Barack Obama: Giving Something Back

At that small little firehouse in Virginia, Mr. Obama gave us a very real look into his philosophy.  Key among that is how success is built.  Let’s look at his words more carefully:

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back.  They know they didn’t — look, 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.  (Applause.)

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.  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.

So, from his words we see that Obama feels that our success is not ours alone:

They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.  You didn’t get there on your own.

So, why are we successful?

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.

And that help was?

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.

And because of all this help, what are we expecting the successful among us to do?

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back.

But I’m struck….how did all that help get there in the first place?  I’ll leave that to Thomas Sowell via Mark Perry:

All the high-flown talk about how people who are successful in business should “give back” to the community that created the things that facilitated their success is, again, something that sounds plausible to people who do not stop and think through what is being said. After years of dumbed-down education, that apparently includes a lot of people.

Take Obama’s example of the business that benefits from being able to ship their products on roads that the government built. How does that create a need to “give back”? Did the taxpayers, including business taxpayers, not pay for that road when it was built? Why should they have to pay for it twice?

What about the workers that businesses hire, whose education is usually created in government-financed schools? The government doesn’t have any wealth of its own, except what it takes from taxpayers, whether individuals or businesses. They have already paid for that education. It is not a gift that they have to “give back” by letting politicians take more of their money and freedom.

When businesses hire highly educated people, such as chemists or engineers, competition in the labor market forces them to pay higher salaries for people with longer years of valuable education. That education is not a government gift to the employers. It is paid for while it is being created in schools and universities, and it is paid for in higher salaries when highly educated people are hired.

One of the tricks of professional magicians is to distract the audience’s attention from what they are doing while they are creating an illusion of magic. Pious talk about “giving back” distracts our attention from the cold fact that politicians are taking away more and more of our money and our freedom.

Why should they have to pay for it twice?  Indeed.

10 responses to “Barack Obama: Giving Something Back

  1. Thomas Sowell is one pundit whose arguments always tend to be intellectually vapid. Take this one. First, he says “government doesn’t have any wealth of its own except what it takes from taxpayers.” Well, taxpayers wouldn’t have most of their wealth if not for government. Without a currency, a legal system that protects contracts, promotes infrastructure and facilitates trade, most wealth would not exist. He sets it up as if wealth magically is being produced and then government steps in after the fact and says “I’m taking some of that wealth.” It appears that with no government, the businesses would still be there and people would still be wealthy, but look at anywhere with no government or a very weak government, and you have virtually no wealth (except in the hands of organized criminal gains who take it quickly from anyone who develops it on their own). Government protects the wealthy.

    And you totally miss (or he does) what ‘give back’ means. Let’s say someone who is a multi-millionaire looks back at the amazing teachers he had in high school or college, including a few who intervened and helped him when he was about to take a wrong path that might have stopped him from success. He realizes that his millions would not exist but for those who helped at that point. He might decide to donate to the school, or give back in some way. Now, in society businesses that are extremely wealthy have benefited massively from the infrastructure, legal system, government protections and social stability (which comes in part from social welfare). They have benefited far more than what their taxes have paid. Contributing to that social stability or helping others have opportunity is an aspect of community.

    That’s the jest of this. Community matters. It binds us together, it’s why we acknowledge that no one gets anywhere on his or her own (as Romney agreed in talking to the Olympians). We have a responsibility to the community. Individuals matter too. Individual intiative should be rewarded, and incentives for achievement should be significant. Obama believes and is talking about BOTH. Romney wants to pretend that Obama is only talking about one — the community. Then he slides community into “government” and wants to paint it as a “this or that” argument.

    Finally, Obama’s cut taxes. His only effort to increase is to levels far below Reagan’s levels, and focused only on the very wealthy. The reason is that we have a huge debt, the wealthiest benefited from the creation of this debt (it stimulated the economy and drove up profits) and fixing this shouldn’t be only on the backs of the poor and middle class. Everyone has to do their fair share. Many poor will see benefits reduced or requirements increased. Some rich will see slightly higher taxes which they can easily afford (while the poor may be hurt tremendously by cuts). I

    • Thomas Sowell is one pundit whose arguments always tend to be intellectually vapid.

      Dr. Sowell is a gifted and widely respected economist.

      Well, taxpayers wouldn’t have most of their wealth if not for government.

      This may be true, likely true, but doesn’t refute what Sowell was saying. That governments don’t have wealth.

      Without a currency, a legal system that protects contracts, promotes infrastructure and facilitates trade, most wealth would not exist.

      This is true. The proper role of government is to protect rights that are our’s a priori of government.

      He sets it up as if wealth magically is being produced and then government steps in after the fact and says “I’m taking some of that wealth.”

      This is, indeed, how Obama approaches this. He doesn’t know how wealth is produced and he IS stepping in a taking that wealth.

      look at anywhere with no government or a very weak government, and you have virtually no wealth (except in the hands of organized criminal gains who take it quickly from anyone who develops it on their own).

      Right. There’s wealth, most certainly less of it without property rights, but there’s wealth. We just wouldn’t wanna see where that wealth would reside; exactly like you claim – criminals and thugs.

      Let’s say someone who is a multi-millionaire looks back at the amazing teachers he had in high school or college, including a few who intervened and helped him when he was about to take a wrong path that might have stopped him from success. He realizes that his millions would not exist but for those who helped at that point.

      And Sowell’s point is that the teacher and the school have already been paid for by the millionaire. And like you say, he’s willing to give back on his own.

      They have benefited far more than what their taxes have paid.

      Considering that they pay almost ALL of the tax, this simply isn’t true.

      Community matters. It binds us together, it’s why we acknowledge that no one gets anywhere on his or her own (as Romney agreed in talking to the Olympians). We have a responsibility to the community.

      That kind of responsibility that you’re talking about exists more properly at the local level.

      Obama believes and is talking about BOTH.

      Except he doesn’t ever say that in the firehouse speech. He ONLY talks about government.

      Finally, Obama’s cut taxes.

      On who?

      fixing this shouldn’t be only on the backs of the poor and middle class.

      But it should include them, yes?

      • The proper role of government is a matter of opinion, not fact. That’s why we leave the voters in charge. The constitution gives guidelines, but even that can be amended if the populus so desires. Obama and his advisors certainly understand how wealth is created – to claim otherwise is absurd. Without government you get much LESS wealth — stable governments = much higher levels of wealth. Wealth does not get produced in large amounts without a solid and effective government. Obama’s cut taxes on everyone, I believe, and wants to continue cuts for the middle class. But we’re deep in debt and to think that the wealthy shouldn’t pay part of the cost to fix that is to embrace a kind of aristocratic “let them eat cake” approach that ultimately would bring social instability to the US. When multi-millionaires protect tax breaks while poor families go hungry or lack health care, there is a kind of moral depravity in play, in my opinion.

        • The proper role of government is a matter of opinion, not fact. That’s why we leave the voters in charge.

          Clearly. This is demonstrated when you see liberals SAY that there is a limitation of power but then act as if there isn’t one. For example, you can ask them if the government can mandate broccoli, they cry, “Well, no! Certainly not!” Then argue before the Supreme Court that they can, win and then deny it. It’s why you see liberals unfazed by the argument that New York can set a speed limit but the Federal government can’t.

          Obama and his advisors certainly understand how wealth is created – to claim otherwise is absurd.

          Running a business and creating wealth are skills, just like throwing a baseball or swinging a hammer are skills. And Obama has never demonstrated that he has ever tried to run anything. And his staff? They have the least private sector experience in decades. You could say that I know how to use a wrench to tighten a pipe, but that doesn’t mean I know how to plumb a house.

          Without government you get much LESS wealth — stable governments = much higher levels of wealth. Wealth does not get produced in large amounts without a solid and effective government.

          I totally agree. We need government to protect our rights. Not give them to us, but to protect them.

          Obama’s cut taxes on everyone, I believe, and wants to continue cuts for the middle class. But we’re deep in debt and to think that the wealthy shouldn’t pay part of the cost to fix that is to embrace a kind of aristocratic “let them eat cake” approach that ultimately would bring social instability to the US.

          Obama’s tax cuts have generally been in the form of check to the individuals. Granted, he has cut FICA and I like that. AND, Dubya also cut checks to individuals. However, Obama has not reduced the tax rate for anyone other than that FICA rate.

          As a matter of fact, Obamacare will be a massive tax on many of us.

          But we’re deep in debt and to think that the wealthy shouldn’t pay part of the cost to fix that is to embrace a kind of aristocratic “let them eat cake” approach that ultimately would bring social instability to the US.

          First the wealthy are already paying more than their fair share. Second, no one is saying that the wealthy shouldn’t contribute to the deficit reduction effort. But it’s the democrats that are saying it should ONLY be the rich.

          When multi-millionaires protect tax breaks while poor families go hungry or lack health care, there is a kind of moral depravity in play, in my opinion.

          I would suggest that the wealthy already pay a great deal more to provide for the poor than the poor themselves do.

  2. They have benefited far more than what their taxes have paid.”
    Have they? Who’s “they”? Again we see this Administration including small business owners as “rich” or “the elite”. I know small many small business owners that the government classifies as “rich” who are barely making payroll at this time and barely covering their needs with two incomes, and yet they’ve probably paid over $500,000 or more in taxes. Barely above foreclosure, no real certainty about their business from either government or the market, and they’re benefiting far more than their taxes have paid?

    I agree with Pino. Because the government squandered their tax revenues the first time they just get to come back and take more? That’s like the kid who wastes his allowance yet figures he can just come back and get more from his parents because they’re rich.

    When the government spends all its time talking about how the so-called “rich” should dig deeper and yet spends little to no time talking about their own waste and how they’re going to get that under control (have we heard anything about waste on this latest run of campaign speeches? I don’t think so…) then to me this is all just political pandering to a voter base that a) has never run a business in its life, and b) is part of the entitlement problem that is currently bringing this country down (from both ends – bottom and top.)

    “Contributing to that social stability or helping others have opportunity is an aspect of community.
    It’s been shown time and time again that the wealthy, and businesses, donate a very significant amount to the community and it’s been preached often by gurus such as Drucker that Corporate Citizenry is a moral and social obligation.

    If a business is creating jobs AND providing valuable goods or services AND paying a reasonable amount of taxes, who’s to say that they’re not already contributing enough to that social stability and helping others? Because they still had money left over on top of that as reward for their risk? Those business owners could have simply chosen to invest in stock markets both domestic and overseas instead of pursuing their dreams locally, and to me if they’ve already paid what’s been decided on both sides of the table what’s due, then the rest should be theirs to hire more, donate more, or do what they wish. The government shouldn’t be allowed to just take and squander again under the guise of “community” and “social services”, which I can tell you for a fact in three States those dollars have nowhere near made it into the hands of the needy.

    I have to agree with Pino’s point here that this Administration seems on the one hand to be insisting that they know best what that fair share is (based oddly on simply how much they and administrations before them have wasted), and yet at the same time, not actually stating clearly the number or percentage that this “fair share” should be. Therefore I believe these speeches are entirely politics and nothing to really do with economics or for that matter, even principle.

    • When taxes are too low, and wealth distribution gets too skewed, the extra money the elite get do NOT go to job creation. In the 00’s it went to chasing bubbles and looking for easy money. It went to off shore shelters, or consumption of foreign produced goods. Jobs come from middle class demand. Of course the wealthy donate — the poor can’t afford to! There is something wrong with a society where so much wealth is amassed at the very top while others are hungry, lacking health care and struggling. And when the elite try to claim the moral high ground by saying all that money they managed to amass was something they truly earned and that the government is taking their wealth — well excuse me, that dog don’t hunt. It’s an un-American aristocratic mentality that snears down at the peasants who desire to live in want.

  3. Take Obama’s example of the business that benefits from being able to ship their products on roads that the government built. How does that create a need to “give back”? Did the taxpayers, including business taxpayers, not pay for that road when it was built? Why should they have to pay for it twice?

    Giving back means building more roads to further future expansion and to maintain the infrastructure we have that needs it. Sowell is trying to play games here by pretending that “businesses” are an immortal entity that paid a fixed sum for infrastructure at some earlier point and now is being presented with a number of unexpected bills for the same work. It’s moronic. It really is moronic. It’s not paying for anything twice. It’s paying for the continued level of infrastructure we have, and it’s paying for additional infrastructure to support more people and more business down the road. How can anyone swallow that drek?

    • Sowell is trying to play games here by pretending that “businesses” are an immortal entity that paid a fixed sum for infrastructure at some earlier point and now is being presented with a number of unexpected bills for the same work. It’s moronic. It really is moronic.

      Careful. Critique of an accomplished black man is grounds for claims of racism.

      Giving back means building more roads to further future expansion and to maintain the infrastructure we have that needs it.

      I disagree.

      As the roads and bridges are built, we levy taxes to pay for them. That infrastructure Obama refers to? THAT has already been paid for. And there is no danger that, except for those few corporation large enough to write tax exemptions for themselves – Corning and GE come to mind -, that these taxpayers, individuals and corporations, won’t pay for the new roads and bridges that we need. Indeed, they are the minority that DO pay those taxes.

      It’s not paying for anything twice. It’s paying for the continued level of infrastructure we have, and it’s paying for additional infrastructure to support more people and more business down the road.

      How can you construct a scenario where those individuals and corporations won’t pay for the new infrastructure? In which way and manner can you present where the wealthy and the businesses somehow pay less than the teacher, the iron worker or the plumber?

      How can anyone swallow that drek?

      Indeed. How can anyone swallow the notion that a business, providing value to their customers, is somehow obligated and indebted to the whims of an election year campaign?

  4. Ah, but the roads and bridges, infrastructure and legal structure, etc., are all necessary for businesses to succeed. The fact they were already there (or in the case of legal protections, continuing) is irrelevant. The point is that without that infrastructure building successful businesses would be much more difficult if not impossible.

    Obamacare will cut the deficit according to the CBO (or was it the GAO – I’ll have to check). Joseph Stiglitz was on the Daily Show last night and pointed out that the increasingly maldistribution of income with the very rich gaining so much and the poor falling behind is dangerous. It is creating lack of equal opportunity and if it continues, our society will fall into decay. To pretend the wealthy deserve all they can get in a market economy and the poor deserve to be poor because the market (which can be manipulated by the wealthy) gives that outcome is a path to ruin. The market isn’t magic, and it isn’t just. It’s molded and manipulated by the wealthy and powerful.

    • Ah, but the roads and bridges, infrastructure and legal structure, etc., are all necessary for businesses to succeed.

      No one disputes this. What we dispute is the idea that a business has an obligation to “pay back” what he has already paid for.

      Ah, but the roads and bridges, infrastructure and legal structure, etc., are all necessary for businesses to succeed.

      This is due to the fact that Obama levies taxes for 8 years while providing benefits for 2.

      It’s molded and manipulated by the wealthy and powerful.

      Where the wealthy create unjust benefits for themselves, we should act to negate that. Saying that companies need to “give something back” is ignoring the fact that they built them to begin with.

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