Taking a page from that corporate-bashing class warrior – Elizabeth Warren – Obama says businessowners owe a debt of gratitude to society for their success. You think you got to where you are today because of ingenuity, hard work, and a willingness to dirty your thumbs and get down to business? Pshhh. Your products are shipped all over this country on roads and highways that the rest of us – you know, the unwashed moochers – paid for. Your workers went to schools bought and paid for by the public for twelve years before signing off to slave away and break their backs at your despotic, soul-sucking corporate empire … mannnnnn! (Stop oppressing us with your “hand washing” protocols and rules against spitting in the customers’ food, boss dude, sir!) We probably pitched in for their college loans, too – maybe even picked up the check for the full cost of tuition, through subsidized grants for poor kids and such.
The only reason gangs of thugs didn’t kick down your fences and steal all your factory equipment is because we paid for police protection. For heaven’s sake, without us, jungle children (probably raised by wolves) would hijack the building and force you to fight to the death – most likely in gladiator attire, with harpoons and swords – just to get it back. We pay for firefighters to rush to the scene when your property bursts into flames. We pay for infrastructure, we pay for protection services, we pay for national defense, we pay for education – we, as a society, provide the framework that allows you to prosper. Without us, you’d be hunting lions right now, swinging from vines and cooking your own babies over a campfire just to survive. You’d be nothing to nobody – a worthless excuse for space. You Mean We Can Accomplish More Living With Other People Than We Could Stranded on a Desert Island By Ourselves?
Businessowners are blessed to live in such a complex, intricate network of individuals cooperating to help each other prosper and survive. That’s true of everyone, though, not just Wall Street financiers, oil tycoons, or corporate CEOs. (Whether that means we should be waving incense before portraits of EPA administrators or Harry Reid is a different story – as if these are the only people who can make all this happen.) We are, after all, social animals. Each and every one of us derives innumerable benefits from living with other people, in a society where we trade, not only what we own – not only what we cultivate, assemble, create, and put together – but also our knowledge, our talents, our specialties, and the unique skills we have to offer.
It’s true that, in many cases, we can accomplish more together than we ever could all by ourselves. Sometimes we have to work together to accomplish certain objectives – building bridges, teaching one another tricks of the trade, mentoring school kids, building multi-million dollar franchises, putting out fires – that no one person can do living on his own. Even a graduate of the Ellington School for Toddlers could tell you that. That’s what society is all about.
Where would we be without language, for instance? How would we communicate with one another? How would we make requests? How could we give instructions? How could we warn of impending dangers, convey the ideas floating around in our minds, or teach people the things we know? How could we share information?
We’d probably have to “oo” and “ahh” like the apes in the jungle, but that wouldn’t get us very far. Sure, it works for a bunch of primitive knaves, whose only purpose in life is to hunt, eat, go to the bathroom, sleep, and pick bugs off each other. But it doesn’t work for an advanced civilization, where people exchange their creations and wisdom for those of others, shelter themselves in insulated, air-conditioned homes, use advanced weaponry for self-defense and the gathering of food, communicate through telephone wires and computers, zip across countries and skies in trains, jets, cars – you get the picture.
Where would we be without money – the medium of exchange that we use to buy vegetables and grains from farmers, homes from builders and construction companies, software and laptops from tech firms, mobile phones from cell providers, blenders and microwaves from engineers and technicians, clothes from tailors and fashion designers, drugs from pharmaceutical companies, and everything else that we need and want to live a fulfilling life? We use it to compensate those who provide us valuable services, like doctors who treat and cure our colds, back pains, disfigured joints, and broken limbs. We use it to pay plumbers who fix our pipes, teachers who educate us everything we need to know about science and literature, and daycare workers who we entrust to guard over our children while we head off to work for the day. Employers use it to pay the hired hands who operate machinery, the product development researchers, the accountants and secretaries who sort out the finances, and all of the other people whose teamwork is essential to the company’s success.
Our overall contributions to society as individuals, as the great free market economist Frederic Bastiat pointed out over a century ago, pale in comparison to the benefits we accrue from living in it. I didn’t sit at a sowing machine, knitting together the shirt and pants I’m wearing right now. Just a few minutes ago, I wolfed down a peanut butter sandwich. Somebody had to cultivate and harvest the wheat that goes into the bread. Somebody had to grow the peanut plants, fence them in, and keep an eye out for thieves. They also had to sprinkle fertilizer into the ground, spray pesticides to prevent bugs from wiping out the field, and process the peanuts in a factory. The keyboard and home computer system I’m typing with as we speak is the product of millions of minds, doing hours of research. Nobody can go it alone. That’s just a fact of nature.
But Here’s the Catch 22…
Social influences alone do not guarantee success in life. Social influences alone will not magically leave you sitting atop a mountain of gold. Social influences alone will not invent the cure to AIDS, get the ball rolling on the next flying contraption, or make one the master of the universe. Not everyone has what it takes to manage a company overseeing the production and distribution of hundreds of products, an army of staff members, and billions of dollars in assets – all of which could evaporate into nothingness if you’re not careful about where scarce materials and human capital are utilized.
How, exactly, does one go about becoming an entrepreneur? According to our Commander in Chief, it’s a complete stroke of luck. It has nothing to do with the innate personality traits or qualities you have that other people don’t. Life is just a game of chance that some are better at playing than others. We’re born into a room full of slot machines. A select few of us hit the jackpot, and the rest of us have our money flushed down the drain. The President has no idea how markets work, or how a business comes into being. Apparently, he thinks that Bill Gates was lying on the couch one day, when all of a sudden – out of nowhere – hundred-dollar bills started raining from the sky and some Japanese investor warped to Earth from another dimension and said, “Let’s do this.” And then he touched Gates’ head and all of a sudden the guy had a cranium the size of a blimp. Um, sure. Whatever.
Obama’s ignorance of economics is astounding. “Lots of smart people don’t become rich,” he says. “You can work hard, and still be dirt poor and living in a cardboard box.” What an astonishing revelation, Mr. Holmes! I can bust my rear-end off making trillions of balloon animals, chisel and hammer and sculpt all the wooden Joe Biden statutes I want, and run around like Sonic the Hedgehog punching people in the nose all over Pittsburg. By the time I’m done, I’ll be sweating like a pig, gasping for air, and limping to my bed. Will I be showered with dollar bills? Will I now be able to afford 5 mansions, a tank engine, and a giraffe?
No, because I didn’t create anything of value! There’s zero – zero – economic demand for all the hard work I did, and I’m going to get paid diddly-squat for it because society is no better off than it was before. Nobody’s living standards improved. I didn’t make anything that helped the manufacturing process run more smoothly, enhance the quality of something that already exists, or make things more cost-effective for somebody who runs a business. Nobody was amused or entertained by the things I did. In fact, they’ll probably show up at my house with torches and pitchforks because they’ve got blood dripping down their face, the balloon animals are blocking the scenic view from their upstairs window, and the statues probably burn their eyes.
If all it took was the State’s oh-so-useful services to become filthy rich, as Obama seems to be implying here, everyone would be a billionaire. We’d all be entrepreneurs. But making it in that industry takes more than just brains, determination, high spirits, and a willingness to get down and dirty. It takes someone with vision. It takes someone who can forecast market conditions in the face of uncertainty, and stay alert to all the economic opportunities available to him or her. Say I have a spring that I want to build. It catapults you to work in a flash, without breaking a single bone in your body, as long as you wear the special suit that I include as an accessory upon purchase. Can I get it to sell like hot cakes? Will investors throw their cash at me at once? Will I be able to make this idea into something that consumers actually want to buy, and at a reasonable price to boot? It is these types of questions entrepreneurs are confronted with each and every day.
Nine out of ten businesses fail. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. You risk everything on some crazy project you don’t know is going to work. You take on a boat-load of debt. You withdraw funds from your 401K and your life savings. No, this is not something all of us can do. What an entrepreneur has cannot be taught. It takes more than just book smarts, financial planning skills, and a shake of the dice. It’s a very special gift that only a handful of people in this world have, and we should grateful for it.