"No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee."
That quote by John Donne is one of my favorites, and it was in the spirit of that quote that, I believe, Barack Obama was speaking — at least, at first — when he told small business owners that "you didn't build that."
Just to keep that statement in context, here is the rest of what Obama said last Friday in Virginia:
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.
In the context of the workplace, Obama is correct. Unless he/she is self–employed, no business owner is solely responsible for what is done by his or her business. He/she has employees who build the products or provide the services. Everyone does his or her part.
It's a team effort.
And, yes, other people built the roads on which cars and school buses travel. And other people built the schools and churches that shaped us as we grew up — and continue to shape succeeding generations. These things were accomplished collectively through taxes and labor.
Some people don't like taxes of any kind, but taxes are not inherently bad. They pay for essential things from which we all benefit. As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. reminded us, "taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society." And taxes have certainly made many things possible for all of us that few, if any, of us could have provided for ourselves.
And, in a larger sense, again, Obama is correct. Most of us had a "great teacher" or a great pastor or a great coach "along the line" who encouraged us and shared with us the knowledge they had acquired in their lives.
That part, I guess, echoes the vision that was articulated by Hillary Clinton, Obama's chief rival for the 2008 Democratic nomination and his secretary of State, in 1996, the year her husband was re–elected president.
The title of her book, "It Takes a Village," was based on an African proverb — "It takes a village to raise a child" — and, while it aroused considerable ire from her husband's political foes (who ridiculed both Clinton and the book's title by saying things like "it takes a village idiot"), it would be difficult to refute the basic premise — that all the people in a community contribute to the upbringing of each child, for good or ill.
(If that had been all that Obama had said, I doubt that anyone would have raised as much as an eyebrow. I have no children of my own, but most of my friends do, and I think nearly all of them would agree that their children are influenced by many people and things outside the home.)
But then Obama said, "If you've got a business — you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."
And that was when he revealed himself to be what his most vocal critics have long said he was — a socialist. A lot of people equate socialism with communism or fascism — but that, I suppose, depends upon the extent to which the person (or regime) in question advocates socialism's implementation.
(Great Britain, for example, implemented certain elements of socialism into its national system, but it could hardly be regarded as a communist or fascist society.)
I have no evidence of Obama's ultimate intentions — other than his own words and actions — but his advocacy of collectivism is clear.
The last part of that quote is where millions of business people came to a parting of the ways with Obama. He praised the collective effort but ignored the individual risk in any business, large or small.
Every business has someone who takes the vast majority of the risks. The risk for the employees is relatively minimal, I suppose. If the business goes under, they can file for unemployment and look for something else.
(Not an easy task in this economy, but, after all, millions are out of work in this country at any given time, whether the economy is good or not. The circumstances make it much more difficult, but, as the Greek historian Herodotus wrote, "Circumstances rule men. Men do not rule circumstances.")
But the business owner may have invested virtually everything he/she has.
A business owner may have been inspired by something his high school history teacher said to him when he was 17, but that teacher more than likely risked nothing in the business. (In fact, unless the teacher promoted something akin to anarchy, he/she probably did not put his/her own job at risk — much less create any.)
And paved roads are wonderful for going back and forth to school — much easier on the body and less distracting (and I know whereof I speak because the roads where I grew up were unpaved for many years) — but we all use the roads, not just those affiliated with a particular business.
Paved roads aren't some kind of special benefit for a privileged group.
I have a friend who, along with his wife, bought and runs a birthing center in north Texas.
In an e–mail yesterday, he said to me, "Small business owners make up a huge part of job creation. We only employ 10 people, but we bust our butts to keep them employed and ourselves afloat."
He told me he was "very disillusioned" by Obama's words. And, I suspect, so are many other business owners.
Not everyone was cut out to be an entrepreneur, but if there has ever been a place on this planet where people were encouraged to dream their dreams and take the risks that were necessary to make their dreams come true, it has been America.
Not all of those dreams have come true. But folks with an entrepreneurial spirit have always been encouraged to dream here. It's what freedom and capitalism are all about.
Such dreams took a real beating four years ago when the economy collapsed. At the time, voters were so anxious to be rid of George W. Bush that they paid little attention to — or totally disregarded — Obama's talk of "spreading the wealth around."
My guess is they're paying considerably more attention now.