During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama was criticized for telling business folks “You didn’t get there on your own. . . . You didn’t build that.”
He meant something more than the truism that a successful businessperson functions not in splendid isolation but in cooperation with others, like employees and vendors (presumably compensated). He meant that successful people shouldn’t be so proud of their virtues. Also they must pay more taxes.
Surrogates yipped that Obama’s denigration of individual achievement wasn’t what it sounded like. But his inaugural address was more of the same. Charles Krauthammer calls the speech “an ode to collectivity,” with its stress not on voluntary associations but on coercive orchestration by the state. According to Obama, for example, “No single person can” do all the good things like build research labs and train teachers that we supposedly must do “as one people.”
Sounds like a glaring false alternative. David Boaz observes that “property rights, limited government and the rule of law”—under assault by Obama—are what we need to safeguard the voluntary cooperation critical to our progress and individual flourishing. I would add that we necessarily pay our own way as we engage in voluntary trade. We do “build that,” and so does the other guy.
Government can confine itself to protecting our rights in trade and otherwise leave us alone, or it can actively plunder our achievements. If the latter, we have less of what we built. Even though we did build that.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.