And the libertarian right exploded.
So this is about a speech Barack Obama gave recently, in which he pointed out that people who succeed in life do so, in part, thanks to the benefits resulting from the hard work of other people.
Some people believe this is an unacceptable slur against America’s great businessmen. Businessmen like the late, great Steve Jobs, who made a fortune personally designing every aspect of Apple’s iPhone, smelting and forging every ounce of necessary material, wearing his fingers to the bone delicately hand-crafting millions of individual units, and personally delivering them to every customer around the world.
Other people may have noticed a thing called “reality” and decided it might be worth paying attention to.
Look, I’m entirely willing to stipulate that Steve Jobs was a genius who worked his ass off. But of the millions of man-hours that went towards Apple’s net income of $25billion last year, very little of that labour was performed by him. If the people running Apple now didn’t have thousands of people working full-time doing what they’re told, there would be no business.
The President dared to observe the necessity of cooperation, collaboration, and making use of the work done by others, in all significant endeavours. He observed that nobody exists in a vacuum and is personally responsible for every aspect of everything they use, make, or consume throughout their entire life. From the apoplectic response from much of the free market capitalism crowd, you’d have thought he’d said something actually socialist for a change.
Of course, they sort of know that they’re not arguing against the whole idea of humans cooperating with each other, and they’re not simply attacking a straw-man, either. Obama mentioned “government research” as an example of the help that anyone who owns a business relies on, as did Elizabeth Warren in a similar speech, and I can see why this might be an upsetting precedent for some people.
But the inability of some folks to conceive that anybody might ever do anything worthwhile, sensible, useful, constructive, or efficient, while being part of some dreaded thing called a “government”, is blinding them to every other aspect of the discussion. That last link raises important concerns about the wastefulness of a lot of government expenditure, but it doesn’t attempt to deny that roads and a national power grid are good things. There have been worthwhile achievements in which people banded together to work on something important and fruitful, even when there was no immediate financial reward available to the people who made the investment.
And neither of these crazed socialist villains is even necessarily talking about government. Obama’s emphasis is on the contributions of “somebody else”; Warren points out that “the rest of us helped”. Now, if you wanted to argue that what they’re really getting at when they say such things is about rich people paying more taxes… Well, it’s not like the Democratic Party has a strongly anti-statist history to throw that argument into doubt.
But even if that’s the case, taking their cunningly encrypted code-words literally tells a story that’s obviously true. The personal fortune of Bill Gates, founder and chairman of Microsoft, would not have been amassed without the use of many buildings constructed by other people, factories and equipment manufactured by specialists, and the corporation’s ninety thousand employees.
It seems like, in the context of business, if you mention luck or making use of help from others at all, someone will screech at you that you’re claiming hard work has no value. If you mention that working together for mutual benefit regardless of any immediate profit motive is sometimes a good way of getting things done, they’ll interrupt you to let you know how outrageous it is that you want to raise taxes on job-creators.
Is everyone’s imagination really so dull that working together for common goals with a spirit of communality can have no further meaning?
It’d be nice to see some genuine acknowledgment of the social value of labour once in a while, without the conversation being dominated by over-sensitive capitalists complaining about the indignities that the incredibly rich continue to suffer at the hands of those accursed “other people”. I live in hope.