In a campaign stop in Roanoke Virginia on Friday, July 13th, President Barack Obama had something to say that I find very offensive. He said, “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” The broader context surrounding his statement is this:
“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 entire speech can be found here.
I suppose what he was trying to say was that without the support of the public education system, transportation systems, and all the other systems supported by the government, nothing would ever happen here in the United States. Therefore, the government and all the people supported by the systems provided by the government are really responsible for all the successes in America.
I can agree that I have had plenty of help along the way getting to where I am today. I had very good teachers throughout my public education. I had several excellent professors at the University of Maryland. I have had managers and colleagues that have challenged me to excel. I even traveled on some well-paved roads and the occasional on-time aircraft throughout the country. But, was any of that responsible for my success as both a consultant and an entrepreneur?
Barack Obama says yes, “You didn’t build that.” He says that I didn’t build my one person consulting business by myself. He says that, with my three co-founders, we didn’t build Airespace, a business with a value of nearly a half billion dollars that created 200 high paying jobs. “Somebody else made that happen.”
I guess I must have dreamed those eight years of my life, though my wife says otherwise.
Please, Mr. President, introduce me to this mysterious “somebody else.” I would like to shake their hand and congratulate them on how well they have managed my professional life.
Unfortunately, he can’t introduce me to this mysterious person, because they don’t exist. Only one person made these things happen in my life. ME. I am the only person without which none of this would have happened. Take me out of the equation and my consulting business would never have existed. Take me out of the equation and Airespace at least would have been a very different company. Maybe better, maybe worse, but certainly different.
In discussions with some friends before penning this post, they pointed out that pretending that I am entirely responsible for my own success shows a more than a bit of hubris. I agree, in part. Without those that have taught me, I would never have had the foundation of education to become a consultant. However, when I was, effectively, laid off from AMD I could easily have found another job in my field and had my new employer move me to another city from Manhattan.
Instead, I started Informed Technology, found some clients, and made a success of consulting for five years. Who else made that happen? The President’s statement belittles the value of individual initiative, effort, and inventiveness that is the keystone to American success and prosperity. He attributes that success and, therefore, the prosperity to everyone else but the individuals that risked their fortunes, livelihoods, and, sometimes, lives to step out of the comfortable societal norms of a salaried job and to try to create something new.
If, as the President implies, all success is due to the underlying support provided by the government and the mysterious “somebody else”, successful individual businesses and brand new startup companies should be as common as dirt. After all, everyone has the same government support available to them. As everyone can see though, this is not the case. Successful businesses and startup companies are rare because the individuals that make them successful are also rare.
To close, I am indebted to another friend for this quote from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.
“He didn’t invent iron ore and blast furnaces, did he?”“Who?”
“Rearden. He didn’t invent smelting and chemistry and air compression. He couldn’t have invented his Metal but for thousands and thousands of other people. His Metal! Why does he think it’s his? Why does he think it’s his invention? Everybody uses the work of everybody else. Nobody ever invents anything.”
She said, puzzled, “But the iron ore and all those other things were there all the time. Why didn’t anybody else make that Metal, but Mr. Rearden did?”