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Obama in Context: 'You Didn't Build That'

5:28 PM, Jul 18, 2012 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Barack Obama's supporters have been furiously arguing that the presdent's recent comments about American businesses have been taken out of context. Obama said at a campaign event last Friday:  

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.  

According to Talking Points Memo, "The 'that' in 'you didn’t build that' referred to roads, bridges, infrastructure, education, emergency services and law and order — all services that protect and enable business owners along the way toward creating a successful operation.... This isn’t a new argument. Not only has Obama himself used a version of it countless times in his stump speech, a similar speech by Elizabeth Warren, now running for Senate in Massachusetts, went viral in 2011."

For the sake of argument, let's concede that even though Obama hasn't done anything to clarify his own remarks he really meant to tell business owners that "somebody else" built our infrastructure. But even if Obama had repeated Elizabeth Warren's argument verbatim, he would have faced the same blowback because Warren's argument, like Obama's, is based on the false premise that businesses don't already pay taxes for schools, roads, bridges, police, etc. Warren told supporters in 2011:

"You built a factory out there? Good for you," she says. "But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did."

"Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along."

James Antle writes at the American Spectator:

The tax dollars that paid for those roads, bridges, schools, and teachers didn't just come from "someone else" or the "rest of us." They came from the innovators, the factory owners, and the entrepreneurs too. In 2009, the top 400 taxpayers paid almost as much in federal income taxes as the entire bottom 50 percent combined.

Mitt Romney rebutted Obama's argument by making the same point: 

"We value schoolteachers, firefighters, people who build roads. You really couldn’t have a business if you didn’t have those things, but you know, we pay for those things. The taxpayers pay for government. It’s not like government just provides those to all of us and we say ‘Aw, thank you, government for doing those things.’ No, in fact, we pay for them, and we benefit from them, and we appreciate the work that they do, and the sacrifices that are done by people who work in government, but they did not build this business."

The Obama-Warren argument essentially views businesses as parasites on society. But just because businessesmen and businesswomen, like all Americans, benefit from public infrastructure, it does not follow that businesses must pay an even greater amount of taxes to fund a $2 trillion national health care program, and much, much more. You may agree or disagree with Obama's and Warren's beliefs. But you have to be living in a liberal cocoon not to understand why their beliefs are controversial.

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