President Obama, and Elizabeth Warren before him, said we owe much of our success to the government. The President does pay lip service to the individual, but only to frame the narrative that the individual's achievement is based on the collective. To understand why the President is dangerously misguided, we have to understand what he said. Below is the entire relevant section, interrupted with my comments. You can read more here.
There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me, because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t - 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.
Yes, there are a lot of smart, hard-working people out there, but this country wasn't built on effort, it was built on results. He who is more productive is more valuable, and therefore is better compensated. There are no participation trophies in real life.
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 the section I have the most issues with. The President set up a strawman because nobody honestly believes they made it 100% on their own without anyone's help at any point along the way. I've talked before about standing on the shoulders of giants. Most all innovations and advancements in society have been improvements on things made before. But in any event, so what? If you improved on something someone else built, does that mean you owe that someone or the government in perpetuity as a result?
If we do owe the people before us, how far back do you want to go? Back to the guy who invented the combustible engine? Back to the guy who discovered how to build a boat out of wood, allowing Christopher Columbus to sail across the ocean blue? (edit: corrected for clarity) If I remember correctly, my teachers were paid to teach me. That payment didn't come attached with a "lifetime royalties on everything I do" clause. That politicians keep our roads and bridges maintained (or not, depending on where you live) should not be cause for celebration since it is part of their job and they do get paid handsomely for it. I fail to see how anyone owes any more or should kiss the ground they walk on because of it.
The President's statement also ignores the benefits to society these business people provide. Successful businesses "repay" society by improving the living standards of the customers that buy their goods and services. Those business owners also pay all manner of taxes and fees which fund the ongoing construction and maintenance (or not, depending on where you live) of our infrastructure, education, etc.
I'm baffled by the people whose worldview minimizes the achievements of the individuals who took the risk, invested time and money, and improved our lives by making things happen. The reality is they have the situation completely backward. For without the individual making those things happen by creating jobs and creating wealth, the politicians wouldn't have anyone to tax. We should be holding up these difference makers as examples to emulate, not targets to vilify.