July 18, 2012
I enjoy economics. I’ve enjoyed studying theory, debating with others, and when I had to choose an elective for my degree a few years ago, my economics class was among my favorites. I also enjoy how sound economic policy squares with my world and political views; it’s quite the harmonious union. The run-up to the presidential election every four years, though, is a painful time for those of us who have looked at the numbers and believe that the free market gives the best possible outcome. There are always the fringe or down-ballot candidates, like Fauxcahontas of the North, who are way out in left field. Over this past weekend, though, this lunacy came out right at the top of the ticket.
The transcript for the video clip is below; if you want to watch it for yourself, you can see it in this article. (I tried to embed it, but I couldn’t make it look right.)
We created a lot of millionaires; and, you know, there a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me - "cause they want to give something back. They know they didn’t… 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, “Wow, 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 hard-workin’ 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 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.
Let’s get the “you didn’t build that” thing out of the way up front. There is a case to be made that the “that” refers to the roads and bridges, not to the business that was build. Neither reading of it changes what I believe is the real issue with these words, though if “that” is the business, it only confirms my analysis. And, although it is tempting to go to snark with this (“We created a lot of millionaires.” Yeah, but you started with billionaires!), that won’t be productive; I’ll try to keep that to a minimum.
We will start with the millionaire line, though. Who is the royal “we” he is talking about? His administration? America? From his other speeches, and the context later in this one, he is likely referring to the government. So, the government created millionaires? If we take that at face value, and your net worth is less than a million dollars, why didn’t the government pick you to be a millionaire? This illustrates the lack of substance in that statement. America, as a nation, has seen many people attain a net worth of one million dollars or more; but, to say she created it is a different thing altogether. It was definitely not the government who created them!
But, this flows into the point of the speech. American government, by creating roads and bridges, maintaining an educational system, and developing technology, created the environment in which such success could occur. On this point, I agree. Building out infrastructure led to expansion of our nation, and as families are spread across the nation, and commerce is transacted around the globe, infrastructure needs to be maintained and upgraded. Where the government has a vested interest in that infrastructure, they should be involved at the appropriate level.
Where this goes astray is the next logical step people like our 44th President want to take from that. The next step - well, it’s right there in his speech, that horrid phrase “give back.” (I’ve written about that before, though I don’t think I’ve dedicated an entire post to it. Great, another post for the draft pile.) Implicit in that phrase is that the entity that should “give back” did not earn or deserve what they have acquired, or that they got it for free. That’s not the way businesses work (which he would know had he ever… aw, darn, that snark is hard to hold back). Business owners:
- Have an idea for a product or service for which they believe they can convince people to trade some of their money
- Put in the work to develop the product or train people to provide the service
- Develop a plan to provide that product or service
- Secure the necessary infrastructure to run the business (physical, accounting, legal, etc.)
- Risk a great deal of their or their investor’s money or, in some cases, their homes and cars, in the process
Now, if we look at that list, it backs up the “you didn’t get there by yourself” line. Who all do we see in that list above? Employees, designers, architects, lawyers, accountants, human resources, communications, logistics, and investors would be a quick list. These are the people who “gave you some help.” But, did they give you the help? Very few people involved gave their help. The materials were not given, they were purchased; employees did not volunteer, they were paid; communications and logistics didn’t “spot” the business free service, they charged this business their going rate for those services.
No, I am not picking at words - this phrase was chosen precisely because of its meaning. If a business owner does all of the above, and ends up with less than $250,000, they won’t raise the liberal’s ire. However, if they end up with $10M, they must have ripped off someone to get that, so we get this “give back” nonsense. Never mind that they contracted with each employee or service provider for a price agreeable to them, and they contracted with their customer to provide the good or service at a price that was agreeable to them. Never mind, too, that they were the last to get paid; before they saw any money, they took care of the government (taxes), then employees (payroll), then contracted costs (business-to-business, professional support, etc.), and then maintaining inventory/training (keeping the business sustainable).
“But what about teachers? Don’t they count?” Well, what about them? They contracted with the government or a private institution to teach for a given amount of money. Teachers don’t work for free either; just because their paycheck comes from the government doesn’t make their efforts any more or less valuable.
At various points in my educational career, I had to study different companies. I also worked to type others’ research papers at one point, and got to see a lot more interesting things about many different companies. Nearly all large companies have benefits like continuing education or charitable contributions (including skimming off the top for United Way). They offer matching retirement account contributions. They sponsor volunteer events in the community. When you look at the owners of these companies, you find contributions to charities, churches, and foundations. If that isn’t “giving back,” what is it? (As an aside, I much prefer the phrase “pass it on;” it’s a conduit, not the Dead Sea.)
It is class warfare. By definition, the middle class is in the middle. They are employees, not owners. They get a paycheck. They volunteer at their school, their church, or other civic organizations. They go on vacations every so often, and they have fun playing with their kids. They are not being ripped off; they are living a comfortable life (particularly when contrasted with the rest of the world) because of the fruits of their labor. But, to hear this speech, you’d think our country was filled with a bunch of greedy, evil business owners, ripping off the public to accumulate great wealth to their own exclusive use. (Yes, there have been those, and they have rightly come to legal, and sometimes even physical, consequences. The presence of abusers does not nullify the principle.)
Sure, there are a lot of hard-working people; not nearly as many as there used to be, but they are there. However, if you work really hard at an unsuccessful venture, you are not going to be more successful; you may delay the failure of the effort, but it will come around. No one on the right is saying that people aren’t working hard; it is the left who are saying that those who are successful did not.
Now, let’s take a look at that famous line - “you didn’t build that.” If the “that” is the business - well, I think the above pretty much covers that. If the “that” is the roads and bridges, though, then yes, he’s probably right. However, did the bridge cause the business owner to succeed? If so, then what about the guy living under the bridge - did the bridge cause him to fail? If the bridge has some magical economic power, we must recognize that its power affects different people in different ways. Government is no less infallible than business (in fact, it’s usually more fallibl… sit down, snark boy); if government is to be credited with all these “millionaires we created,” it must be blamed for those below the poverty line. The only time it’s blamed for that is when there’s a Republican in the White House, though.
The Internet - ah yes, that powerful conduit that enables greater middle-class rip-offs than ever before. The Internet was developed by DARPA. Care to venture a guess as to what the D in that acronym stands for? Defense. Yes, the Internet grew out of a defense research project. Just as NASA isn’t all about space, defense isn’t just about guns and bombs. The very department that Obama wants to gut is the one that gave us the Internet. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.
So - if you built a business, you didn’t build it on your own; but, that doesn’t mean you ripped off those who helped you build it. Rather, your building of a business created a better life for those helped you build it. Maybe our next president will understand that; hopefully it won’t take him 4 years to get here.
May 9, 2008
I know, that really surprises you regulars… But, via Hugh Hewitt, we have a perfect illustration with what I believe is wrong with Barack Obama. It is a mindset that permeates everything he is and does, and is brought to us courtesy of his wife Michelle, speaking on Friday ahead of this past week’s North Carolina primary election.
(Throughout these quotes, the emphasis is mine.)
But we’ve also learned something else this year, something that we’ve all sort of felt at some point in our life, that we’re still living in a nation, and in a time when the bar is set, I talk about this all the time, they set the bar. They say look, if you do these things, you can get to this bar, right? And then you work and you struggle, you do everything that they say, and you think you’re getting close to the bar and you’re working hard, and you’re sacrificing, and then you get to the bar, you’re right there, you’re reaching out for the bar, you think you have it, and then what happens? They move the bar. They raise it up. They shift it to the left and to the right. It’s always just quite out of reach.
This is a diatribe on victimhood. Look how many times the work “they” is used to refer to some external entity. The person she’s describing does not believe that they are responsible for their own happiness - this person is too busy being held down by “them” (what previous generations would call “the man”). Ironically, though, this is pretty much real life she’s disparaging here. How many people have saved up to buy something, only to find that they forgot the tax, or it’s suddenly more expensive. I experience this in my line of work all the time. “Build it to these requirements.” So I build it. “Oh, why did you do it that way?” Because that’s what the requirements said. “Oh, yeah - but what I meant was something else.”
And, who was it that said “Aim for the moon”? (No, not the “nuke the moon” folks over at IMAO…) Achievement is great, but it shouldn’t be an end in and of itself. Once you achieve your goals, you set new ones and begin pushing again. That’s the premise of the whole “SMART” goal-setting process. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely, for those who’ve never heard of that.) You break your big goal into specific, measurable, realistic goals (ex. “win in North Carolina”). It’s not moving the bar, it’s moving on to the next small goal.
And that’s a little bit of what Barack has been experiencing. The bar is constantly changing for this man. Raise the money? Not enough. Build an organization? Not enough. Win a whole bunch of states? Not the right states. You got to win certain states. So the bar has been shifting and moving in this race…
Well, raising money means nothing for the presidency - if it did, we’d have wrapped up the second term of President Forbes in 2004. So no, that’s not enough. If organization was key, Barack wouldn’t even get to run because President Dean would be going for his second term. So no, still not enough. Win a bunch of states? Well, if you win 3 states for 100 delegates, and your opponent wins 1 state for 150 delgates, then yes, you won the wrong states. You’re whining that running for President is tough? What did you expect, that raising enough money for a coronation would be enough?
…but the irony is, the sad irony is that that’s exactly what’s happening to most Americans in this country. The bar is shifting and moving on people all the time. And folks are struggling like never before, working harder than ever, believing that their hard work will lead to some reward, some payoff. But what they find is that they get there and the bar has changed, things are different, wasn’t enough. So you have to work even harder.
No, they’re not. This view of America is completely flawed. Yes, people are working hard. Yes, some are feeling the pinch of bad decisions or bad circumstances. It’s not that the bar has changed, it’s that real life has hit. The most important thing to realize in all this, though, is that when life happens, it’s not the job of the government to step in and “fix” it.
And see what happens when you live in a nation where the vast majority of Americans are struggling every day to reach an ever-shifting and moving bar, then what happens in that nation is that people do become isolated. They do live in a level of division, because see, when you’re that busy struggling all the time, which most people that you know and I know are, that you don’t have time to get to know your neighbor. You don’t have time to reach out and have conversations, to share stories. In fact, you feel very alone in your struggle, because you feel that somehow, it must be your fault that you’re struggling so hard. Everybody else must be doing okay. I must be doing something wrong, so you hide. You don’t realize that the struggles of that farmer in rural Iowa are the same as the struggles as a city worker in the south side of Chicago, because we don’t talk to each other.
In the immortal words of Toby Keith, “A little less talk, and a lot more action.” If you’re busting your butt to get ahead, you’re struggling, you don’t have a lot of time for conversations and story sharing. If you think that they’re valuable to helping you with your struggle, you make time for them. If you can attain your goals without touchy-feely stuff, then you probably don’t.
And, there’s a bit of smug self-centeredness in this description as well. I don’t believe that most people feel that they’re all that different from other people. Certainly not any of the people I know - in fact, it’s been my experience that the easiest common topic to discuss with people is child rearing. Everyone has a funny story from that, and most people’s experience is quite similar. You’re revealing a part of yourself that I don’t think you meant to reveal.
And when you live in a nation with a vast majority of Americans are struggling to reach an ever-shifting and moving bar, then naturally, people become cynical. They don’t believe that politics can do anything for them. So they fold their arms in disgust, and they say you know, I can’t be bothered voting, because it has never done anything for me before. So let me stay home, let me not bother. Naturally, we as a nation get cynical.
Politics can’t do anything for anyone! What people become cynical about is politicians who say one thing to get elected, then do another once in office. Why do you think our current President’s approval rating has been in the toilet for some time? He campaigned as a conservative, then moved to middle once elected. His base doesn’t like it because he’s betrayed them, and his opponents still don’t like him because he caused the country to get an education in electoral law in 2000. You don’t find much in the middle of the road other than roadkill.
And besides, isn’t “politician” the charge that got your husband all riled up? His pastor can say those horrendous things about our country, and he’s just an old man from a different generation - but as soon as he accused Barack of being a politician, that’s when he got disowned. (That’s the irony - Barack’s response to that essentially proved what Dr. Wright said!)
And when you live in a nation where people are struggling every day to reach an ever-shifting and moving bar, then what happens in that kind of nation is that people are afraid, because when your world’s not right, no matter how hard you work, then you become afraid of everyone and everything, because you don’t know who’s fault it is, why you can’t get a handle on life, why you can’t secure a better future for your kids.
I’m not afraid. Is it because I’m one of those folks who’s clinging to God and guns? :) I’m not too awfully worried about securing a better future for my kids. What I’m concerned with is teaching my kids how not to become victims; teaching them how to take responsibility for their actions; teaching them that if they want something done, they should do it; teaching them respect for other people; teaching them the difference between respecting the earth (which we learn as Cub Scouts) and worshiping it. Secure a better future for my kids? My ultimate goal is to feel that the future is secure because my kids are in it.
And the problem with fear is that it cuts us off. Fear is the worst enemy. It cuts us off from one another and our own families, and our communities, and it has certainly cut us off from the rest of the world. It’s like fear creates this veil of impossibility, and it is hanging over all of our heads, and we spend more time now in this nation talking about what we can’t do, what won’t work, what can’t change.
If people would quit trying to recycle failed socialistic programs and wealth-envy politics, we’d have a lot less to talk about. Many of us would love to talk about change, but it’s tough to talk with someone who won’t debate like an adult. An example of what won’t work is the current Social Security ponzi scheme. But, a few years ago, when an attempt was made to get our government out of the Social Security business, opponents screamed about how they’d be taking food out of grandma’s mouth. It’s the same with the minimum wage debate - the claim is made that you can’t support a family of four on minimum wage. First off, it is possible, if you live within your means (a foreign concept these days, I know - see collapse, mortgage, sub-prime); secondly, that’s not what minimum wage is designed for. On the other side, you’ve got a $7+ minimum wage, and we wonder why there’s a demand for $2/hour illegal labor. It’s not that there are jobs Americans won’t do, it’s that they, by law, can’t do them!
And one more example of the whole “arguing like adults” thing, blogress Cassy Fiano recently posted two pictures of Barack Obama’s celebration in North Carolina - one from the campaign itself, the other from Mary Katherine Ham, who was there covering it. The pictures illustrated that, though some creative photography, it appeared that the venue was full when it was, in fact, not. What was the number one liberal response to this heinous exposure of “politicianing”? You’re fat. (Language warning on that link.)
See, and the problem with that kind of thinking is that we passed that on to our children, because see, the thing I know as a mother is our children are watching everything we do and say, every explicit and implicit sign, they are watching us. And our fear is helping us to raise a nation of young doubters, young people who are insular and they’re timid. And they don’t try, because they already heard us tell them why they can’t succeed. See, and I don’t want that for my kids.
Then don’t live in a fear-induced paralysis! Get out there and take control of your destiny. Go to school, apply for that better job, update your resume, do what it takes. That’s the picture you want your kids to see. I’ll tell you what, you’re into real life here again - that is what’s happening to our kids. But don’t bemoan it, do something about it! There’s nothing that the President of the United States can do to tackle that kind of fear, and putting that responsibility on him is a big part of the problem.
You know, jobs like my father had those blue collar jobs where you got pensions, vacation, all that, they’re dwindling. They’re drying up. They’re disappearing, going overseas. And if you’re lucky enough to have a job, nine times out of ten, your salary’s not keeping up with the cost of living. Barack and I met with a family of railroad workers, union folks. They said for eight years, they hadn’t seen a pay increase. For eight years, zero pay increase. Eight years. No increase. Gas prices going up, food going up, rent, insurance, own a home, what’s going with the mortgages? That’s going up. It’s all going up, and salaries are staying stagnant. So no wonder that bar feels like it’s moving.
And why is that? See regulation, government, obscene. People who don’t understand free-market economics think that they can levy whatever requirement they want on business (usually some sort of wealth-distribution scheme), and that business owners are just going to eat that out of their profits. That’s not the way the real world works. This is part of the minimum wage debate too - if I employ 10 people at $5/hour, and I suddenly have to pay them $7/hour, that a $20/hour of overhead I’m going to incur. To fix that, I will either raise my prices to compensate, or let 3 of the people go. With the former, the buying power of the $7/hour wage is diminished, and with the latter, three of the folks lose all their buying power (moving the bar, no doubt). Why are these jobs going overseas? Because people there will work harder, for less money, and be grateful to have a job in the first place.
And I don’t know how single parents do it. There are millions of them all over this country. Let me tell you, single parents love their kids, too. But it is almost impossible to raise a family of any size on a single salary. So now you’ve got single parents who have to double and triple shift, taking on two, three jobs, working all the time, and feeling like they’re failing because that bar is moving, because how on Earth are you going to work as hard as you need to to pay the bills and be at parent/teacher conferences, and sit down and do homework when a kid has trouble? How are you going to manage all that? Well, folks are not, and they’re doing it suffering in silence, blaming themselves for the fact that they’re not working hard enough. Maybe something’s wrong.
Ooh boy - time for some insensitivity. I agree, something’s wrong. People in this country have lost their backbone to stand up and say that single parenthood is not the ideal child-rearing environment! This isn’t a knock on single parents per se, but most of the single parents I know would agree that it is not the ideal environment. But since no one will say that, and we’ve elevated our own self-centeredness to such an extent that people just get out of their marriages if they’re not happy instead of working on them, we get this. The people I feel sorry for in single-parent households are the kids. Men and women both bring different styles and aspects to the parenting table, and the presence of both has the best opportunity to produce a good result.
This also comes back to the whole “living within your means” thing. It doesn’t take three jobs to support a family - I’ve got three kids and a wife living on one enlisted military salary, and we get by just fine. No, we don’t have a new Toyota Sienna (much to my wife’s dismay), but we have what we need.
And [Barack] has spent every ounce of his time running over the decisions in his head - do I…when graduating from college, do I work on Wall Street? Make a lot of money, that’d be better for me, or do I go work in a community as an organizer? Well, what did Barack do? He became a community organizer, working in some of the toughest neighborhoods on the south side of Chicago, worked for years in neighborhoods where people had a reason to give up hope, because their jobs had been lost, steel mills shut down, living in brown fields left by those closed steel plants, unsafe streets, schools deteriorating, grandparents raising grandkids. Barack spent years working with churches, busing single mothers down to City Hall to help them find their voice, building the kind of operations on the ground just like he’s doing in this race, block by block, person by person. Now you tell me whether there’s anybody in this race who can claim to have made the same choice with their lives. You tell me, but I think that Barack Obama is the only person that can claim that kind of choice.
And, were he running for Humanitarian of the Year, this might be a good thing. But he’s not - he’s running for President of the United States of America. He wants to be the CEO of one of the largest economies on the planet, yet he has no experience in managing anything, even a non-profit. (If you’re on the ground, house to house and driving buses, you’re not managing.) People don’t just “get” to be CEO because they’re a nice person. They start in lower management, working out their inevitable neophyte mistakes and gaining experience as to what does and doesn’t work. Then they move up and prove their abilities at a higher level. Even then, things don’t always go smoothly. Carly Fiorina, the HP exec who “broke the glass ceiling,” was supposed to take HP to heights previously unknown. As it turns out, her ideas didn’t match up with what the market wanted, and she left a few years later, much more quietly than she arrived.
The job is President of the United States is a tough one, but it’s not the President of the World. Sometimes, what’s best for the USA is not what’s best for some other countries. I don’t want my President making decisions for the betterment of other countries to the detriment of this one. You may think that’s why we should all be opposed to the Iraq war, but that’s why I’m for it. I believe that instilling a representative form of government in that area of the country will help stabilize that region, which will in turn stabilize our nation. That way, we can have the time to deal with the people here that need attention.
So, there you have it - several reasons I’m not supporting Barack Obama.