So the President gave a speech in which he used a modified form of Elizabeth Warren’s claims that “nobody builds a business alone”:
“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,” he said.
That one ticked me off when it made the rounds with my liberal friends on Facebook, but I held my tongue then. This time I feel compelled to add my two inflation-adjusted coppers.
Nobody who has any understanding about economics, taxation, and all the bureaucratic red tape choking business startups would ever make such a brain-dead claim. It sounds good on the surface to people with a particular mindset—that greedy plutocrats are helping themselves to public resources to build their own profit factories on the backs of everyone else—but it’s a load of bullshit, and it has nothing to do with the way things actually work in real life.
Let’s say Bob wants to build and open a restaurant, Bob’s Fried Opossum House. He has to first buy a plot of land. That means Bob is paying the real estate broker and the tax man. Then he needs all the necessary permissions and impact studies and health and safety and zoning inspections that come with building anything commercial anywhere, which means more fees and taxes to his local and state governments.
Once Bob has the red tape straightened out, he pays an architect to come up with a building design. Then he has to get that approved, which means more taxes and fees. Then Bob hires a construction company to put the thing together for him, a paving company to make a parking lot, an HVAC contractor to put in heat and air, another contractor to take care of the plumbing and sewage…you get the idea. Before the first bit of concrete is even poured, Bob has written out a lot of checks to a lot of people, and they all got to eat and pay their own taxes and mortgages from Bob’s business endeavor, all without assuming the risk that he has on his shoulders now.
Once the business is standing, Bob has to hire people to work for him. That means more paychecks, and more taxes: Bob’s share of his employees’ Social Security, Medicare, and so on. (Also their share plus their state and Federal income taxes, because they’re paying those out of the wages they got from Bob.)
By the time Bob’s Fried Opossum House finally opens its doors, a whole lot of people have gotten paid by Bob, and he has written a lot of tax and fee checks to government at all levels. Oh, and don’t forget that as a business owner, Bob gets to pre-pay his taxes on his expected income every quarter—something that should be a familiar to writers, a lot of whom file their freelance and fiction writing income taxes in the same fashion. And all the while, Bob has been working 100-hour weeks for a year and a half to get his Fried Opossum House off the ground.
Nobody builds a business alone, that’s true. But Bob didn’t make all those people work for free, and he didn’t make use of public resources without writing hefty tax checks for the privilege. Bob paid everyone, including his local, state, and federal government, before he even got to make his first dollar of profits. And Bob carries all the risk here. If his business tanks, his contractors aren’t going to return the money he gave them for their work, his employees aren’t going to give back their wages, and the government isn’t going to return the taxes and fees he paid. So why is it OK that when he’s successful enough to make a profit, some populist asshole politicians can stand up and say that “he hasn’t paid his fair share to society yet”?
There’s another thing that bothers me about the notion that just because Bob had his stuff delivered over a public road, and because Bob has hired publically-educated people for his business, that that somehow means that Bob owes society now. Like I said, Bob paid for the privilege—and suggesting that it’s not really his achievement because he used a resource which he’s been forced to subsidize all your life with taxes is tantamount to claiming that all business endeavors are therefore really a public accomplishment.
I think the only people who can say nonsense like that are those who have never started or run a business on their own, people who have eaten at the public trough all their lives and never had to deal with all the financial risk and the soul-crushing bureaucratic bullshit that comes with working for yourself.