“You Didn’t Build That”—Obama’s Ode to Envy - The Objective Standard

Barack Obama’s July 13 speech, in which he tells business owners, “you didn’t build that,” has rightly generated enormous criticism. But why did he say it? Before we turn to that question, let’s review exactly what Obama said:

[I]f you’ve been successful, 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.

This speech is remarkable only for its ludicrousness. (It is certainly not remarkable for its originality; as others have noted, Obama took a page out of Elizabeth Warren’s campaign book. Then again, Obama would say she didn’t write that.)

Obama wishes us to believe that the successful—whatever their field and scale of success—are wrong to attribute their success to applying their minds and working hard. Unfortunately for Obama, rational Americans know that his claim contradicts the facts surrounding the achievements of every productive industrialist, producer, and creator, who succeeds by thinking, planning, and working hard.

Examples range from J. D. Rockefeller, who revolutionized the oil industry; to the Wright brothers, who pioneered heavier-than-air human flight; to Thomas Edison, who developed a usable electric light bulb (among other innovations); to Ayn Rand, who wrote great novels on the themes of independence, individual productiveness, and the role of reason in man’s life; to Steve Jobs, who revolutionized the computer, music, and film industries.

Obama wishes us to believe that, because not every “smart,” hard-working person reaches the pinnacle of success, that somehow diminishes the achievements of those who do. True enough, some “smart” people misapply their intelligence, for instance, by becoming animal “rights” activists or Marxist community organizers. Others go into business without having the right business plan, the right motivation, the right leadership skills, or the right good or service for their intended market; indeed, only a third of businesses survive their first decade. Often entrepreneurs fail numerous times before developing a successful business. Rational Americans understand that, while not every smart, hard-working person builds a successful business, that does not alter the fact that those who do build successful businesses do so by thinking, planning, and working hard.

Obama also wishes us to believe that, because successful producers learned something from government teachers, used government roads and bridges, employed government research, and the like, this means they don’t really own their success or wealth. Rational Americans know full well that the government funds such things by forcibly confiscating the wealth of producers. Rational Americans also know that a bum is as free to use a government bridge as is a successful business owner, but the business owner chose to apply his intelligence and work hard to build something great.

Finally, to mask the inanity of what he just said, Obama mentions that “individual initiative” perhaps has something to do with a producer’s success. But, in addition to seeing through Obama’s flagrant contradictions, rational Americans see this subordination for exactly what it is: an attempt to insignificantly mitigate what he said before, while leaving what he said before as his main and emphatic message.

Of course, that Obama flouts logic and observable facts is obvious to anyone who spends even a few moments evaluating his claims. Why, then, does he spout such nonsense?

To understand the atmosphere in which Obama delivered his remarks, watch the video. When Obama tells business leaders, “You didn’t get there on your own,” some in the crowd chant, “That’s right!” When Obama ridicules business leaders for thinking they’re “just so smart,” many in the crowd meet his comments with jeering laughter.

The purpose of Obama’s speech was not to present serious arguments about the causes of success in business. His claims are ridiculous on their face. Obama’s purpose was to give envious Americans the pretext they need to openly loathe those who have been successful—and to vote accordingly.

If the successful didn’t really earn their success—and thus the wealth that comes with it—then there’s nothing wrong with “spreading their wealth around” to those who have not been so successful. If no one is responsible for his success, then no one has a right to the fruits of his success, and thus those who haven’t been successful have the same right to those fruits. And if the successful resist the “noble” effort to redistribute what is “really” the community’s wealth, then they are evil—or so Obama wishes us to believe.

In reality, anyone who develops a new technology, writes a great novel, brings an innovative new product to market, or in any other way earns success, thereby deserves the fruits of that success. Unfortunately for Obama, rational Americans know this, and rational Americans will win this debate.

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Creative Commons Image by Steve Jurvetson

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