All Commentary
Monday, July 16, 2012

FEE’s Take: Making It on Your Own

The other day President Obama said:

 [L]ook, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. . . .

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.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.

FEE’s Take:

Obama is tackling a straw man in order to distract from essential issues. (We’ve heard this before. See“Elizabeth Warren’s Non Sequitur.”) Of course no one succeeds alone. In society no one does anything of value in isolation. We think in a language and compute with numbers that others taught us. We all continuously benefit from, imitate, and build on what others have done. That’s what society is. Obama illegitimately attempts to use that indisputable fact to justify more government–that is, more violence–through higher taxation and greater bureaucratic regulation. It simply does not follow that since we all depend on the productive efforts of others, government—that force-wielding parasitical organization which feeds on the creativity of others—should be even bigger and more intrusive.

The roads, bridges, and Internet were built by government because the political class preempted the private sector in the interest of obtaining power. Many roads and bridges were privately built and maintained earlier in our history. Yes, the seeds of the Internet were sown by the military, but through countless decentralized, yet spontaneously coordinated efforts, it has evolved in radically different ways from what anyone anticipated. To credit government with the Internet as we know it is ludicrous. Besides, does anyone doubt that the private sector would have generated the Internet?

All of us depend on social cooperation, which is the very essence of the marketplace. Yet the greatest obstacle to such cooperation is government social engineering. Therefore Obama’s justification of big government in the name of social cooperation fails.

  • Sheldon Richman is the former editor of The Freeman and a contributor to The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. He is the author of Separating School and State: How to Liberate America's Families and thousands of articles.