Monday, July 23, 2012

You Didn't Build That!

Obama's recent remark about successful Americans has stuck a nerve, spawning reams of replies.
There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me because they want to give something back," the president said. "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 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," he said. "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.
But what's sparking this reply is not so much his remark as the responses of many who are rightly critical of his theology, but not critical enough. Are businesses helped by roads, the rule of law, and other government provided infrastructure? Does this mean that the government should get some (very small) amount of credit for helping people build their business? Not at all. 

Courts, police, firemen, and roads are all paid for by people who build things and do things to provide goods and services. The  just marketplace enforced by courts (obviously very imperfectly today) is a direct result of the labor of people who build things and do things. It's their labor that generates the money to fund these services. Roads, bridges, and Intellectual property (IP) enforcement are all provided by the labor of working people. In fact, in a just society, any benefit they derive from these services is less than the cost they pay because the people who build things and do things provide these services not just to themselves but to all the other people who are too old, or too young, or too sick, or too lazy to provide these things for themselves.

"But," a typical Obama defender replies, "the point Obama was making is that the business did not have to build the road. Other people built the road." True, but irrelevant to this discussion. Suppose a growing business erects a building - did they mine the ore and make the steel? Did they grow the trees and make the lumber? No, of course not. But they still built the building - all by themselves. It was their capital that funded the labor of all the other people that did do those jobs. That's why the Business owns the building at the end, not the smelter or the sawmill. The same is true of infrastructure. If there is anyone to thank, it is the generations of laborers who went before us, not the government.

This is not to deny that there are many who live off the labor of others - from big businesses to welfare recipients. But even these freeloaders are living off of the backs of those who build things and do things - not the government. The government can only give people what it first took from them. Anything the government provides comes from the labor of working people. If Obama's logic, that successful people owe a part of their success to the government, was correct, a thief who robbed a store at gunpoint of $10,000 and then gave back $9,000 to the store, would become partly responsible for the success of the store. 

Even if the Government acted like that thief, confiscating the fruit of our labor and using the funds to help us, it would not validate Obama's claim that we didn't build our businesses solely by our labor. But the situation is actually even worse. Congress and Executive office, enabled by the courts, take our wealth from us and use it to destroy us. They are like the thief who steals $10,000 from the store and then uses it to hire vandals to throw rocks through the store windows or hackers to crash their computer system. 

But there's a second area where Obama is dead wrong,  He's actually right about the fact that people have not gotten wealthy because they were so smart. But he's dead wrong about how they did get wealthy. No, they didn't get wealthy because they were so smart or because they were helped by government funded education or enabled by the "great American system." In fact Scripture directly warns against such thinking. 
Beware that thou forget not the LORD thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day: 
Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; 
Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the LORD thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint; Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end; 
And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth. 
But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day. Deuteronomy 8:11-18.
If you have be acquired wealth, it is because the Lord has favored you and has been gracious toward you, giving you something you did not deserve.
Do you thank him for this goodness and use his gifts for the advancement of his kingdom?