Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Obama's comments on the successful: how Rush Limbaugh got it wrong

Last year I was on a local radio talk show along with the “progressive” editor of a weekly newspaper. As I have previously written, the editor said what I characterized as “one of the dumbest things I have ever heard.” What he said was that Obama and Biden were correct in advocating “spreading the wealth” because everyone contributes to the success of the successful. One of the sources of the editor’s remark was made back in September 2011 by Elizabeth Warren who is running for the senate in Massachussetts against Scott Brown. Warren rebuts the notion that raising taxes on the wealthy amounts to "class warfare," (see my April 2012 blog) contending that "there is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody." CBA News reports “Warren rejects the concept that it is possible for Americans to become wealthy in isolation.” "You built a factory out there? Good for you," she says. "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. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did." She continues: "Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along." http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20110042-503544.html Now the president has made essentially the same speech – with no attributing to Warren. Obama said 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.” Rush Limbaugh has gone ballistic, devoting much of two shows on this bit of the speech, claiming that Obama is insulting the successful and the private sector economy. He contends that Obama is saying that if you are successful, you have done nothing and that the government is justified in taking away all that you have earned. My interpretation is somewhat different. As I said on the radio show, the reason that this is stupid is because the left is forgetting (or rejecting) the fact that entrepreneurship is a factor of production (the others are land, labor and capital). Yes it is true that all of society contributes to the foundation of success, it is also true that the ones who put it all together are rewarded – or not if it fails. Profits are the reward to entrepreneurs, like wages go to labor, rent goes to land and interest goes to capital.So yes it is true that the society contributes to the success of the successful. My parents were college educated and teachers. I inherited human capital from them. Yet my success came from my fully exploiting that inherited capital. I know other wildly successful people who lacked the advantage that I had, yet succeed nonetheless. However, we all have given back, educating others, hiring others, paying wages, dividends and rents. Milton Friedman once said that the responsibility of business was to earn profits for without that we all would suffer. Even though that should be obvious especially now, the "progressives" somehow reject the obvious and would have less profits which would make us all worse off. So although Obama’s remarks are an attack on successful people, it shows yet again that this president and the “progressives” are ignorant of basic economic principles.

1 comment:

The Paineful Truth said...

I wholeheartedly agree with everything with one exception, which is that I really believe you and Limbaugh seem to be on the same page about Obama's comments; specifically "If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen". I'm no entrepreneur but that flew all over me as well--and it made Romney as animated as I've ever heard him be. I think it was economically stupid and a political miscalculation for him to say it. I like your statement that "Profits are the reward to entrepreneurs, like wages go to labor, rent goes to land and interest goes to capital." The symbiotic relationship between the entrepreneur and society is a complex one and thus easily exploited for the purposes of class warfare, with the goal of the redistribution of wealth. Those profits (or losses) to the entrepreneurs are the result of risk, leadership, drive and talent. Obama equates all that with a worker being paid to do a job, and the government doing its constitutional duty of protecting our rights to life, liberty and property--therefore justifying the government redistributing those profits as it sees fit, i.e., how many votes can be bought with it. I think both you and Limbaugh would agree that there is no such equity.