You Did Not Do It Alone

“You Didn’t Do It Alone”

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me – because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t – look 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, 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 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.

— Barack Obama

First of all, despite this pronouncement, it is not as universally true as the President would lead us to believe. In some cases, there was no help from a great teacher, or other hard working people. In some cases, the success of an individual is directly tied to their determination, their resourcefulness, their long hours, their ability to overcome obstacles and weather hardships despite the nay saying of others, the refusals to help, the inconvenient circumstances.

“There was a great teacher in your life.”

I’ve had several great teachers. Not all of them were professionals in the teaching profession. My Grandfather taught me to persevere, to think and to problem solve. My father taught me patience and integrity. A man I used to paint with taught me the proper way to apply various coatings to diverse materials. Others have taught me how ‘not’ to do some things: a business owner that failed because of micro-managing the small stuff and ignoring the big stuff; a pastor that was good at preaching, and not so good at following his own words; and personal experiences despite a mountain of evidence indicating that certain personal experiences were not necessary to experience at first hand.

We are, at any particular point in our lives, an amalgam of teachers, perspectives, experiences, influences and desires. This is equally true for each of us, successful or currently between successes. The President’s words reek of collectivism here and whisper malignantly in our ear “it’s not fair”. There is an unspoken belief here that equality of outcomes is not only desirable, but warranted. This is impossible due precisely to the factors the President cites: desire, hard work, knowledge, and sometimes, plain old luck, are not equally divided among humanity. We are all individuals, with our own desires, talents, capabilities and education.

“Somebody invested in roads and bridges.”

The President is being disingenuous here. He insinuates that a successful person, a successful business did not contribute to the building of the roads and bridges that it fell solely to someone else to do. Just exactly what did the taxes go for that person or that business paid? What about the people that paid absolutely nothing to have those roads built? The expanses spanned by bridges? Nearly half of the people that live in this country do not pay income taxes. By the President’s logic, those people should be barred from traveling the roads and traversing the bridges because they did not pay to create them. Surely, by his reasoning, an individual or a business that pays at least something in taxes has more right to the roads and bridges than an individual that has paid nothing .

The reality is, when a business orders raw material or inventory, the costs of fuel for the shipping company are figured into the cost of delivery. The business alone pays these costs as part of doing business. The delivery company pays fuel tax, license tax for the vehicles, tolls if access and egress to their destination require traveling over toll roads. Each of the employees that work at the business location are subject to the same types of fees; vehicle registration, fuel taxes, etc. All of those fees and taxes would be non-existent if the successful business were not there.

“Government research created the Internet so that all of these companies could make money off the Internet.”

Yes, government funded research created the Internet. No, the sole purpose of that was not so companies could make money off of it. Companies make money from the Internet because they innovate, because they risk their own marketing and advertising dollars. They make money because they have products or services or information that their customers want. If making money from the Internet were as simple and straightforward as the President believes, Amazon would not have had to reinvent its online presence more than once, The New York Times would be raking in the dough from their website, Google would just be another search engine .

“Somebody else made that happen.”

This line and the one that precedes it are the most offensive in the President’s speech: “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” Sure. It was somebody else that stayed up nights because they could not sleep worrying about where the rent money was going to come from. It was somebody else that had to lay off your employee(s) for the first time. That money you pulled from your savings account, that wasn’t really yours. You only thought you spent the first five years (or 10, or 20) of the life of your business nurturing it like a child, hurting when it hurt, smiling when times were good. Those long hours, those cold calls, those negotiations with suppliers, the groveling at the bank or around the table with investors; that was just you acting as a surrogate for the real owner of your business — somebody else. You, as an individual, are just a nobody as far as the President is concerned. You are just part of the group known as everybody else .

Hat tip: Richard Browne