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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Who Built What?

Here's the complete quote:

“There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. 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. The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”

It's pretty clear that he's saying if you've got a business, you didn't build the roads and bridges. It wouldn't make sense to say that if you "have" a business, you didn't "build" it -- that might be the case in some cases, but everybody knows that some entrepreneurs are out there working long hours to develop products, service, and customers, and are genuinely building businesses.

So the whole Republican rant against this phrase is misguided and/or dishonest.  But there's an additional level of dishonesty going on here.  Yes, there's a small number of true entrepreneurs out there who have built businesses, and if Obama had really said that, they'd have just cause for taking offense.

But the vast majority of "businessmen" didn't do that -- they simply rose to the top of existing businesses, and, when it those positions, were able to dip their hands into the torrent of cash that flowed through the company.  This goes for the vast majority of CEOS of big companies today, and it also goes for all the executives who spend their days thinking of ways to trick consumers into paying more than they should for their products -- like fat free half and half and frozen dairy desserts.  The true 1% (at least the ones who still are out there earning an income, as opposed to living off of past windfalls) is made up of a lot more people like that -- i.e.skimmers -- than of people who "built" businesses.    

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