Our president is no fan of individual achievement. “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” Those recent remarks of Barack Obama’s are quite telling.
Even the success of entrepreneurs is not really theirs to take pride in. The government workers who paved the roads on which they drive to their businesses are, according to the president, the true creators of that enterprise. Of course, the other infrastructure workers, from those working for the electric company to mail carriers, also built these businesses.
In some important ways, of course, we are all dependent on one other. To take it to the extreme, each time you cross the street you’re putting your life in the hands of the driver whose car you are passing.
You rely on that driver to not mow you down, and in some sense you owe your life to each driver you pass. But, of course, that misses the point — as did the president’s explanation that others in our society may even “be smarter” and “work harder” than many small business owners. Though it may be true, it is misleading and reveals a lack of awareness of what entrepreneurship is about.
The essence of entrepreneurship is not how hard someone works, or even how smart a person is. Its essence is initiative, risk-taking, and the uncommon creativity needed to launch a venture that will add value to a market. Think Google or Thomas Edison.
The contribution of the American entrepreneur is in sizing up a marketplace and predicting what will be in demand, or in devising a better way of getting from point A to B, while usually employing people in the process.
Think how hard it must be to be right about such predictions. Consider how difficult it must be to put one’s savings and time at risk, with little guarantee the idea will bear fruit. Think how big the potential payoff needs to be in order to justify taking the risk.
Now, imagine that if you wound up beating all the odds and succeeding, the government will take half of your profits and regulate you to no end. Would you bother making the sacrifice of your time and energy? Likely not. That’s why our economy is in such a rut. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand this. Anyone with some insight into private enterprise can appreciate it.
The president seems truly to believe that government is the cornerstone of our economy. By demeaning entrepreneurs and stacking the deck against them, the president is undermining our nation’s most precious economic resource. Success is measured in the market by lawfully achieved results.
It is not measured by the amount of sweat dripping off anyone’s brow or how much government funding a person can raise. Insight into the marketplace, and the willingness to take a risk, are at the heart of the American economic system.
The American spirit has always stressed freedom of the individual to develop to the best of one’s ability, encouraging great achievements unimpeded by an overbearing government. President Obama is gently but consistently steering us in a collectivist direction, along the lines of the European model.
It’s not too late for the American spirit.
Jeff Katz is an attorney who comments frequently on national policy.
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