Some businessmen succeed not only on their own but in spite of government
posted at 2:09 pm on July 23, 2012 by Howard Portnoy
“Before Youdidn’tbuildthatgate progresses further, let’s call time on efforts by both conservatives and liberals to distort what it was that President Obama said.” So pleads liberal blogger Timothy Noah.
This is an interesting development. When someone ordinarily as intractable and overtly biased as Noah assumes the role of disinterested arbiter, you know how seriously deep Obama stepped in it with his now-infamous anti-entrepreneurial remarks.
Not only does Noah accuse his fellow liberals of “reaching” in their defense of the speech but takes a double shot at the president himself, writing that Obama “did indeed belittle entrepreneurship” and “garbled the sentences” to boot. He even concedes that “Romney was right” in his castigation of the president. True Noah tacks on the qualifying phrase if “only in the most blinkered sense,” but even then this is high praise coming from him.
Noah’s bottom line is that even if conservatives aren’t satisfied that Obama didn’t mean what he said (or didn’t say what he meant), they should at least be willing to re-examine his alleged “primary source” for the correct interpretation. That is of course U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, who said:
There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for….
But even this quote makes the false presumption that we includes government, not just the taxpayers who finance it. Notice that all the “helpers” Warren/Obama point out—pavers of roads, teachers, police, and firefighters—are government contractors or employees. (Sage relatives, clergymen, and friends who also might be instrumental in the attainment of personal success are excluded from the list.)
Those who doubt that the president’s intention was to promote the essentiality of government as a factor in success should recall the context of his speech: to justify his claim that wealthy Americans should be happy to “do their fair share” by paying the taxes at a higher rate. Any remaining diehard skeptics are referred to the real primary source for Obama’s comments, his own words. In an October 22, 2011 speech, he uniquely identified government as the source from all which all success flows:
Somebody—an outstanding entrepreneur like a Steve Jobs—somewhere along the line he had a teacher who helped inspire him. All those great Internet businesses wouldn’t have succeeded unless somebody had invested in the government research that helped to create the Internet. We don’t succeed on our own. We succeed because this country has, in previous generations, made investments that allow all of us to succeed. [Emphasis added]
A simple troubling truth that escapes the president and his supporters is not just that some people achieve success without the help of government but that some manage in spite of government. Thomas Edison, to take an early example, was pulled out of school after his teachers called him “stupid” and “unteachable.” Unlike Julia, the fictitious character created by the Obama administration who lives blissfully from cradle to grave under the protective umbrella of the federal government, Edison spent his teenage years working at and being fired from various jobs. He nevertheless went on to obtain 1,093 patents as an inventor. Many more of his creations were out-and-out flops, prompting him to remark that genius is “1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” One wonders where the modern federal government would have been during Edison’s in-between years.
Want a more recent example? Take Sir Freddie Laker, who was reportedly raised in a home so modest that it had no indoor plumbing. His father abandoned the family when Freddie was 5, but his mother—who was not a government employee—taught the child to think creatively.
In 1966, Laker bought used aircraft and launched Laker Airways, which was billed as a “vacation airline,” offering passengers fares at a lower price point than those set by rival carriers. The airline flourished, despite the refusal of the British government to back Laker’s plan for an expanded fleet in 1971. But the fight of his life came in 1973, when he submitted applications to the British and U.S. governments to commence transatlantic service at prices as low as a third those of the competition. The airline cartel was unhappy, and so were their friends in government which tightly regulated the airline industry.
His efforts to bring cheaper air service to international travelers continued to be spurned by both governments for another four years. They finally relented, and his expanded company, Skytrain, became a reality. Soon a price war among major carriers was underway. Those who flew Skytrain and its rivals enjoyed lower fares thanks to Laker, who was knighted in 1978, but no thanks to government.
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