“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. . . .

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