protect liberty. There are no recipients and no debts. We have drifted a long way in 200 years.

  3. When Obama said “you didn’t build that bridge, the government did”, he is equating the government with himself. He does not represent the government, he is the government. He has appropriated it. He is even including firefighters and teachers as part of the government. Never mind that the Federal goverment doesn’t pay for these jobs. He is saying, I did this, you didn’t. For him, it is not nor has it ever been the government of the people, for the people and by the people. The government is forever separated from the people not to be reunited. He didn’t say y’all built that bridge with your taxes. He needs the people, aka voters, only to be reelected and to continue to depend more and more on his benevolence. His audience (the people) is now dependent on him (the government) to build bridges or whatever since they need them and obviously can’t do it for themselves. He doesn’t need Washington or his Jobs Council, which he has basically jettisoned. He just needs your vote to remain center stage. I don’t understand why people can’t figure this guy out.

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