Saturday, July 28, 2012

“You Didn’t Build That” – But You Didn’t Have a Choice

Originally posted at Oakdale Patch.

With the Presidential campaign season in full swing, both major political parties are very publically at each other’s throats. After months of shallow finger pointing about who owns Swiss bank accounts or who has eaten a dog in his lifetime, Republicans and Democrats might have accidentally stepped into a legitimate discussion about the relationship between the government and the market. Naturally, in true establishment fashion, neither Party seems to hit the mark on the issue.

Republicans have put President Obama and the Democrats on the defensive after the President’s speech in Roanoke, VA:
“Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. …. 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 point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”
The Mitt Romney campaign is in full attack mode against the President over the phrase “If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that,” which Team Obama claims is taking the President’s words out of context. Although parts of Obama’s speech are just flat out wrong (especially concerning this and this), Romney’s advertised case against Obama’s statement does fall flat as he attacks something the President did not say while agreeing with the part that the President did say. The Obama campaign’s response to the Republican outrage has been to clarify that Obama’s statement merely echoes the Elizabeth Warren line that business is allowed to succeed because people work together under the infrastructure provided by government. This argument lacks teeth as well.

Private goods are indeed transported over public infrastructure (like federal or state-built highways and bridges) and many business owners and their employees are educated in public schools. However, there was not much of a choice in this relationship between the private and the public; was there? The people do not have a lot of say on whether or not a road or a bridge is built and/or maintained by the government as opposed to a private company, even though some data suggests that people prefer private control over such things. Also, a number of private roads exist (and have existed) but not enough for one to be able to avoid government-maintained arteries. Many business employers and employees have likewise been educated by public schools. However, private and in-home options for schooling are in limited supply compared to the Federally-backed public school system. Most parents still seem to choose the untold and unseen costs of this public school system, as it exists under the guise of being the free option. So yes, of course businesses are built upon government infrastructure - because government infrastructure makes up most of what is available.

President Obama is correct: human beings thrive by doing things together. People always have worked together inside the family structure, as part of a variety of greater communities and through the markets. No one could possibly be successful with absolutely no outside contribution from anyone or anything else. However, there is a difference between a system of voluntary commerce and association under a free market and the current US system in which income is taken, often at the point of a gun or threat of imprisonment, to fund state projects that historically have been created and maintained by private investment. Some politicians really do seem to understand how markets operate in a free society. However, other politicians like Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren clearly do not; worst of all, they prefer this system of coercive central government planning over a voluntary network of individual free enterprise. If Obama and Warren want to celebrate the limits on choice and freedom in the United States of America, they should go ahead and be more upfront about it.

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