It’s always illuminating when President Obama gives his insights on how America’s free enterprise system works. Here he is last Friday at a campaign event in Virginia:
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.
Of course, the money line in that snippet of the speech is “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
That ranks right up there with “When you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody” as an Obama statement that seemingly confirms a collectivist streak in his economic cosmology.
1. 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. Indeed, you could quite plausibly argue that the United States already has the most progressive and lopsided income tax system among advanced economies.
2. 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.
Does he not think free enterprise is an essential part of “this unbelievable American system”?
3. There’s also no recognition in the speech of all the many ways government hurts business,
– how government wastes tax dollars and cause tax rates to be higher than they should be,
– how government impedes business through dumb and duplicative regulations,
– how government threatens the viability of the Republic through the monstrous and ever-mounting national debt.,
– how the best laid plans of government might not work as well in practice as they do in theory.
In speech after speech — even taken in their best possible light — the president demonstrates that he is a man of government first and last and through and through, that he sees government as the font of innovation and growth.
Explains a lot, doesn’t it?