July 27, 2012

Yes, Mr. President, I Built That!

Tax collector-in-chief?
I’m not of the kind of person that holds on to a lot of resentments and grudges. Really. Ask anybody. Mind you, this isn’t because I am so freakin’ virtuous. Rather, it’s because I’m a pragmatist. Life is short; I have too much unfinished business, and not nearly enough time. I’m beginning a new career at age 50, and I just can’t be bothered.

The more common scenario of my daily life looks something like this: I’m watching the evening news, when Brian Williams or Scott Pelley or Sean Hannity reports a story about someone who did or said something stupid; a candidate, a celebrity, a dumb criminal. My blood pressure rises, I yell at the TV, and post a rant on Facebook or here in my blog. My wife knows from experience, not to argue with me when I’m in such a state. But then it’s over in a day or two, and I return to normal.

Until now.

Just two weeks ago, President Obama gave a speech that raised my hackles as no one else can. He said that successful business people would be be nowhere without the government, which enables their enterprises with its many services. Say what? I can’t imagine a greater insult to the entrepreneurs of our great nation, including myself. And for this, I’m not proud to say, I continue to seethe.

Yes, Mr. President, the government helped us along with its many services: roads, bridges, fire, police, national defense, etc. But where did that money come from? It came from the taxes and wages paid by successful businesses.

Ah, so you want to play a high-stakes game of chicken-or-egg? Fine. In the history of our nation, from the very beginning, which came first: profitable enterprise, or government? Obviously, it's the former. It had to be. The state has no other source.

Oh, and about those roads and bridges you mentioned: Concrete, asphalt, steel, and backhoes were all invented – not by any government agency at any level – but by private individuals on their own initiative and on their own nickel. They didn’t do it with a government grant, and they weren’t expecting a contract to build an overpass. So yes, Mr. President, WE BUILT THAT.

He said that businesspeople shouldn’t take sole credit for their success, that they were inevitably aided by a teacher or a mentor. I agree wholeheartedly. The thing is, I’ve known hundreds of wealthy business owners, and I never heard one of them make such a boast. Ever. Instead, every one of them will readily volunteer their unvarnished testimony, where various people (but rarely the government) boosted them along the way. Government agencies and regulations, far too often, impeded their progress. So like it or not, Mr. President, THEY BUILT THAT.

When I fill up my car at the local Shell station, a sign on the pump tells me that 18.4 cents of the price of each gallon goes toward taxes to maintain roads and bridges. So yes, Mr. President, I BUILT THAT. And I continue to do so.

When I was a child, the city installed street lights all through my neighborhood. Yes, indeed, it was government. But it wasn’t a free gift: This service was made possible by a property tax surcharge levied on every homeowner for about three blocks in every direction. Which they were able to pay, thanks to the wages they earned from their jobs at profitable businesses. So yes, Mr. President, MY PARENTS BUILT THAT.

Mr. Obama continues to display his ignorance of proven economic principles. He criticizes Mr. Romney for how he spends his own money, while remaining unaccountable for how he squanders mine. He refuses to recognize that Romney and his associates have built a tax-generating machine that today (allowing for a multiplier effect) provides taxable wages for millions of people, not to mention billions in sales taxes. Yes, Mr. President, HE BUILT THAT.

The president claims that his comments were taken out of context. Oh, really? Even if I believe his subsequent explanation, it remains clear that he and his allies have an overblown idea of the role of government in our society. Witness the monstrosity of Obamacare, which built a huge new bureaucracy and expands the authority of the state as never before. He wants his composite citizen “Julia” to rely on him for all of her needs, cradle to grave. He promises to reduce unemployment, while taxing job-providers into oblivion. Just a couple of months ago, he told us that "government spending is what made our nation great."

Excuuuuuse me?

He complains that we shouldn’t extend tax breaks to “me, Mr. Romney, or folks who don’t need them.” Funny, I didn’t know that “need” was supposed to be the standard. This statement, and many others like it, betray his belief that my money already belongs to the national treasury, until such time as he decides how much I can keep. Perfectly consistent with his worldview, all around.
No government is (or should be) the substance of any civilization, just as no church is (or should be) the substance of any religion. No state can ever possess legitimacy apart from the consent of the governed, just as no church can possess legitimacy apart from the sanction of its god. Such institutions are necessary evils that serve a genuine need in our society, to police the schoolyard and keep our sinful human nature in check. Yet some of our greatest social ills arise when leaders in both of these realms begin to forget their place.

Experience has shown that private for-profit companies can do almost everything better than government. In recent years, states and municipalities have increasingly turned over vital services to entrepreneurs: trash collection, transit buses, schools, libraries, even prisons. Competitive pressures mean that they often deliver superior service at a far lower cost. In government, quite often, there's no penalty for failure; in the private sector, only the fittest survive. Which is as it should be, in a capitalist society.

I'm reminded of Senator Obama's conversation with Joe the Plumber a few years back. He didn't want to punish the success of the wealthy, he insisted. Instead, he just wanted to seize their money and "spread it around." Such redistribution plans have been tried before, and they have never produced anything new for the economy. They can't, and never will.

Just a couple of years ago, Bernie Madoff was hauled off to prison for operating a billion-dollar Ponzi Scheme, and rightly so. But have we forgotten that he was prosecuted by a government that compels every working person to take part in the biggest Ponzi scheme of all time? (It's called Social Security.) If any private pension fund operated accordingly, its managers would be arrested before you reach the end of this sentence.

President Obama readily admits that he has failed to deliver on many of his promises from the last campaign. On the surface, it sounds humble and contrite. The great hypocrisy of it all, of course, is this: He wants us to judge his opponents by their actions, while judging him by his good intentions. He longs to help us move forward as one people, while he continues to preach a gospel of class warfare. You can't multiply wealth by dividing people.

Don’t fall for it.


  1. "You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. You cannot lift the wage earner up by pulling the wage payer down. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred. You cannot build character and courage by taking away men's initiative and independence. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves."
    - Abraham Lincoln.