I’m reminded of this by President Obama — a man who has, in his entire life, never created anything but two autobiographies (maybe) — pronouncing that entrepreneurs and inventors are not responsible for what they created:
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.
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.
This is a revealing statement. It’s consistent with Obama’s personal experience. He has always gotten ahead because of his ability to ingratiate himself with the machine and thereby to feed off the efforts of others. And it explains his policies: if no one is responsible for their own success, why not confiscate the fruits of their labor and “spread the wealth around”.
But it’s stunningly ignorant. He could just as well have said that a farmer who works from dawn to dusk every day to raise a patch of potatoes isn’t responsible for his crop because somebody else made his hoe. Of course no one person can prosper in isolation, this is very well understood. The economy succeeds when each person individually adds value, and is compensated for his or her effort. The guy who made the hoe is responsible for the hoe, and got paid for it, he is not responsible for the potatoes. Likewise, Obama’s teachers, road-builders and bridge-builders got paid for their efforts. This is just basic economics; it’s a pity our president doesn’t understand it.
POSTSCRIPT: But doesn’t the government pay for some of that added value? No, the taxpayer does. And the taxes are paid disproportionately by the very innovators that Obama is minimizing. Moreover, while some of our tax money does go to people who are creating value (public goods and services that would otherwise be under-provided, like roads, defense, law enforcement, and basic research) far more of it goes to transfer payments, to boondoggles, to parasites, or — worst of all — to regulators who occasionally may mitigate an externality but whose primary function is actually to hamper the creation of value.