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An eloquent piece on the meaning of "paying forward"
July 23, 2012 12:29 PM   Subscribe

Elizabeth Warren has been one of few public figures famously willing to put actual rhetorical force behind the notion that behind every American success story lies a web of civic and personal support, and probably a million small kindnesses as well. John Scalzi takes this notion and runs with it: he's written a thorough and eloquent accounting of how he's gotten to where he is, from a very humble background, and how that made the duty to pay it forward obvious and inescapable.
posted by tempythethird (248 comments total) 82 users marked this as a favorite

 
mefi's own!
posted by shmegegge at 12:35 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


This concept of "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps" is an American myth that just hurts us.

Nome of us is an island. We're all made up of inspiration and support and help and people taking chances and leaps of faith made by ourselves and others.
posted by inturnaround at 12:42 PM on July 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


I could never understand why Warren's social contract speech struck so many people as a dangerous radical vision or something. All she was trying to do was add a little perspective to this phony frontier libertarian mentality that appears to be so prevalent in this country.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 12:48 PM on July 23, 2012 [28 favorites]


"Paying forward" presumably means paying taxes, which I'm sure he already does. That's fine. I don't know of anyone who would disagree that he should pay taxes, so it's a totally unremarkable point. And of course he should pay more taxes than someone who's not well-off -- even supporters of a flat tax believe that.

There seems to be a straw man out there that many people (presumably conservatives) mistakenly believe that successful people do everything "on their own," with no support from anyone else in society. Again, I don't know of anyone who believes that.
posted by John Cohen at 12:49 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 12:50 PM on July 23, 2012


Reminds me of one of this all-time favorite Mefi quotable: "When we fail at it, we blame the system, and when we do okay, we pretend nothing was there, holding us up."
posted by Mo Nickels at 12:50 PM on July 23, 2012 [17 favorites]


yes, it's shoulders all the way down
posted by Benny Andajetz at 12:50 PM on July 23, 2012 [18 favorites]


There seems to be a straw man out there that many people (presumably conservatives) mistakenly believe that successful people do everything "on their own," with no support from anyone else in society. Again, I don't know of anyone who believes that.

You and I move in different circles.
posted by Alexander Hatchell at 12:52 PM on July 23, 2012 [33 favorites]


By the way, I'm not all suggesting that a flat tax would be a good idea. I'm just saying even people who are very far to the right (much further right than me or you) would agree that when you earn more money, you have to pay more in taxes.

Reminds me of one of this all-time favorite Mefi quotable: "When we fail at it, we blame the system, and when we do okay, we pretend nothing was there, holding us up."

See, again, no one actually says that.
posted by John Cohen at 12:52 PM on July 23, 2012


There seems to be a straw man out there that many people (presumably conservatives) mistakenly believe that successful people do everything "on their own," with no support from anyone else in society. Again, I don't know of anyone who believes that.

Well, Mitt Romney certainly had a problem when Obama pointed out that fact, claiming Obama was being "anti-business."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:52 PM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


I want to live on the planet John Cohen lives on, where nobody says these things. Sounds like a lovely place.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:53 PM on July 23, 2012 [26 favorites]


Well, Mitt Romney certainly had a problem when Obama pointed out that fact

Okay. But aside from Romney, no one actually believes that.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 12:54 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


ROMNEY: You Olympians, however, know you didn’t get here solely on your own power. For most of you, loving parents, sisters or brothers, encouraged your hopes, coaches guided, communities built venues in order to organize competitions. All Olympians stand on the shoulders of those who lifted them. We’ve already cheered the Olympians, let’s also cheer the parents, coaches, and communities.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 12:55 PM on July 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


shmegegge: "mefi's own!"

I was hoping this was Elizabeth Warren.
posted by mkb at 12:55 PM on July 23, 2012 [25 favorites]


There are plenty of people who claim that even a flat tax is unfair to rich people. We call them Republicans.

Remember when the Buffett rule was being proposed, which essentially said the tax system shouldn't be regressive, merely as a lower bar? It was widely decried as "punishing success", "class warfare", "soak the rich" politics. It was not implemented as policy because Congress couldn't achieve consensus that rich people should even pay as much as poor people, as a percent of income.
posted by 0xFCAF at 12:57 PM on July 23, 2012 [15 favorites]


John Cohen, Obama gave his speech last week paraphrasing Elizabeth Warren's argument in my town. Scroll through some of the comments in the local paper and you'll see people really are saying what you find it hard to believe they are saying.

Unfortunately the Scalzi piece isn't loud or angry or shrill or self-righteous enough to be heard. There is no room for thoughtful reflection and gratitude in today's political landscape.
posted by headnsouth at 1:01 PM on July 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


I wish everyone were as aware as Scalzi of the benefits they get as a result of taxes.
posted by notashroom at 1:01 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Okay. But aside from Romney, no one actually believes that.

Ehhhh, well, even in studying American literature (as a foreigner) you get to read about the archetype of the self-made man American-style, which has been around for a long time, possibly if I recall right from the inception of the country, so, I would be a bit careful before making such bold statements.

(of course not all of the manifestations of that archetype are so extreme as the ones coming from the mouth of republicans when it's campaign time before presidentail elections, but still! it's been around a long time for sure!)
posted by bitteschoen at 1:05 PM on July 23, 2012


"Again, I don't know of anyone who believes that."

I follow a couple of Twitter people because of their geographical proximity to me. A few of those people are dramatically right wingers. Admittedly there is nuance lost in 140 characters, but I think I can safely say that there are people who do actually believe that.

But I'd go further: I was once an Ayn Rand spouting Objectivist libertarian who was proud to be called "a right wing asshole" by my father. I don't know that even in my most economically conservative days I would have actually believed that, but I was almost certainly trying to make the case that using tax dollars, rather than private funding, to provide public infrastructure, and even public education, was wrong.

Get in a conversation with any Objectivist and one of the first things you'll hear is "I have a right to exist", and by that they mean that if they choose to not interact with the society at large, then they have no obligations. Part of what eventually turned me from that philosophy was realizing that that's only true at a population density somewhere under a person per square mile (in which a land can support individual hunter-gatherer existence), and that having children to above that population density was an act of violence.

But, yes: There are definitely people who believe that their obligation to the society is fulfilled by engaging in commerce with it. I was once one of them.
posted by straw at 1:06 PM on July 23, 2012 [24 favorites]


bitteschoen: a little irony-deficient today?
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 1:07 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I could never understand why Warren's social contract speech yt struck so many people as a dangerous radical vision or something. All she was trying to do was add a little perspective to this phony frontier libertarian mentality that appears to be so prevalent in this country.

What I didn't like about her social contract speech was the way she sneered at entrepreneurs and business owners.

For instance, Warren says: "You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for..." (as if the factory builder doesn't pay taxes and is some kind of free rider).

Warren's "Good for you" comes across as a backhanded compliment, an obligatory nod in the direction of free enterprise that seems insincere, especially when you watch the video.

Similarly, in Barack Obama's "You didn't build that" speech, he directly tries to whip up resentment of successful entrepreneurs. “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!”

I'm sorry, but this is cheap populism. He's telling the crowd, "you're smart, you're hardworking, what makes these entrepreneurs and business owners think they're so damned special? Let's spread the wealth around."
posted by BobbyVan at 1:09 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


As someone pointed out at SA, my favorite part about right-wingers tearing their hair out over Obama's "you didn't make that" remark is the fact that almost every comeback or political cartoon on the subject inadvertently proves Obama right.

One thoroughly unironic right-wing cartoon shows Obama telling a child at a lemonade stand that he didn't buy the lemons or the sugar, etc., but rather that his parents did. I mean, how do you write that and draw that and not notice that yes, indeed, children selling lemonade tend not to be self-created business titans, but rather depend on a rather extensive support network, consisting primarily of their parents? You know that there's something wrong with your value system when what you make in support of it is exactly what someone would make to prove the opposite point.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:09 PM on July 23, 2012 [32 favorites]


Oh, good. It's the tone argument.
posted by gauche at 1:10 PM on July 23, 2012 [17 favorites]


phony frontier libertarian mentality

I swear that you had written "phony frontier librarian mentality" and I was about to get huffy. Then I realized my mistake, and thought, Oooh, what a cool idea for a story -- a phony librarian making his way across the Old West.

Obviously that tea I had at lunch did nothing for me.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:10 PM on July 23, 2012 [12 favorites]


what makes these entrepreneurs and business owners think they're so damned special?

I'll bite. What makes the .1% so special? (Hint: if your answer is "success" you have engaged in circular reasoning.)
posted by gauche at 1:11 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


What I didn't like about her social contract speech was the way she sneered at entrepreneurs and business owners.

Boo fuckin' hoo.

I think it was a point that needed to be reiterated, since the regular schmo is the one who has taken the brunt of the austerity measures made necessary by the malfeasance of short-sighted entrepreneurs.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 1:12 PM on July 23, 2012 [20 favorites]


To play Devil's advocate, you can't prove Mitt Romney believes something just by showing that he said it.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:14 PM on July 23, 2012 [69 favorites]


(as if the factory builder doesn't pay taxes and is some kind of free rider).

I'm willing to bet that the factory owner paid *substantially less* in taxes than it cost to build the road. I'm also willing to bet that the factory owner situated the factory to take full advantage of the road.

Elizabeth Warren is correct in her statement. Business owners benefit far more from the public services that are provided to them than they could ever pay in taxes.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 1:14 PM on July 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


an obligatory nod in the direction of free enterprise that seems insincere

Sorry, but it's hard for me to get all worked up about Elizabeth Warren not showing sufficient respect for free enterprise when its most wild-eyed adherents are the ones who simultaneously wrecked the economy we all depend on, demanded handouts from the government to cover for their screwups, and oppose any government spending to get our economy growing again.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 1:15 PM on July 23, 2012 [31 favorites]


There seems to be a straw man out there that many people (presumably conservatives) mistakenly believe that successful people do everything "on their own," with no support from anyone else in society. Again, I don't know of anyone who believes that.

not sure how to respond to this, seriously. i genuinely don't know how anyone who's read an American newspaper in the past 20 years could fail to notice the all-out assault on the welfare state, unionism, etc., that have been ongoing, and whose rhetoric prominently features appeals to individualism and entrepreneurship and attacks on government handouts and redistribution. start with reagan's welfare queens (who were never identified as black, because they didn't need to be), then work your way forward. tea party ring a bell?
posted by facetious at 1:16 PM on July 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


There seems to be a straw man out there that many people (presumably conservatives) mistakenly believe that successful people do everything "on their own," with no support from anyone else in society. Again, I don't know of anyone who believes that.

May I introduce you to me in-laws, and the entire circle of friends I had in my teens and early twenties?

These are the people who express anger -- nay, rage -- at Obama's comment that local businesses didn't build the roads their customers arrive on.
posted by verb at 1:17 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


(as if the factory builder doesn't pay taxes and is some kind of free rider).

I don't think she means that the factory builder didn't pay taxes and is a free rider, but the factory builder didn't pay ALL the taxes. Even if all his taxes went to that road, then other people's taxes were used to benefit him in some other way.

I am not sure why this seems to be such a difficult concept for people, or rather why it invariably turns into people feeling hurt when maybe, just maybe they aren't one hundred percent self-made. And then they just lash out.
posted by tittergrrl at 1:21 PM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


John Scalzi is a writer, which is great. But he doesn't publish or distribute his work himself, and thus, his success is dependent on a number of other companies, all of whom employ more people that he does. If he stopped writing, the companies might have to lay off some workers, but that's doubtful. I'm not terribly interested in one-man-bands who have "made it" with the help of others, no matter how inspiring the stories. When you start a business and have to make payroll every week, you feel pretty alone, as you stare at the bank balance.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:22 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think she means that the factory builder didn't pay taxes and is a free rider, but the factory builder didn't pay ALL the taxes. Even if all his taxes went to that road, then other people's taxes were used to benefit him in some other way.

But by the same token, surely ALL the benefits of the road aren't accruing to the factory owner. Are there really entrepreneurs out there (leaving aside complete ass-clowns like Donald Trump, perhaps) who think they're 100% self-made? This is a straw-man argument whose real purpose is to stoke populist resentment...
posted by BobbyVan at 1:23 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are there really entrepreneurs out there (leaving aside complete ass-clowns like Donald Trump, perhaps) who think they're 100% self-made? This is a straw-man argument whose real purpose is to stoke populist resentment...

They may or may not actually believe it, but they sure make a big stink out of the government "punishing initiative" and "stifling entrepreneurship" just by expecting them to pay their fair share.

It's not a straw man. How many times do we have to point this out?
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 1:26 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fritz Langwedge: eh sorry actually it's just that I reading quickly though the thread after reading quickly though the article, and was following the discussion about it being a "straw man" with a bit of incredulity/hilarity myself so - shouldn't have quoted your comment but the original "Again, I don't know of anyone who believes that". All this quick reading makes for messy quoting. apologies!
posted by bitteschoen at 1:27 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's more of an argument against the current GOP line, which seems to be:

"The best way to get the economy growing again is to give more tax breaks to rich folks and corporations, because they are the job creators. We should not be investing in education, healthcare, or infrastructure, because that's a waste of our tax dollars."

Warren and Obama are pushing for investment, which would both a) help the private sector to make money, and b) put people back to work. But the right-wing won't accept any solution that makes the economy better, because that would help Obama's re-election chances.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 1:29 PM on July 23, 2012 [15 favorites]


My GOP pals are always going on about how those who take the risk to start a business should reap the rewards. (And well they should and do, in the form of the profits that business makes and the pleasure of being your own boss.) But the thing about taking a risk is that the outcome is uncertain. If it were just a matter of being smart and talented, there would be no risk for the meritorious. They would just go do something brilliant and get rich. But there is risk--real risk. Most small businesses don't make it. What do we do with those folks--the capitalists, the job creators, the small businesspeople, when they swing and miss?

I would think that people who really cared about the entrepreneurial spirit--who really honored the risk it takes to start something up--would be in favor of things like guaranteed health insurance. Hey, you're doing our economy a favor by trying to add to it, and we're going to make sure that you can still eat and see a doctor even if it doesn't work out.

What I don't get is the person who says that starting a business is brave and risky and wonderful, but, hey, sucks to be you if you don't make it. We don't need any more government handouts. They want the accolades for doing something risky without the sympathy for those who didn't fair as well.
posted by Alexander Hatchell at 1:31 PM on July 23, 2012 [17 favorites]


The CEOs in these huge corporations make obscene amounts in compensation. As if they have that much more to do with the success of the company as the workers (sometimes hundreds of times more). Maybe that's a bit more what some of these things are coming from.
posted by inturnaround at 1:32 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know he's one of MeFi's favorite whipping boys, but this whole concept was an essential part of Malcom Gladwell's argument in Outliers. He goes through a whole bunch of examples (some are probably dubious) and demonstrates how their success was largely a result of their surroundings or really lucky opportunities they had that are almost impossible to replicate for others. It was interesting because it was totally the opposite of what I expected the book to be about - some sort of hagiography.
posted by LionIndex at 1:32 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fritz, why do you put GOP rhetoric in scare quotes but not the tired "pay their fair share" line?

More seriously, it is a straw man argument, because it suggests that anyone who is against a marginal increase in taxes on higher-earners and businesses is against government making basic investments in infrastructure and public safety, and thinks that successful people are entirely self-made. Is that really so? If not, consider that the argument is a hyperbolic and dramatic exaggeration that manufactures a caricature of its antithesis.
posted by BobbyVan at 1:33 PM on July 23, 2012


Not to mention that the same CEOs who benefit inordinately from inflated salaries and bonuses seem to do so regardless of the success or failure of the company itself.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 1:33 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


For instance, Warren says: "You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for..." (as if the factory builder doesn't pay taxes and is some kind of free rider).

Perhaps it would have been better if she'd say "... to market on the roads we all paid for...", but I think that people who disagree with the sentiment will find something to fuss about, so I'm not bothered either way.

The point is that all of us owe our success, to some degree, to the society in which we live. Jeff Bezos has made a ton of money from Amazon. It's worth noting that he benefited from the fact that the internet existed and that there was a large population of literate people with access to the internet and some spare cash to spend on books (not to mention UPS, USPS, and a large number of people who write the stupid things). If he'd had to create all that himself, well, he wouldn't.

Would Larry Page and Sergey Brin be billionaires if they'd been born 100 years ago? Or 1,000? Would Tiger Woods have been a wealthy guy if he'd been born 150 years ago? Even leaving aside slavery (if you can), his great skill is golf and professional golf is a recent invention.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 1:34 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a straw-man argument whose real purpose is to stoke populist resentment...

No, it's not. When Obama said "you didn't build it yourself" the criticism was, and remains, "he doesn't understand business." It wasn't, "he's trying to stoke populist resentment."

it suggests that anyone who is against a marginal increase in taxes on higher-earners and businesses is against government making basic investments in infrastructure and public safety, and thinks that successful people are entirely self-made.

It suggests that high-wealth individuals have gotten more civilized society than they are paying for, and that the bill has come due.
posted by gauche at 1:35 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


@sticherbeast

btw, what kind of taxes does SA pay on their thing?
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:39 PM on July 23, 2012


the argument is a hyperbolic and dramatic exaggeration that manufactures a caricature of its antithesis.

Bobby, please listen to reason. We've dealt with a corporate climate for several decades now whose guiding philosophy is that the sole aim of a corporation should be to increase the earnings per share of its stockholders. This is Finance 101. According to this ethos, there's no inherent debt the corporation owes to its workforce, its customers, the society it operates in, or the environment.

You're making yourself sound slightly silly denying that this philosophy is somehow foreign to the true, benign, responsible corporate mentality.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 1:40 PM on July 23, 2012 [13 favorites]


(oops, I meant asserting that this philosophy, etc.)
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 1:42 PM on July 23, 2012


For instance, Warren says: "You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for..." (as if the factory builder doesn't pay taxes and is some kind of free rider).

Maybe it's just my hometown bias, but when GE builds a factory in Schenectady, it very much is a problem when that corporation is not paying its fair share of taxes.

If it's such an allegedly neutral point that everyone (other than the indigent, etc.) pays taxes and everyone benefits from what taxes provide, then why do some people have such negative reactions when the simple truth is repeated, that successful private enterprise is necessarily enmeshed with public spending?

But by the same token, surely ALL the benefits of the road aren't accruing to the factory owner.

I'm not sure what your point is here. The factory didn't finance the road privately. There is no reasonable expectation that they should be the only ones to benefit from it. It would be really weird if only one private entity enjoyed all the benefits of that road. The whole point of public roads is that everyone can use those roads to travel, ship, etc., meaning that the investment in public infrastructure actually generates further wealth.

Are there really entrepreneurs out there (leaving aside complete ass-clowns like Donald Trump, perhaps) who think they're 100% self-made?

You should check out my Facebook feed some time.

Also, ass-clown though Trump might be, he is not only a person unto himself, but there are large, weird segments of the populace who think he's a role model and a genius.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:44 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


No, it's not. When Obama said "you didn't build it yourself" the criticism was, and remains, "he doesn't understand business." It wasn't, "he's trying to stoke populist resentment."

It's both.

It suggests that high-wealth individuals have gotten more civilized society than they are paying for, and that the bill has come due.

Then advocates of this position should say so, making a variation on the "the rich aren't paying their fair share" theme, rather than saying that the rich believe they succeeded solely on their intelligence and industriousness and received no help from public servants or infrastructure.

We've dealt with a corporate climate for several decades now whose guiding philosophy is that the sole aim of a corporation should be to increase the earnings per share of its stockholders. This is Finance 101. According to this ethos, there's no inherent debt the corporation owes to its workforce, its customers, the society it operates in, or the environment.

What utter nonsense. The debts a corporation owes its workforce are salaries and benefits, as contracted with its employees. The debt a corporation owes its customers is the good-faith delivery of goods and/or services in exchange for money. The debt a corporation owes society is taxes, as decreed by the people's representatives. The debt a corporation owes the environment is adherence to the appropriate regulations. Did you have some other debts in mind?
posted by BobbyVan at 1:46 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, but this is cheap populism. He's telling the crowd, "you're smart, you're hardworking, what makes these entrepreneurs and business owners think they're so damned special? Let's spread the wealth around."

BobbyVan, are you disputing that there are lots of smart, hardworking people whose businesses fail and that what separates them from the smart, hardworking people who succeed is mostly circumstances (either being in the right place at the right time or happening to know--or be related to--somebody important), that is to say, basically luck?
posted by straight at 1:47 PM on July 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


saying the rich believe they succeeded solely on their intelligence and industriousness

Mitt Romney believes it.
posted by gauche at 1:48 PM on July 23, 2012


Mitt Romney believes it.

No he doesn't.
“Of course he describes people who we care very deeply about, who make a difference in our lives: schoolteachers, firefighters, people who build roads,” Romney said, summarizing the president’s remarks. “We need those things. We value schoolteachers, firefighters, people who build roads. You really couldn’t have a business if you didn’t have those things. But you know, we pay for those things … we pay for them, and we benefit from them, and we appreciate the work that they do, and the sacrifices that are done by people who work in government, but they did not build this business.”
posted by BobbyVan at 1:51 PM on July 23, 2012


What I didn't like about her social contract speech was the way she sneered at entrepreneurs and business owners.

Bullshit.

There is no sneering in pointing out the mutual interdependence that underlies creating and building a modern business. She was critiquing people who claim that they owe nothing to others for their success in a complex society.


For instance, Warren says: "You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for..." (as if the factory builder doesn't pay taxes and is some kind of free rider).

No matter what taxes that factory owner paid, they did not pay enough to fund the creation of a national system of roads, airports, and railroads to transport their goods nationally. She and others who make this point are critiquing destructive movement-conservative ideology, which holds that taxing business owners, factory builders, and so on is "punishing success." Using that critique, they have managed to convince many voters that reducing taxes on businesses and high-income-earners is more than simply one way to balance the books, a tactic that can be attempted, measured, and corrected if it fails. They've convinced many voters that any taxation on businesses, business owners, the abstractly "successful" is morally unacceptable, a celebration of mediocrity and a demonization of success.


I'm sorry, but this is cheap populism. He's telling the crowd, "you're smart, you're hardworking, what makes these entrepreneurs and business owners think they're so damned special? Let's spread the wealth around."

Again, that's facile bullshit and anyone who's paid attention to the last thirty years of American politics knows it.

Arguing -- boldly -- that the people who've succeeded have done so with much help from a broader society is not "faux populism." To pretend that the comments about shared responsibility exist in a vacuum is either ignorant or profoundly disingenuous.
posted by verb at 1:51 PM on July 23, 2012 [21 favorites]


Mitt Romney believes it.

No he doesn't.


So what's the message conveyed by the "We DID Build It!" banner?
posted by gauche at 1:52 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Booby, all I meant is that big business doesn't feel it owes its workforce, customers, or society anything it isn't required by law to give them. That's why government regulation is so anathema to the big business model: the less real regulatory power in entities like the SEC, the National Labor Relations Board, or the Minerals Managament Service, the more private industry can get away with.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 1:53 PM on July 23, 2012


Ironically, Mitt said the very same thing (you didn't get here on your own) to the Olympic athletes in 2002.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 1:53 PM on July 23, 2012


*Bobby, sorry about that
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 1:53 PM on July 23, 2012


And, maybe more pointedly, if you think that Romney agrees with the message of Obama and of Warren about the interdependencies between the public and private sector, then what's your criticism of Obama and Warren? It's the tone argument.
posted by gauche at 1:54 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


For instance, Warren says: "You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for..." (as if the factory builder doesn't pay taxes and is some kind of free rider).

In addition, when you look at large corporations like WalMart, it's important to remember that one of the key drivers of where they build their mega-stores is whether they can receive enough tax breaks from local cities and states to make up for the cost of construction.

There is a huge ongoing dialogue in our country about how it's essential to chop taxes dramatically to "win" businesses in states that need jobs.
posted by verb at 1:55 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


So what's the message conveyed by the "We DID Build It!" banner?

That the entrepreneurs who started their businesses are primarily responsible for their own successes. They certainly owe debts to society in the form of taxation, but the person who commits their own capital to a project did in fact build said project.

I'm late for an appointment now so don't think I'm ignoring any of you...
posted by BobbyVan at 1:56 PM on July 23, 2012


It suggests that high-wealth individuals have gotten more civilized society than they are paying for, and that the bill has come due.

What exactly does this mean? How is it measured?

For example, I paid in the high five figures for 2011 taxes. Per capita federal outlays is $12k per person, and my payment more than covered the $48k in outlays for my family of four. Did my family "get more than we paid for"?
posted by Tanizaki at 1:57 PM on July 23, 2012


btw, what kind of taxes does SA pay on their thing?

Am I misunderstanding something? I don't know about SA's taxes. I don't work there. Why do you ask? All I know is that SA is an LLC headquartered in Missouri.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:58 PM on July 23, 2012


What I didn't like about her social contract speech was the way she sneered at entrepreneurs and business owners.

If there's one thing I've learned from my GOP friends, it's this: that they're the biggest group of oversensitive whiners and professional victims on the face of the earth. It also gets back to an observation that has become apparent over the last few years in our economic hard times: these right-wing "business owners" don't want money, or stability as much as they are desperate for public and personal validation for how great they are, along with their tax cuts.
posted by deanc at 2:05 PM on July 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


The right has spent decades now slurring the poor, in a quite mainstream fashion, as lazy welfare cheats who live only to breed more of the same. If Elizabeth Warren had a "snide tone" in "suggesting" that the rich had help getting where they are, I'm not going to lose much sleep over that. The scales are still firmly tilted the other way and it would take a hundred Elizabeth Warrens over fifty years to even approach rhetorical equilibrium there.

I will say this: I have never in my life seen a conservative wring his or her hands about the potentially offensive nuances of any right wing talking point. The left needs to learn how to suppress its moral probity and line up in lockstep behind a solid meme every now and again.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 2:06 PM on July 23, 2012 [15 favorites]


I would think that people who really cared about the entrepreneurial spirit--who really honored the risk it takes to start something up--would be in favor of things like guaranteed health insurance.

Their precious St. Hayek was in favor of universal health care and a guaranteed minimum income, but that usually gets passed over.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 2:09 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


For example, I paid in the high five figures for 2011 taxes. Per capita federal outlays is $12k per person, and my payment more than covered the $48k in outlays for my family of four. Did my family "get more than we paid for"?

Could the job you do have existed outside the framework of a lawful society?
posted by 0xFCAF at 2:13 PM on July 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


The left needs to learn how to suppress its moral probity and line up in lockstep behind a solid meme every now and again.

This is what makes Warren such a unique commodity in the political world: she's unapologetic, and when called on her rhetoric, she doubles down instead of meekly apologizing and making acts of fealty towards "pundit norms" of popular discourse.

The people who were most offended by Warren were beltway politicians, pundits, and other professional gabbers form who "populism" is some kind of horrible sin we're supposed to have "moved beyond." But that's now how the rest of the nation thinks, and Warren was right to reject the scolding of the priggish "rhetoric police."

Meanwhile, Bush's opinions on whether to engage in waterboarding were, "Damn right!" Much more rhetorically offensive and unamerican, but he received far less scolding from the pundit class for it.
posted by deanc at 2:14 PM on July 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


Similarly, in Barack Obama's "You didn't build that" speech, he directly tries to whip up resentment of successful entrepreneurs.

Oh please. He and Warren didn't bring this up out of nowhere because they have some burning hatred of business. They're responding to the conservatives who believe that every time you raise taxes a job-creating fairy loses its wings. It starts to get pretty galling to hear the cry "you don't understand business!" when business owners are asked to acknowledge that they would have neither jack nor squat but for the benefits bestowed upon them by society at large, and that they thus might consider paying the same tax rate as their secretary to be pretty much the bare minimum of fairness. I don't resent entrepreneurs their success (I'm one myself). But I do resent their entitled attitude in the face of this economy.

They certainly owe debts to society in the form of taxation, but the person who commits their own capital to a project did in fact build said project.

Well now you're parroting the lie that Obama was telling business owners they didn't built their business, when if you're being at all honest you know he was saying they didn't build the roads and so on.
posted by schoolgirl report at 2:21 PM on July 23, 2012 [12 favorites]


...giving me enough work (at a decent enough payment scale) that I could pay rent on an apartment and school fees [at U.Chicago]....

Rising tuition has certainly solved that problem.
posted by Chekhovian at 2:24 PM on July 23, 2012


Another beautiful example of rightie projection.

The thing they accuse the liberals of doing—creating populist rhetorical straw men for the purpose of exerting constant pressure to move the needle ever in their direction—is exactly their M.O, exactly their stock in trade. It's what they see because it's what they do.
posted by fleacircus at 2:26 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Once upon a time, without poor bears, a born to wealth white woman made progressives insane. The End.
posted by Mblue at 2:26 PM on July 23, 2012


What bugs me is the unquestioned assumption, typical of many Americans, that "success" equates to having a lot of money. There are plenty of rich assholes and plenty of scientists and teachers and firefighters who don't make much money, but maybe we should recognize that could still be called "successful".

To me, a successful person does more than just make money. I won't call you "successful" until I've seen you help others, or invent something new, or become a fully self-actualized person with a deep wisdom about yourself and the world. I'm not sure Mitt Romney has done any of these things, so when he excuses his wealth by saying that he won't apologize for his "success", all I hear him saying is that he won't apologize for the fact that he has a lot of money.

But if that's the way he wants it, then I have to remind him that he's really not that successful, by his own measure. Warren Buffet is far more successful than Romney; maybe we should be listening to Buffet's ideas about taxation, right?
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:28 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


None of us is an island. We're all made up of inspiration and support and help and people taking chances and leaps of faith made by ourselves and others.

That doesn't mean you can take their stuff.
posted by Malor at 2:29 PM on July 23, 2012


Here is another interesting take on the role of labor unions by Charles P. Pierce.
posted by Groundhog Week at 2:30 PM on July 23, 2012


Could the job you do have existed outside the framework of a lawful society?

No, but that does not answer my question that requested an explanation of the comment, "It suggests that high-wealth individuals have gotten more civilized society than they are paying for."

The predicate of the statement is that it is possible to measure "civilized society" and how much a given person "gets" out of it compared to how much that person pays into it. I want to know the measurement of how much "civilized society" a person "gets".
posted by Tanizaki at 2:33 PM on July 23, 2012


If I am willing to give credit to the government for helping form businesses, it seems only fair that I can assign blame as well.

The successful businesses are of course easy to identify, but the failures I'm sure are quite numerous, but still worthy of mention.

I blame the government for the failure of Pennsylvania Rail Road. If the Garden State Parkway was never built, I could have taken a train a block away from my house to get to work today instead of making a twenty minute car ride to the bus.

I blame the government for the job losses of all of the Domino sugar workers on the Brooklyn waterfront when the government decided to subsidize sugar beat farmers.

I blame the government for the high cost of college. (Easy access to credit increases the price of the goods or services being provided. Exactly like what happened to the housing market in the mid-part of last decade.)

I blame the government for the lack of micro-brews in New Jersey. It's hard for a brewery to make a profit when the maximum amount of beer a person can pay for and walk out the building with is 2 gallons.

I blame the government for the demise of Tucker Car Corporation.

I blame the government for the Hawker Beechcraft bankruptcy - God forbid a CEO flies to a trade show in Vegas in a chartered Hawker 4000 if he's not taking Nancy Pelosi along for the ride.

etc.
posted by otto42 at 2:33 PM on July 23, 2012


the person who commits their own capital to a project did in fact build said project.

This is sort of an interesting point-- great rewards are supposedly justified by great risks, right?

How much "risk" did Sergey Brin and Larry Page take in starting Google? Were they ever at any sort of risk of going bankrupt or having their lives driven into a ditch, or is it more likely that no matter what happened, being PhD students in CS at Stanford pretty much meant that they'd do fine, whatever happened? How about Mitt Romney. He certainly did extremely well for himself, right? But then again, how many people with JDs and MBAs from Harvard didn't do extremely well? If things at Bain capital didn't work out, or if Romney never headed up Bain Capital in the first place, is their any doubt he'd still be a fairly rich man if he quit at Bain & Co. and went to work at Goldman Sachs because he wanted to "cash in"?

The best I can come up with under those circumstances is that the true "risk takers" who "built this country" are the pension funds and university endowments that provide the capital to VC and Private Equity firms. They were the ones risking the capital of their constituents-- students, employees, and pensioners.

Alright, then, forget about them. What about the small-time entrepreneurs who run a small shop in a poor neighborhood? Herein lies a massive misunderstanding of what poverty really is. These destitute neighborhoods have roads, houses, and public housing projects, and aren't shantytowns and slums of the kind that existed in the USA not too long ago. How many modern businesses could exist in that kind of environment? So what we have is a massive public infrastructure dedicated to keeping America is a relatively decent state of repair and living standards to ensure not just that there is a bit of public dignity but also that the wheels of the economy turn smoothly. And the entire point of the public project is to make sure that everyone gets to enjoy the fruits of the rising tide.
posted by deanc at 2:34 PM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Mitt said the very same thing (you didn't get here on your own) to the Olympic athletes in 2002.

I'm pretty sure he was just trying to whip up popular resentment against successful athletes.
posted by deanc at 2:38 PM on July 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


I want to know the measurement of how much "civilized society" a person "gets".

I can't imagine this question can be answered. I'm curious though. Still, I'm pretty sure we would find (1) waste, (2) fraud, and (3) things our taxes paid for that we don't agree with. Does this justify a tax regime that heavily favors the wealthy. No. It obligates them (all of us) to get involved.

And, frankly, fraud is something people too often use a red herring. Fraud perpetrated by food-stamp recipients, for example, is incredibly incredibly low. This sort of thing is part of the ongoing attack on social-welfare programs. I struggle understanding how the wealthy managed to get so many less fortunate people to do the arguing for them and to vote in favor of their wealth-benefiting policies.

Fraud perpetrated by large corporations (banks, for example) has cost much more. These corporations (these people I guess) can pay us back for our roads, schools, personal and communal economic losses, favorable foreign alliances and protection of shipping lanes and trade protections, relatively safe domestic society, etc. Though some amount has been paid, and will continue to be paid, if an ever increasing portion of our GDP goes only to the very wealthy, then that is a clear sign they are not paying their fair share.
posted by IndpMed at 2:52 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


No, but that does not answer my question that requested an explanation of the comment, "It suggests that high-wealth individuals have gotten more civilized society than they are paying for."

I agree that the "Do you get the amount of civilization you paid for" framing is a bad way of looking at the issue of taxation and accrued societal benefits. Does an unemployed person, for example, deserve to get nothing because he or she didn't "pay for their civilization?" No. Does a dude who makes a millions dollars a year only need to pay $12k in taxes (roughly 1.2%) because that's his "raw percentage" of the government's spending? No.

I'd argue instead that each of us, whether we are rich or poor, are born into a society that has baked-in structural advantages because of the collective work that we've done, and the collective money that we've spent to fund it. A free public education system. Free-to-use libraries for continuing education and cultural learning. Free-to-use roads. Herd immunity to many diseases. A police system that (while far from perfect) stabilizes the nation and makes many forms of commerce safely possible. A justice system that ensures representation even for the poor.

The successes we have are built on top of those things. Even if I go to a private school paid for by my parents, hire my own private security contractors, employ a personal physician, and travel via helicopter from my own private airstrip, those services are able to exist because of the broader system that's there. Me? I didn't grow up rich, but I grew up in a suburban home where I had access to an early desktop computer, a parent with the free time to help me understand it, and other resources that allowed me to "bootstrap" myself into a professional field where I make more than my parents ever could have, and more than many of my friends from similar backgrounds do.

I worked really, really hard to do it. I worked ridiculously hard. But I understand that year-to-year per-capita federal expenditure is not what I'm paying for. I'm paying back a profound debt to the society that I live in, to the taxpayers of previous generations who funded the infrastructure that I benefitted from, and to the people who are currently working to make sure that subsequent generations enjoy the same legacy. Heck, I make my money building tools for a communications infrastructure that was created using public dollars.

I've done very well for myself, due to hard work, long hours, important insights, and -- as mentioned above -- generations of people who came before me to make it possible. I pay more in taxes -- more than I "extract from the system" in present-day yearly government expenditures -- because I have benefitted greatly from previous generations of those expenditures. I pay more than my share in taxes because I'm able to, and I'm "able to" because others before me did.
posted by verb at 2:56 PM on July 23, 2012 [21 favorites]


Conservatives are absolutely right about the fecklessness of government and the futility of government spending when it comes to growing the economy, but only, by an odd coincidence, when they happen to be in power.
posted by jamjam at 2:58 PM on July 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


sugar beat farmers

I'm hip to your lingo, man.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:33 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Even the most independently wealthy and reclusive individuals depend on a healthy functioning society. Contributing to that by paying taxes is simply enlightened self-interest. For example, I pay taxes that goes towards schools even though I have no children and can legitimately claim not to use the services of any school. But I benefit indirectly by helping produce an educated population in my community. (As the joke goes: if you think the cost of eduction is high, try paying the costs for lack of education.) Perhaps Republicans can be brought round by telling them it is actually very selfish and greedy of them to pay taxes as they get a lot of bang for the buck.
posted by binturong at 3:33 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sugarbeat are an eclectic six-piece covers band based in Cambridge.
Crossing genres of pop, punk, funk, reggae, country – and more – "we can be relied on to get people dancing and having a good time."
posted by otto42 at 3:45 PM on July 23, 2012


Neil Gaiman was informed that his book Anansi Boys had been nominated for a Hugo in the category of Best Novel and asked if he would like to accept the nomination. Neil, who won a Hugo a year for the previous three years, politely declined, believing (he told me later) that someone else might benefit from that nomination more than he.

That guy is quite the mensch.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:48 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I blame the government for the job losses of all of the Domino sugar workers on the Brooklyn waterfront

Guess who provided unemployment benefits for those folks while they looked for a new job?
posted by straight at 3:51 PM on July 23, 2012


There seems to be a straw man out there that many people (presumably conservatives) mistakenly believe that successful people do everything "on their own," with no support from anyone else in society. Again, I don't know of anyone who believes that.
The idea that that's a strawman is a total strawman. They totally do believe it. Just look at the backlash to the obama "You didn't build that" comment.
posted by delmoi at 4:03 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder sometimes if people are paid to post willfully obtuse comments on the internet. It would be a much more reassuring thought than the alternative.

In any case, here's my attempt to explain the obvious: You can be poor anywhere, but you have to have a society in order to be rich. Or middle class. Or above the poverty line. Or to have air conditioning, even.

Poor people owe society relatively little (and the poorest people in modern societies live worse lives than they would have as hunter-gatherers thousands of years ago--it is my opinion that they owe society nothing, and in fact are deserving of much support). Rich people, meanwhile, owe a debt to society for every single thing they have that the poorest do not. Because poor does not require infrastructure. Rich does. This remains true no matter how hard rich people work.

This is not an argument. It is a law of physics.
posted by jsturgill at 4:04 PM on July 23, 2012 [18 favorites]


In any case, here's my attempt to explain the obvious: You can be poor anywhere, but you have to have a society in order to be rich. Or middle class. Or above the poverty line. Or to have air conditioning, even.

Poor people owe society relatively little (and the poorest people in modern societies live worse lives than they would have as hunter-gatherers thousands of years ago--it is my opinion that they owe society nothing, and in fact are deserving of much support). Rich people, meanwhile, owe a debt to society for every single thing they have that the poorest do not. Because poor does not require infrastructure. Rich does. This remains true no matter how hard rich people work.


Exactly right. But even that doesn't go far enough - people get so hung up on the infrastructure, the roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, etc., that somehow they become blind to the Really. Big. Thing. The single most important function of our (and any) government, the single greatest benefit of a stable society. Simply put: it allows you to own private property. Hell, it allows (and defends) the very concept of "private property" to exist. Without a government and a stable society, you cannot own more than you can defend by force. It should be beyond obvious that on that basis alone, the people who have accumulated the most private property benefit overwhelmingly and disproportionately from the very existence of our government and our society -- while on the other hand, the people who don't own any more than they could defend benefit very little, and folks who own less than they are capable of defending are in a major way worse off for existence of our civilization.

Forget the roads, the schools, the hospitals, the infrastructure. Those things are all nice but they're basically there to oil the machine of civilization, whose chief function is safeguarding private property, both the concept and the physical. Keep that in mind and it becomes a lot clearer how taxes should be "fairly" apportioned.
posted by mstokes650 at 4:18 PM on July 23, 2012 [21 favorites]


Metafilter: a hyperbolic and dramatic exaggeration that manufactures a caricature of its antithesis.
posted by straw man special at 4:19 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Guess who provided unemployment benefits for those folks while they looked for a new job?
posted by straight at 3:51 PM on July 23 [+] [!]"


I would guess all of the employed people still paying into the unemployment insurance pool.

So, can we agree that the societal benefits from taking income from one group of individuals to pay sugar beet farmers more than what the crop is worth is offset by the loss of jobs in the sugar industry?


In a country of 3 people, the tax payer, the beet farmer, and the governor, society ends up with a loser and a winner every time. It's guaranteed.

Tax payer gives governor $1. Governor gives $1 to beet farmer. Beet farmer gives governor less than $1 of beets. Governor gives less than $1 worth of beets to tax payer. Scale it up.
posted by otto42 at 4:23 PM on July 23, 2012


^Eponysterical!
posted by BobbyVan at 4:24 PM on July 23, 2012


@straw man special
posted by BobbyVan at 4:24 PM on July 23, 2012


BobbyVan: "I'm sorry, but this is cheap populism. He's telling the crowd, "you're smart, you're hardworking, what makes these entrepreneurs and business owners think they're so damned special? Let's spread the wealth around.""

No, that is you believing you can read Obama's mind and deciding he must have been saying what you thought he was thinking.

Also, Romney is incorrect when he implies that society has no hand in building businesses. Unless the foundation is redefined to be not a part of a structure, the people who built said foundation and maintain it definitely had a hand in building the edifice that rests upon it.

otto42, the UI funds of various states are regularly supplemented by money from the general fund when unemployment is high. It's not only the UI tax that pays for it.
posted by wierdo at 4:26 PM on July 23, 2012


So, can we agree that the societal benefits from taking income from one group of individuals to pay sugar beet farmers more than what the crop is worth is offset by the loss of jobs in the sugar industry?

Did I miss the part of this thread where somebody was arguing for more crop subsidies?
posted by brennen at 4:28 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, Romney is incorrect when he implies that society has no hand in building businesses. Unless the foundation is redefined to be not a part of a structure, the people who built said foundation and maintain it definitely had a hand in building the edifice that rests upon it.

Would you say that the person who makes the canvas has a hand in painting the portrait?
posted by BobbyVan at 4:42 PM on July 23, 2012


Could the portrait exist without the canvas? What an idiotic question.
posted by maxwelton at 4:48 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


John Cohen: There seems to be a straw man out there that many people (presumably conservatives) mistakenly believe that successful people do everything "on their own," with no support from anyone else in society. Again, I don't know of anyone who believes that.

!!!

You REALLY think this is a strawman?! I hear this sentiment echoed every time someone says how "they" built something with pride, in every campaign ad about how Obama is taking away money businessmen have earned -- I heard one of those on a Flordia TV channel just today! (This sentiment has other problems too -- Obama has no power to take money away from anyone, the power to tax is given to Congress, but no matter.) Even if you take out the media, it is a sentiment I hear all the time here in backwards rural Georgia. So at the very least, my anecdotal evidence counters yours.

Others have responded to your comment pretty well so I didn't actually have to add this, but I was caught by surprise by your statement. You must live in a place where the oft-recited conservative talking point dogma doesn't hang to thick in the air.
posted by JHarris at 4:51 PM on July 23, 2012


Could the portrait exist without the canvas? What an idiotic question.

You changed the question.
posted by BobbyVan at 4:52 PM on July 23, 2012


The answer is that the person who made the canvas made a canvas. The person who builds a road builds a road. The canvas-maker isn't an artist, and the steamroller isn't an entrepreneur.
posted by BobbyVan at 4:55 PM on July 23, 2012


What you're doing, BobbyVan, and not terribly effectively, is denying the inherent teamwork involved in making this whole thing go by using language that divides us. It inherently denies the reality of the situation, which is that we all contribute to making it possible for people to reach the heights they do.
posted by wierdo at 5:02 PM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Art is an interesting example because it exists almost solely as a luxury good that's possible when you have a civilization capable of creating and distributing a surplus of food and goods to allow the training and support of artists to pursue art. The artist is dependent on a very complex web of interconnections to make his work possible. The difference is that the artist tends to be more aware of his situation and realizes that great art is a reflection of a great civilization, not the other way around.
posted by deanc at 5:06 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The answer is that the person who made the canvas made a canvas. The person who builds a road builds a road. The canvas-maker isn't an artist, and the steamroller isn't an entrepreneur.

Why do you insist on attacking the job-creating entrepreneurs of the canvas-making industry?
posted by verb at 5:14 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


weirdo: Unless the foundation is redefined to be not a part of a structure

BobbyVan: Would you say that the person who makes the canvas has a hand in painting the portrait?

Well, I wouldn't, but that's not what this conversation is about. It's about structures as foundation. The foundation of the artist isn't the canvas and the canvas maker. Bringing up the canvas in the first place is a misunderstanding of what is meant by structure.

The real foundation is the things we've been talking about. Roads, education, etc. Without those the artist wouldn't have been in a situation to buy the art supplies in the first place.
posted by Green With You at 5:18 PM on July 23, 2012


Why do you insist on attacking the job-creating entrepreneurs of the canvas-making industry?

I used to live in a village in upstate New York where a full 1 percent* of the population worked for the local canvas company.

*Not the 1 percent, just a 1 percent.
posted by headnsouth at 5:20 PM on July 23, 2012


What you're doing, BobbyVan, and not terribly effectively, is denying the inherent teamwork involved in making this whole thing go by using language that divides us.

Ha! President Obama mocks entrepreneurs by saying they aren't particularly smart or hardworking (no more so than lots of people he knows), and you accuse me of being divisive? Look, I'm all for giving credit where it's due... but this is a left-wing version of the Col. Jessup speech from A Few Good Men. We all sleep under the "blanket of public services" that our government provides and rather than questioning the "manner in which it's provided" we should take the civil service exam or simply say "thank you" and go on our way.
posted by BobbyVan at 5:22 PM on July 23, 2012


"If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants."

No one disputes that.

Some of us, however, choose to reach for the stars standing on that lofty perch... And some of us choose to take a nice peaceful nap resting on the shoulders of giants.

Anyone from the "Boomer" generation had the same opportunity as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell, Mark Zuckerberg (okay, a little younger than the boomers)... Or for the non tech-inclined, David Geffen, Ralph Lauren, John Glenn, or Frank Lloyd Wright.

All of them dropped out of college, effectively negating the myth of any "privilege" with which they may have started life.

Yes, a healthy dose of luck still had a lot to do with their success, as it does with us all; but they all saw their chance, and took it.


wierdo : is denying the inherent teamwork involved in making this whole thing go

Teamwork? Gates single-handedly (okay, two-handedly, with Allen) created the Microsoft empire. Apple looks dangerously uncool with Jobs gone. Ellison has a level of chutzpah in Oracle's pricing that few others would even dare try. And many called Wright a madman, never mind a "team player".

The best and the brightest don't need teams. Teams just help the mediocre rest of us not look like complete losers compared to the superstars.
posted by pla at 5:22 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, Mitt Romney certainly had a problem when Obama pointed out that fact, claiming Obama was being "anti-business."

Barack, Mitt, and Adam Smith
posted by homunculus at 5:29 PM on July 23, 2012


I don't know about you, but the entrepreneurs I know who succeeded from nothing were the ones who started their businesses in areas where they could be assured that local families were being supported by government-subsidized housing and welfare to purchase their goods and services, section 8 vouchers to support their budding real estate investments, and were close to public transit hubs to entire timely delivery of supplies. I know a lot more people who got rich in places like that than people who got rich starting businesses in Louisiana swamps or destitute shantytowns in 3rd world countries. I suspect it feeds on itself-- businesspeople are naturally going to leave the "you're on your own" regions as soon as things go south and gravitate towards places with decent infrastructure that keeps local economies as stable as could be expected during tough times and downturns. When the Dust Bowl hit, the Okies migrated to where there was infrastructure to support them and their future plans and ventures.

President Obama mocks entrepreneurs by saying they aren't particularly smart or hardworking (no more so than lots of people he knows)

When I tell you to always remember, "There but for the grace of God go I," I'm not mocking you. I'm reminding you of reality.
posted by deanc at 5:34 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


When I tell you to always remember, "There but for the grace of God go I," I'm not mocking you. I'm reminding you of reality.

If you're referring to President Obama's remarkable surge from the Illinois Senate to the US Senate to the Presidency and his views of his own talents ("I think I could probably do every job on the campaign better than the people I’ll hire to do it..."), we agree.
posted by BobbyVan at 5:40 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The answer is that the person who made the canvas made a canvas. The person who builds a road builds a road. The canvas-maker isn't an artist, and the steamroller isn't an entrepreneur.

This is the very worst (or best, depending on your perspective) of short-term, linear thinking.

The inability of many Republicans or Libertarians to even SEE embedded, complex systems would be funny if the results weren't so dire.

The assumption underlying that little soundbyte up there is that ONLY the artist has value. You aren't valuable unless you are visible, on the cover of Fast Company, or sitting at the pundit desk delivering the news.

That assumption is also what we are arguing about. Who has value? The boss or the employee? The broadcaster or the cameraman? The surgeon or the nurse? The entrepreneur or the garbage collector?

I can tell you with certainty that you have never visited one of the circles of hell until the garbage collectors have decided not to show up...for weeks.

The presumption here is that there are some "very special skills" held by those who have the most value in society. Or some incredible risk that they are taking in comparison to everyone else because this is a "free" market after all.

Newsflash. Our US market? Is not free. But some of us would hate to admit that because it would mean that we might not be that special snowflake that we think we are. The playing field is not only uneven, the poorest of us can't even get into the damn stadium. "But they should just work HARDER," you sniff. "If they work hard and really, really BELIEVE, they can get to college. They can work up the corporate ladder. It just takes, you know, GUTS. And hard WORK! They must not be working HARD ENOUGH."

What a load of absolute crap, pardon my language. Let's just unpack the ability to even apply for a college degree, shall we? So many assumptions there.

That your parents could feed you. That you didn't have to quit school to work. That you even had an elementary and then high school to go to. That you had the time and emotional energy AFTER school to even be able to get your homework done instead of changing your grandmother's bedsheets/trying to drown out the noise of the neighbors/wondering if your brother was going to take up drugs again/wondering if your dad was going to be to able to get a job/etc. Let's say you are the miracle kid in that scenario who doesn't have lead in their drinking water/has access to a decent public school/gets enough food to live/has parents who aren't fighting all of the time/and so on. Okay, college. Do you even believe that is a possibility for you? It's a complete mystery if you don't know ANYONE who has ever been there. Which college? How to pay for it? Scholarships? Maybe you could ask your school guidance counselor? Oh, your school doesn't have one. Maybe you could could look it up online? Um, you don't have a computer or internet. That's okay, just go to the library and use it! Oh, the library hours have been cut and there are only two computers there and you work until 9 pm + weekends and the library closes before you can leave work. And you have to figure out what FAFSA is? And you have to get ahold of a car to get to the college...and on and on and on.

Meanwhile, you...Student #2: yeah, your parents broke up and you hated your school, but it was a decent school, and you had money to buy a football uniform and football kept you sane, and your coach was a decent guy who hooked you up with a summer job at a landscaping company. Studying was a pain, but you didn't have to take a job to help your mom pay rent and the closest you got to real gang violence was listening to Hip Hop on the radio. Your used desktop computer sucked and you had dial up, but you could get online anytime you needed to, at least type your papers instead of writing them out longhand or using an old typewriter. Your little sister made a lot of noise, but she went to bed at 8:30 pm and you had your own room anyway. Yeah, it was small but you didn't have to worry about her getting in your stuff. Soon, one of your boss' landscaping clients--a friend of the coach--took an interest in you while you were building a patio in his backyard. Asked you about your goals. Offered to introduce you to a friend he was a college recruiter at a public university the next town over during your junior year. And so on.

TARP bailouts. Alums helping alums. Boss' kid getting the internship. NIMBY city planning. I could go on and on.

The free market ain't free, friend. And if you think that we only get out of our world what we play into it? You are so very, very wrong.

The US LOOOOOOOOVES to toot its own horn and bleet, "Land of opportunity! Anyone can make it here!" But what made that true in the past was the inequity between the US and the rest of the world. A post-war Europe economy. Third world cheap labor. Shorter geographical supply chains. The world is not stacked in the US' favor anymore. We've let our public education system go to hell in a handbasket (one of the few tools we had for actually leveling the playing field.) Old white men who got their college degree courtesy of the GI Bill whether they served on an island in the South Pacific or pushing pencils at a recruiting office in Los Angeles whine that the government "wants their tax money." Or their kids who reaped the trickle down benefits of a college-educated parent.

Are their exceptions here and there? Sure. Are they the norm? No. So stop pretending that they are.
posted by jeanmari at 5:41 PM on July 23, 2012 [20 favorites]


Gates single-handedly (okay, two-handedly, with Allen) created the Microsoft empire. Apple looks dangerously uncool with Jobs gone. Ellison has a level of chutzpah in Oracle's pricing that few others would even dare try. And many called Wright a madman, never mind a "team player".

Does anyone remember the brilliant genius who singlehandedly started IBM? I sure don't. And yet, it is one of the largest, most successful, long-lived companies in the world.

Genius is about as common as dirt. Throw some venture capital at a bunch of brilliant ambitious geniuses, and I'm sure a few of them will turn out to form superstar companies. And some will go nowhere. Your problem is that you have no appreciation for or interest in genius. You're only interested in it insofar as it results in monetary success. And, honestly-- how shallow is that?

And Frank Lloyd Wright is highly overrated.
posted by deanc at 5:41 PM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Throw some venture capital at a bunch of brilliant relatively smart ambitious geniuses well-networked or hella lucky people, and I'm sure a few of them will turn out to form superstar companies.

Fixed that for you.
posted by jeanmari at 5:44 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


No matter what taxes that factory owner paid, they did not pay enough to fund the creation of a national system of roads, airports, and railroads to transport their goods nationally.

The factory owner is the only beneficiary of this system?
posted by Sunburnt at 5:45 PM on July 23, 2012


There is a REASON that we can rattle off a short list of successful people relatively quickly...there aren't many of them. And many of them did not get to the top ONLY because they were the brightest people in the room. For some, it was about timing. Others got a lucky break. Still others got there because they were just total assholes and rolled over everyone else. You think Jobs would have gotten anywhere without Woz? Whatever.
posted by jeanmari at 5:46 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


... a phony librarian making his way across the Old West.

Ivan Doig's book, The Whistling Season, features a phony school teacher in rural Montana circa 1918.
posted by Bruce H. at 5:47 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you're referring to President Obama's remarkable surge from the Illinois Senate to the US Senate to the Presidency and his views of his own talents ("I think I could probably do every job on the campaign better than the people I’ll hire to do it..."), we agree.

Obama is actually one of the only politicians (the only Democrat, anyway) who I believe has better political instincts than I do, in many ways formed due to his history as someone who got his political start on the very ground level rather than, say, waltzing into the governor's office.

Obama (actually, prompted by Durbin) wisely realized that he was in the right place at the right time and decided to take advantage of an opportunity while it was still there. So I think he is sort of more aware than most of the reality of how we're shaped by events and opportunities and how much we owe to a world that creates those conditions. Combined with his foreign parentage, he has an intimate understanding of how the interplay of society and individuals cooperate to create success. His father, of course, came to the United States to graduate school, rather than "pulling himself up by his bootstraps" alone in Kenya.
posted by deanc at 5:50 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is my favorite MeFi thread ever (so far). Thanks for all the insight, wisdom, important reminders, etc.
posted by GnomeChompsky at 5:53 PM on July 23, 2012


deanc : Does anyone remember the brilliant genius who singlehandedly started IBM? I sure don't. And yet, it is one of the largest, most successful, long-lived companies in the world.

Tom Watson? The namesake of the Jeopardy-beating supercomputer? Yeah, not a household name like Gates, but yes, people most assuredly remember him!

Though in fairness, he counts as one of the "lesser" robber-barons of old - He made his money in an antitrust scam working for NCR.



And Frank Lloyd Wright is highly overrated.

On the one hand, I agree.

On the other - Do better. I can't.



jeanmari : There is a REASON that we can rattle off a short list of successful people relatively quickly...there aren't many of them.

I only gave the list of fortune-50 dropouts (and a pair of uber-famous soloist dropouts), which at least partially negates their familial advantage. If I included those who worked hard, studied hard, and slowly made their way to the top, I could fill this entire thread-so-far with names you'd probably at least vaguely recognize.

That said, one-in-a-million means (as of today) the world has 7000 of you, so... Take that as you will.
posted by pla at 5:54 PM on July 23, 2012


The factory owner is the only beneficiary of this system?

Nope, they just use more of it than the kid who can't even afford a car. Thus, they benefit by more of it. See "trucking" and "railroads" and "container shipping" and "seaports", etc.
posted by jeanmari at 5:54 PM on July 23, 2012


President Obama mocks entrepreneurs by saying they aren't particularly smart or hardworking

Honestly, Bobby Van, this is not at all complicated. The point is not that being smart and hardworking isn't important or is worthy of mockery. It's that you can be as smart and hardworking as you like, but without a society to value and support you, you'll be the smartest and hardworkingest guy on the assembly line. And it therefore behooves you to recognize this and do what you can to help the next smarty hardworker up the ladder. It does not behoove you to fold your arms, stamp your feet and say "I did this all by myself, so why can't you?"

And let's recall that it's the GOP and Romney who mock the intelligent as elitist, and who seek to make Obama's education a liability.
posted by schoolgirl report at 6:01 PM on July 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


Would you say that the person who makes the canvas has a hand in painting the portrait?


In a way, yes.

Ever seen cave paintings? They look pretty primitive to our eyes, and they are pretty primitive. Why couldn't one of those Cro Magnon dudes paint something like the Mona Lisa? Well, there are several reasons. They didn't have canvas (or poplar panels, in the case of the Mona Lisa). They didn't have paints. They didn't have brushes. They didn't have generations of theory explaning how to handle perspective and render the human form and mix colors correctly. All of that and more was necessary before the Mona Lisa could be painted. If Leonardo hadn't received the training and learned about making paints and all that jazz then he would be forgotten to history.

There was probably a human 30,000 years ago who had the potential to be greater than Newton, Usain Bolt, Bach, or Stephen Hawking. Alas, he was eaten almost immediately by some wild animal. Bummer for him (although the society into which he was born wouldn't have let him achieve greatness anyway, so it's probably not a great loss to humanity).

Perhaps the person who makes the canvas doesn't deserve much credit, but the society that let canvas makers and painters exist? Sure, I'll give society some credit there. No man is an island, and all that.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 6:02 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


BobbyVan: "President Obama mocks entrepreneurs by saying they aren't particularly smart or hardworking (no more so than lots of people he knows), and you accuse me of being divisive?"

Interesting how you seem to think that being inclusive by acknowledging everyone's role is somehow mocking and divisive.
posted by wierdo at 6:04 PM on July 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


jeanmari : Nope, they just use more of it than the kid who can't even afford a car. Thus, they benefit by more of it. See "trucking" and "railroads" and "container shipping" and "seaports", etc.

Do they? Because y'know, I really don't give a damn whether or not they can get their product to market X, but I do care that they can get it to me.

Which side of that equation gets the most benefit?

Obviously, in terms of the number of miles travelled on those roads, the manufacturer gets FAR more use out of them than do I; that said, I use those roads primarily to either work for that manufacturer, or to afford his products. Perhaps I drive those road as my job (hypothetically speaking, of course - Hardcore desk-jockey here, and I loathe driving), and wouldn't have a job if not for the roads and the manufacturer who needs to ship via them.

It sounds great, and undeniably true, to say he gets more use out of the roads than do most of us; It also completely ignores why we have roads in the first place. If I lived on my own self-sufficient farm, I wouldn't have a need for roads.
posted by pla at 6:05 PM on July 23, 2012


pla, first of all, IBM was actually founded by Charles Ranlett Flint, though Watson made it into the company it is today. Second, the genius of IBM is that its success as a company cannot be laid at the feet of a single visionary genius, but rather on the fact that IBM was effectively an infrastructure to make great things happen and great discoveries to be made. It's successful because it DOESN'T depend on a cult following a genius visionary. It's actually more of an organizational cult.
posted by deanc at 6:05 PM on July 23, 2012


I only gave the list of fortune-50 dropouts (and a pair of uber-famous soloist dropouts), which at least partially negates their familial advantage. If I included those who worked hard, studied hard, and slowly made their way to the top, I could fill this entire thread-so-far with names you'd probably at least vaguely recognize.

Ellison would not be where he is without being adopted and meeting Bob Miner, Ed Oates, and Bruce Scott.
Jobs would not have been where he is without being adopted by a California couple and meeting Steve Wozniak.
Gates and Allen met at a very famous private school called Lakeside which had a Teletype Terminal that allowed them to develop their programming skills on several time-sharing computer systems.

I could go on.

Don't ignore the less visible systems. The myth that anyone is self-made without society's benefits is just that...an enormously ignorant or willfully blind myth.
posted by jeanmari at 6:06 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


wierdo : Interesting how you seem to think that being inclusive by acknowledging everyone's role is somehow mocking and divisive.

The dude said "You didn't build that!", in a mocking and derisive tone.

Care to explain how anyone could possibly take that as "being inclusive"?


deanc : pla, first of all, IBM was actually founded by Charles Ranlett Flint, though Watson made it into the company it is today.

Consider me humbled by that detail, I didn't know that!

Though I don't really know if it helps or hurts the general tone in this conversation - I have to wonder if it doesn't at least partially support the idea that the superstar made the company, not the other way around.

Good to know, though - Thank you, and I mean that sincerely!
posted by pla at 6:09 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


jeanmari : Don't ignore the less visible systems. The myth that anyone is self-made without society's benefits is just that...an enormously ignorant or willfully blind myth.

Backs of giants, no doubt! I agree with that completely.

I just don't see the need to pretend we have no - If not giants, at least "really tall people" - Amongst us today. And relatedly, we have pretty much a full spectrum of "heights". Some people take the work of Plank and Bohr and develop it into modern QCD. And some people take the work of Farnsworth and never leave their sofa.
posted by pla at 6:16 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


pla: "The dude said "You didn't build that!", in a mocking and derisive tone."

And once again, the tone argument comes up. It was obvious what he meant if you actually listen to or even read the whole speech. The other side of the argument is inherently dismissive in that it refuses to acknowledge the contributions of society itself, not to mention the employees that generate value for the rock star.

I don't know if any of you guys have ever been around to see a brilliant visionary ruin their company through toxic management style. When you drive away the supporting cast, the whole production falls apart.
posted by wierdo at 6:16 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sunburnt: "The factory owner is the only beneficiary of this system?"

That's an irrelevant distraction to the point, which is that we all contribute. The factory owner no more goes it alone than the guy on Social Security or an artist out in the backwoods of the West.
posted by wierdo at 6:21 PM on July 23, 2012


Gates and Allen met at a very famous private school called Lakeside which had a Teletype Terminal that allowed them to develop their programming skills on several time-sharing computer systems.

Gates also went to Harvard which gave him access to computer systems with which he was able to emulate the computer processor that he wrote his BASIC interpreter for.

The genius of the USA is that we provide all this infrastructure and let people figure out what to do with it. No one cares if you use the roads to make pizza deliveries or medical house calls. If you want to use them for that, you can. And you're going to have more success with your pizza delivery operation in a place with nice roads than someplace with dirt roads. And your technology company is going to be more successful when you have an educated workforce. Where do those things come from? We have millions of immigrants who come to the USA to take advantage of what's here, and notice that they don't stay in their home countries to do it.

The dude said "You didn't build that!", in a mocking and derisive tone.

Well, did they build the roads and the infrastructure and educate the employees? We are all part of a team here.

You'd think that being rich and successful would be its own reward. Why is it that these annoying guys like Mitt Romney feel the need to be worshipped as gods, too?
posted by deanc at 6:22 PM on July 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


wierdo : The other side of the argument is inherently dismissive in that it refuses to acknowledge the contributions of society itself

You (or rather, Barry O) have set up a false dichotomy here.

I very much acknowledge those who came before me. But hey - They came before us all, and have "left the building", in the Elvissy-sense.

I obviously couldn't make a decent living as a software engineer if not for the likes of Lilienfield, Bardeen, Lovelace, von Neumann, Turing, Faggin, and dare I say it again, Gates (who love him or hate him, made the PC an "appliance" rather than a niche instrument).

I couldn't get to work without roads, I wouldn't have a workplace without electricity, I wouldn't have the luxury of leaving my crops for 8 hours a day if not for dedicated agricultural workers, I wouldn't have more than basic math skills if not for a passably decent public education system.

That said, we all have those. You have the same roads I do. You have the same dependable electricity I do. You have the same grocery stores I do. You went to the same public schools I did. Using them to excuse away the entrepreneur's victories strikes me as no less offensive than "excusing" a female executive's success because she has the same enlarged mammary glands common to (half of) our entire species.
posted by pla at 6:41 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


pla: "Using them to excuse away the entrepreneur's victories strikes me as no less offensive than "excusing" a female executive's success because she has the same enlarged mammary glands common to (half of) our entire species."

And you fall into the same trap BobbyVan falls into. Acknowledging the contributions of others in no way diminishes your contribution.
posted by wierdo at 6:51 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Charles Murray writing for the American Enterprise Institute's Ideas blog:
“You didn’t build that” is another example of the president’s tone-deafness when it comes to the music of the American culture. The phrase is not taken out of context. It didn’t come after a celebration of the inventiveness and risk taking of individual Americans that has made this country great. The president gave the mildest of acknowledgements to the role of the individual, followed by a paragraph of examples that cast American history as a series of collective accomplishments.

There’s a standard way for Americans to celebrate accomplishment. First, we call an individual onto the stage and say what great things that person has done. Then that person gives a thank-you speech that begins “I couldn’t have done this without…” and a list of people who helped along the way. That’s the way we’ve always done it. Everyone knows we all get help in life (and sometimes just get lucky). But we have always started with the individual and then worked out. It is not part of the American mindset to begin with the collective and admonish individuals for thinking too highly of their contribution.
posted by BobbyVan at 6:57 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


That said, we all have those. You have the same roads I do. You have the same dependable electricity I do. You have the same grocery stores I do. You went to the same public schools I did.

If you are unwilling to accept the need to continually invest in these roads and infrastructure and human capital but instead are content to whither them on the vine, they are hurting not just their own chances for more future success but the future success of others decades down the road. It's one thing to forget that they're standing on the shoulders of giants, but now they're going about bashing in the heads of those same giants and making it difficult for other people to climb onto their shoulders rather than realizing that it is the role of the public sphere to make it easier for everyone else to climb up.

Plus, this whole thing is undignified. If you throw a tantrum because didn't pay you sufficient deference, that makes you much more of a wimp than a modest sci fi author and doesn't say much about your political leaders' ability to deal with foreign enemies who actually want you dead.
posted by deanc at 7:02 PM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


That said, we all have those.

And I'd like to keep having those, thank you very much. But we're in a revenue crisis, here. If we want to continue to have a fantastic infrastructure that lets our best and brightest cultivate their genius and build our economy, we're going to have to keep putting money into the system. And you can't do that by cutting taxes across the board.

I honestly thought it would only take one bridge falling into its river to draw attention to the lackluster investment we've made into our crumbling roadways, but apparently not.
posted by hwyengr at 7:04 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's weak sauce (and highly disingenuous): "I disagree with him because I don't like the way he said the thing."
posted by wierdo at 7:05 PM on July 23, 2012


The factory owner is the only beneficiary of this system?

No, but the factory owner is the one who seems to think his taxes are too high.
posted by mstokes650 at 7:14 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


There’s a standard way for Americans to celebrate accomplishment.

I wasn't aware that attending Toastmasters was a requirement for being President.
posted by hwyengr at 7:15 PM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


That said, we all have those. You have the same roads I do. You have the same dependable electricity I do. You have the same grocery stores I do. You went to the same public schools I did. Using them to excuse away the entrepreneur's victories strikes me as no less offensive than "excusing" a female executive's success because she has the same enlarged mammary glands common to (half of) our entire species.

I'm going to be charitable and assume that you don't live in the United States and are ignorant of the past generation or so of political discourse in this country.

No one is "excusing away an entrepreneur's victories." They are responding to a very specific ideology, popular in the United States and boldly, assertively advocated in many parts of our government, that taxation per se is a punishment leveled against those who have succeeded without the need for government assistance. For almost a generation, conservatives in our country have boldly argued that people who receive any sort of assistance from the government are parasites. Recently, some conservatives have even argued that unemployed people shouldn't have the right to vote, specifically because they would simply raise taxes.

Alongside those attacks, public investment in societal infrastructure, like roads and bridges and education and public health, is demonized. It's argued that those things should be funded by those who want and can personally afford them.

The fact that all of us, especially the successful 'self-made men' of the business world, rely on shared societal infrastructure, is so elementary that only fools would deny it. The fact that small business owners in particular have been held up by movement conservatives as counter examples of this fact is evidence that they are either liars or fools or both.

Warren and Obama's responses are -- if one actually reads their words instead of stealing paraphrased snippets from right wing email chains -- clearly and obviously responding to that point of ideological faith among movement conservatives. It's fascinating that just a few tentative responses by two progressive politicians would cause such rage -- such fact-free vitriol and desperate distortion.

The truth hurts, I suppose.
posted by verb at 7:22 PM on July 23, 2012 [12 favorites]


You (or rather, Barry O) have set up a false dichotomy here.

*sigh* You know, his name is Barack. It is not "Barry."

You must not trust your own argument all that much if you feel that you need to prop it up with seventh-grade tactics like making fun of the guy's name.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:26 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm going to be charitable and assume that you don't live in the United States and are ignorant of the past generation or so of political discourse in this country.

There's nothing quite as uniquely grating as a lefty who condescends to educate you about something.

Recently, some conservatives have even argued that unemployed people shouldn't have the right to vote, specifically because they would simply raise taxes.

Seriously? Can you give me a citation for this? I'd think that those who have suffered under President Obama would be great targets for GOP outreach.
posted by BobbyVan at 7:32 PM on July 23, 2012


...admonish individuals for thinking too highly of their contribution.

Quoting the AEI? Oh my head. Look, the successful are more than welcome to think highly of themselves, and we should feel free to think highly of them as well. Many deserve it, many do not. But when they are so highly regarded merely for being successful that they - and others - think they are deserving of, say, lower taxes than the rest of us, that is indeed worthy of admonishment. Particularly as we seem to have defined "success" in this context as "being tremendously wealthy."
posted by schoolgirl report at 7:32 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Recently, some conservatives have even argued that unemployed people shouldn't have the right to vote, specifically because they would simply raise taxes.

Seriously? Can you give me a citation for this? I'd think that those who have suffered under President Obama would be great targets for GOP outreach.
No less a Republican luminary than Rush Limbaugh.

The sentiment is not unknown in many other right-wing forums, as well.
posted by deanc at 7:38 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Huh. Well that's asinine stuff, and certainly not representative of mainstream conservative policy and philosophy.
posted by BobbyVan at 7:44 PM on July 23, 2012


I'd think that those who have suffered under President Obama would be great targets for GOP outreach.

I know, seriously; people that are suffering because all republicans will do in congress is try and repeal health care laws that help poor people, definitely great targets for GOP outreach.
posted by inigo2 at 7:59 PM on July 23, 2012


President Obama mocks entrepreneurs by saying they aren't particularly smart or hardworking (no more so than lots of people he knows)

That's not mockery, it's a simple fact.

(Unless you've got some sort of evidence that entrepreneurs are smarter or more hardworking than other people. Good luck finding entrepreneurs who work harder than the people who harvest our produce.)
posted by straight at 8:00 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh wait, there's also the republicans trying to extend tax cuts for the rich while letting those for the middle class and working expire. Great targets.
posted by inigo2 at 8:00 PM on July 23, 2012


Huh. Well that's asinine stuff, and certainly not representative of mainstream conservative policy and philosophy.

BobbyVan, it most certainly is representative of just that thing. Where do you live? Who do you talk to?

I live in California and I am talking to conservative farmers, and they (on the whole, with exceptions here and there for each of them, as they are all individuals with unique perspectives) think every one of the things you say no one thinks. The same holds true when I visit my family in rural Virginia, or go to gun shows and talk to vendors and other visitors to the show.

I have a sneaking suspicion that you are:

a) ignorant about conservatives in America
b) committing the no true Scotsman fallacy without realizing it (because it would be silly to do that on purpose, right?)
c) engaging in this discussion as though it were an exercise in rhetoric, rather than a conversation, and not actually listening to other people nor responding in good faith
d) unaware that you are conversing in the manner of a conservative troll, were one to exist in this thread
posted by jsturgill at 8:00 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Huh. Well that's asinine stuff, and certainly not representative of mainstream conservative policy and philosophy.

Sadly, "mainstream conservative policy and philosophy" is no longer getting elected, hosting the radio shows, appearing on the talk shows, or generally calling the shots.

Paleoconservatives, as they're called, are the sad staid remnants of a kind of conservatism that existed a generation or two ago. Now, we've got the head of one of the larger Tea Party organizations arguing that only land-owners should have voting rights.

You can no-true-Scotsmen them away all you like, but folks like him are the ones shaping public discourse about conservative principles. They are the ones that Republican politicians must court and satisfy to win primaries, and they are the ones that Obama and Warren have to respond forcefully to.

Pretending that the comments about entrepreneurs relying on existing societal infrastructure was some sort of ham-fisted attack on the rich is either an act of disingenuous deception, or a demonstration of ignorance about what kind of rhetoric movement conservatives have been doubling down on for the past generation. I grew up in that world. I interned in that world. I worked and volunteered in that world. Paleoconservative's are just as bad as collectivists, because half-heartedness weakens the movement.
posted by verb at 8:02 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


So someone says that conservatives believe that the unemployed should lose the franchise and, on the basis of a 3rd tier blog and a half-serious brain fart by Rush Limbaugh, I should agree that it's so? Show me the draft legislation that's been introduced by a Republican in Congress. Show me the essay in The Weekly Standard, National Review or Human Events. Show me the policy forum on the topic at the Heritage Foundation.
posted by BobbyVan at 8:07 PM on July 23, 2012


I'd think that those who have suffered under President Obama would be great targets for GOP outreach.

The GOP has made opposition to Obama's specific policies their big selling point. For example, they opposed extending unemployment benefits during periods of record unemployment. They opposed spending money on infrastructure like the roads and bridges we've been discussing. And their shared rallying cry is a budget plan that revolves around gutting the safety net for people who aren't able to work, then passing the savings on to those with high incomes.

It is certainly possible that there are lots of people who are angry that Obama hasn't done a good job as President, and that the unemployment situation should be blamed on him. Unfortunately, the GOP hasn't realized that kicking those people while they're down is a sub-optimal way to get their votes.
posted by verb at 8:07 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


certainly not representative of mainstream conservative policy and philosophy.

If Rush Limbaugh isn't representative of mainstream conservative policy and philosophy, then who is? This is the person telling millions of conservative Americans across the country what talking points to repeat and what arguments to use. In many cases, his messages are specifically tailored to reinforce the GOP's agenda that week.
posted by deanc at 8:08 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Even allowing for the sake of argument that Rush Limbaugh is representative of mainstream conservatism, he doesn't exactly endorse the idea. According to a transcript:
“This story raises a very unpolitically correct question. If people can’t even feed and clothe themselves should they be allowed to vote? Should they be voting? If people who are receiving government assistance, that is taxpayer assistance, if they weren’t allowed to vote can you imagine the political difference in this country? Can you imagine? It’s just a think piece, putting it out there for you to ponder?
This idea is a fringe one on the right, roughly analogous to the charge that American leftists want to nationalize the oil industry.
posted by BobbyVan at 8:19 PM on July 23, 2012


So someone says that conservatives believe that the unemployed should lose the franchise and--

Stop.

That is either a mistake on your part, or a lie. I'll charitably assume that you misread what I said.

I specifically stated that "some conservatives have even argued," which is absolutely, positively true. Is Rush Limbaugh not an influential conservative? As I mentioned, Judson Philips, the president of the Tea Party Nation organization that sponsored the original 2010 Tea Party Protest, has also gone on record saying that only land-owners should have voting rights. Congressman Steve King of Iowa has also publicly daydreamed about the bygone era when only those with "skin in the game" could vote. The issue has been raised by British conservatives, as well.

Are you seriously suggesting that unless the American Enterprise Institute has published a policy recommendation, or a member of congress has introduced legislation, that something does not exist as a part of national discourse?
posted by verb at 8:22 PM on July 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


Even allowing for the sake of argument that Rush Limbaugh is representative of mainstream conservatism, he doesn't exactly endorse the idea. According to a transcript...

So, what you're suggesting is that when Barack Obama says that small business owners didn't build the roads they use to ship their products, he is attacking and mocking them, but taking Rush Limbaugh's on-air discussions seriously (given his proven, decades-long ability to shape movement conservative discourse), it is disingenuous?

You're funny.

I like you.
posted by verb at 8:24 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I like you too, especially the way that you hold Barack Obama and Rush Limbaugh to similar rhetorical standards.

By the way, Obama wasn't referring to roads and bridges when he said "you didn't build that." If so, he'd have said "you didn't build those."

G'night.
posted by BobbyVan at 8:30 PM on July 23, 2012


“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 "that" clearly referred to in the text is the general infrastructure of society, not a specific bridge and road.

You are deliberately distorting what was said, and by your standards it is in admissible because it didn't appear in a policy paper or a piece of proposed legislation.
posted by verb at 8:36 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yeah, you definitely need some rest after that clunker. The "that" referred not just to the roads and bridges of the preceding (truncated) sentence, but to the earlier reference to "this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive". But hey, keep at it.
posted by schoolgirl report at 8:45 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, you definitely need some rest after that clunker. The "that" referred not just to the roads and bridges of the preceding (truncated) sentence, but to the earlier reference to "this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive". But hey, keep at it.

It's almost as if he was selectively quoting something to change its meaning.
posted by verb at 8:47 PM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's just hard to believe that such a great orator would speak so clumsily. Are you really arguing that the President is trying to educate America's business owners that they did not in fact personally build the entire American system of infrastructure? How patronizing of him.
posted by BobbyVan at 8:50 PM on July 23, 2012


BobbyVan: "Huh. Well that's asinine stuff, and certainly not representative of mainstream conservative policy and philosophy."

Limbaugh, sadly, is what passes for mainstream conservative policy and philosophy in Washington these days. The party leaders follow his lead and publicly kiss his ring in apology on the rare occasion they depart from his demented ideology. It would be awesome if that weren't so true, but it is. At least we can take solace in knowing that nobody bothers to hide it.
posted by wierdo at 9:01 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are you really arguing that the President is trying to educate America's business owners that they did not in fact personally build the entire American system of infrastructure?

It is dishonest and disingenuous of you to claim he was saying anything else. Now, I suppose all's fair in love, war, and politics, and by selectively editing his remarks, it can be claimed to be "fair" to say that Obama was telling business owners they didn't build their own business, but don't actually deny that's exactly what you're doing. There's no shame in doing that kind of thing-- people might actually praise you as "clever" if you do so.

But let's look at the facts: you're here, raging in self-righteous indignation over Obama's remarks and because you feel that Warren didn't pay sufficient deference to business owners. You consider it a threat to the American way if taxes on high earners are increased to levels seen in 2000. In short, I don't take the concerns of the Republicans remotely seriously, because they have no moral credibility. They were the people who advocated for torture, slapped on purple bandaids, and called the unemployed lazy parasites who shouldn't vote. They didn't consider any of these claims outrageous-- they considered those beliefs worthy of praise and support. NOW they want me to join them in some moral crusade against 32% marginal tax rates and proper deference to Republican business owners. Spare me. The belief system from which you argue is simply a false one and one that is, at its base, morally crippled and leads only to bad things.

If raging against the poor and unemployed while praising torture is heaven and Elizabeth Warren is hell, then to quote Mark Twain, "All right then, I'm going to hell."
posted by deanc at 9:33 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


You have the same roads I do. You have the same dependable electricity I do. You have the same grocery stores I do. You went to the same public schools I did.

Okay, now I REALLY believe that you are trolling us. You're not even from the US are you? Are you saying that Lake Forest, Illinois has the same roads/dependable electricity/grocery stores/public schools as Albany Park, Chicago, Illinois or Pembroke, Illinois?

Because someone who knows the US would never have made that statement.

No, I don't believe we have the same everything.
posted by jeanmari at 9:47 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Nope, they just use more of it than the kid who can't even afford a car. Thus, they benefit by more of it. See "trucking" and "railroads" and "container shipping" and "seaports", etc."

Benefiting from a transportation system is more than transporting oneself upon it. The kid who can't afford the car (and presumably pays a commensurately low tax bill, if any) got his new iPhone delivered overnight from Amazon via truck, plane, and ship from Shenzhen with a few go-betweens.

Some people pay, everyone benefits. When and only when that's the best possible system, government is the necessary evil. Asking the people who pay to be grateful is bad form at the very least. There's no reason all the businesses couldn't pool their money to buy transport systems, obtain water supplies, educate workers; ship parcels. Customers benefit from these businesses' products and the money they pay into the workforce.

Also, smart people get ahead not because of the luck of time, but because they're smart enough to exploit the opportunity of timing.

Between all the businesses, and the government, which could you live without if one of those disappeared tomorrow?
posted by Sunburnt at 10:12 PM on July 23, 2012


"No, but the factory owner is the one who seems to think his taxes are too high."

The fact of the factory being next to a road does not mean the owner's taxes aren't high enough.

The best you can say is that you should raise his taxes high enough to pay for the road (which, metaphorically encompasses the other stuff). At which point, well, what the hell does he need government for? He can afford his own road if he can afford those taxes. If he can't, he can pool his money with other factories.

The demand for government is unlimited if you keep broadening its scope. There's always more a government can do if it just wrings a bit more cash out of its grateful beneficiaries. Obama and Warren are cheap televangelists without all the makeup.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:25 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is the iPhone the new welfare Cadillac?
posted by maxwelton at 10:49 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


verb: May I introduce you to me in-laws, and the entire circle of friends I had in my teens and early twenties?

These are the people who express anger -- nay, rage -- at Obama's comment that local businesses didn't build the roads their customers arrive on.


Hmmm...You may have married into my wife's family, too. Sigh. I have learned to not guffaw around them. Most of the time. A few years ago her mother told me that she didn't understand how come all those Indians were pissed off--after all they get to go to college free. (I was reduced to sputters and wuffos.) I say this not to ridicule the dear lady, but to point out that you shouldn't make blind assumptions about any given person's information base.

I have tried to follow the maxim that counsels me to not attribute malice to stupidity. The maxim may be in error. I'm coming around to the notion that malice and stupidity inform one another in secret midnight meetings (just to whip up a little heat and smoke), then come around in the day time to give the rest of us the good news. They openly hug and shake hands in shameless, Snopesless displays of vituperation.

I am too guilty. My social welfare payments are their entitlement--goddam socialist schools, roads, even the goddam socialist firemen and cops, riding around in their socialist cop cars and fire engines, and goddam city officials drawing all that socialist city pay. Gotta cut government down to size, so the business subsidy checks won't bounce. Don't tax those who have the money, for crying out loud. How do you expect anthing to trickle down if you suck their hard won gains up in taxes? Tax the guys who don't have any money. It just makes sense, because there are sooo many more of them, and you can get buckets and buckets of bucks that way.

Can't reframe that to make it slide down the conservative gullet any better. I am too wrapped in sin to know any different. I am poor because God is punishing me. I'm going to hell. I get it.

There are so many of them!

But they are not yet the author of my existence.

So, maybe not too many.
posted by mule98J at 12:09 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have tried to follow the maxim that counsels me to not attribute malice to stupidity. The maxim may be in error. I'm coming around to the notion that malice and stupidity inform one another in secret midnight meetings (just to whip up a little heat and smoke), then come around in the day time to give the rest of us the good news. They openly hug and shake hands in shameless, Snopesless displays of vituperation.

This is one hell of a paragraph!
posted by brundlefly at 12:25 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Would you say that the person who makes the canvas has a hand in painting the portrait?
Actually it used to be that painters stretched their own canvases. Go back even further and they made their own paints.

And the more time they spent doing that, the less time they had for painting. So it is literally true that without the canvas painters and paint factory employees, there would be fewer paintings.

No one knows their name because what they do isn't noteworthy or exceptional. It could be done by anyone and no one knows who mixed the paint or stretched the canvas for the next masterpiece or for a kindergarden art class.

But the thing is, even making your own canvas and mixing your own paints is practical for a painter. It's something even cavemen did (of course they used walls, but whatever). As you get more and more complexity you need more and more time to the point where, say, for Elon Musk to build a Tesla model S from digging up raw ores to machining all metal parts and the parts for the machines to make all the electronics, etc would take more then a lifetime. It would be completely impossible.
It's just hard to believe that such a great orator would speak so clumsily. Are you really arguing that the President is trying to educate America's business owners that they did not in fact personally build the entire American system of infrastructure? How patronizing of him.
Again as pointed out. Lots of people really do believe that they made it all on their own, no help from anyone. bla bla bla. It is absolutely true that people believe this.

In fact, sometimes the help is a lot more direct then just building roads and bridges: the guy in the Mitt Romney add got millions in government loan guarantees and contracts

The president wasn't trying to educate people who think that way. He was making fun of them them. Of course it sounded patronizing that was the joke.
posted by delmoi at 12:25 AM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Is the iPhone the new welfare Cadillac?

Yes, but now with Retina Display.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:31 AM on July 24, 2012


Okay, I finally got around to doing the research, and now I have a great meme to spread around. It's really too great to waste on a downscreen comment in a rapidly aging thread, but I'm going to tell you it anyway. Maybe you can find some fault I've missed.

So the research - and this is pretty intense research, mind you, involving many Wikipedia articles - indicates that these are the only presidents for the last hundred years with business experience:

Herbert "I started the Depression" Hoover
Jimmy "Conservatives think I was evil" Carter
George "It's the economy stupid" Bush I
George "I'm just stupid, and I trashed your economy" Bush II

That's it. Just those four. And they did horrible things to the economy.

Any candidate that says that business experience necessarily translates to a better life for Americans should look that shit up on Wikipedia, because history doesn't seem to agree.
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:41 AM on July 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


Shit, I forgot to list Truman, who had a haberdashery that went bankrupt.
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:44 AM on July 24, 2012


Just a few points, to tie this all back together.

1) Rush, like Jon Stewart, produces his show as entertainment. Obama, and potentially Romney by next year (and I honestly don't know which I consider worse), run the most successful country on the planet. They do not have the same standards applied to their hyperbole.

2) I don't think I've ever heard anyone, rich or poor, left or right, conservative or liberal, complain about having roads or fire protection. Schools, only insofar as they appear largely useless to those of us more than a decade out of them (which has probably held true for every generation). Police, only in their abuses of power. Now... healthcare, that mixes a "we wish it counted as a public good" into the same bag as actual public goods. Don't do that.

3) America has an awfully lot of land. I've lived on both coasts, and still don't know the difference between the roads in two randomly chosen towns in a "flyover" state. Checking their Wiki links, however, and currently living in the state with the largest percent of "unorganized territory" in the US, I would dare suggest that if one of those locations wants for better roads, it does so because bears don't need roads. Seriously, a population of 2,784 in the entire county, and you would call me obviously-not-an-American because it lacks polished granite curbs on the sidewalks?
posted by pla at 3:45 AM on July 24, 2012


pla: "Rush, like Jon Stewart, produces his show as entertainment."

Top Republican politicians regularly apologize to Rush when they upset his sensibilities. I don't believe Stewart gets the same treatment from the Democrats. Feel free to try again with this line, though. It never gets old.


pla: "I don't think I've ever heard anyone, rich or poor, left or right, conservative or liberal, complain about having roads or fire protection."

I take it you missed the posts about Obion County, Tennessee here on the blue? In the case of the former, I can personally attest that many of the residents in the fine State of Oklahoma would beg to differ on the road issue. Sure, they want them, but they aren't terribly interested in paying for them.
posted by wierdo at 4:26 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Rush, like Jon Stewart, produces his show as entertainment. Obama, and potentially Romney by next year (and I honestly don't know which I consider worse), run the most successful country on the planet. They do not have the same standards applied to their hyperbole.

Need I remind you of Sandra Fluke and the fact that she was being attacked by members of Congress using essentially the same language as Rush? Or the fact that the only thing Romney condemned was the use of the word "slut," and not the content or spirit of the attacks?
posted by zombieflanders at 4:29 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Now... healthcare, that mixes a 'we wish it counted as a public good' into the same bag as actual public goods."

What the ... I'm trying to unpack what this statement means, and I'm seriously failing. Has any single person on earth ever argued that health care is a public good by the economic definition, that is to say both non-excludable and non-rivalrous? Or that the government should only provide things that are non-excludable and non-rivalrous?

(For those not familiar with the terms, the economic definition of a public good is something which is non-excludable and non-rivalrous. A good or service is excludable when it is possible to prevent people who have not paid for it from having access to it, and non-excludable when it is not possible to do so. A rival good is a good whose consumption by one consumer prevents simultaneous consumption by other consumers. Note that something is not non-excludable if it IS free for everyone; it just has to theoretically be possible to make it a pay-for-use good or service. So air is considered non-excludable, but free health care would not be.)

But other things the government provides that are not public goods by the normal definition of the term include fire protection, which as has been pointed out above is excludable. Police protection is also excludable. So are national parks. Heck, ROADS are non-excludable - there are toll roads and private roads. Broadcast licenses are rivalrous. Etc., etc.

There's no reason that health care can't work on you-pay-your-taxes-you-get-health-care the same way you-pay-your-taxes-you-get-police-protection, even though neither are public goods. In fact, it works exactly that way in many countries.

What are you talking about?
posted by kyrademon at 5:58 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Now... healthcare, that mixes a "we wish it counted as a public good" into the same bag as actual public goods. Don't do that.

Given that the last influenza pandemic killed up to 130 million people, and that vaccinations have wiped out diseases that ravaged whole populations (like smallpox and polio) - how the fuck is healthcare NOT an actual public good?
posted by bashos_frog at 6:04 AM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


On preview - kyrademon says it better than I
posted by bashos_frog at 6:05 AM on July 24, 2012


deanc: You consider it a threat to the American way if taxes on high earners are increased to levels seen in 2000.

Do I? Where did I say such a thing? I'd argue that the converse is more likely true: President Obama considers it a threat to the American way if taxes are not raised. He implies that those who oppose tax hikes also oppose basic investments in infrastructure, education and public safety. That is disingenuous at best (class warfare at worst), akin to the President's "gimmicky" proposed Buffett Rule, wherein the Administration left the "false impression that many, if not most, millionaires (people who earn $1 million or more a year) are paying a lower tax rate than the middle class."

schoolgirl report: The "that" referred not just to the roads and bridges of the preceding (truncated) sentence, but to the earlier reference to "this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive".

Please get your stories straight. Per the Obama campaign's official statement:
The President’s full remarks show that the “that” in “you didn’t build that” clearly refers to roads and bridges—public infrastructure we count on the government to build and maintain.
The campaign says nothing about the "earlier reference to this unbelievable American system." It plainly says that the President was talking about "roads and bridges" (which the campaign ever-so-helpfully explains are parts of our national public infrastructure system).

So we can either believe that the President made a grammatically incorrect statement, confusing singular and plural constructions and referencing an antecedent from a previous sentence... or we can take him at his word when he says, "If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen." The latter conclusion seems more in tune with the President's earlier statement in which he argued that there was nothing particularly special about the intelligence or industry of the successful:
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!
So where should the credit go, if all of us (or many of us) are smart and hardworking? The man or woman at the top, it’s implied, is either lucky (as President Obama most certainly was) or pulled a few strings on the way up. So the credit then goes to the collective, the team, the society, the government. “You didn’t build that business” is precisely what the President meant.
posted by BobbyVan at 6:42 AM on July 24, 2012


I am both a small business owner, and a left leaning academic.

I'm hella confused, the government pays my salary, but I've used savings from that salary to become one of these so-called 'job creators'. Am I breaking the rules or anything? I'd prefer to not get in trouble.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 6:59 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, we can believe that the President made a minor grammatical mistake in antecedent placement that still makes obvious sense in the larger paragraph ...

Or we can believe that he geuninely thinks that individuals do not even have a hand in managing their own business affairs because after all he earlier said that success is not necessarily the only possible measure of talent which obviously in turn means that talent is unnecessary to success!

THE MEANING IS CLEAR! FLEE BEFORE HE FORCES US ALL TO JOIN THE BORG COLLECTIVE!
posted by kyrademon at 6:59 AM on July 24, 2012


Oh, and I also got to this position through a combination of government subsidised education, partially government subsidised education, a civil society that makes such education possible, and having parents in a position where, even though they were earning a bit below the median household income had room in the budget to save money to make up the arrears in the partially subsidised part of my education. Oh yeah and hard work, but I've friends that have worked just as hard and harder but weren't as lucky in various ways. Such as being in the right place at the right time.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 7:18 AM on July 24, 2012


Actually, kyrademon, to liberate Obama's words from their plain meaning, his campaign is asking us to believe he made two grammatical mistakes: plural/singular confusion and a misplaced antecedent.
posted by BobbyVan at 7:22 AM on July 24, 2012


The man or woman at the top, it’s implied, is either lucky (as President Obama most certainly was) or pulled a few strings on the way up. So the credit then goes to the collective, the team, the society, the government. “You didn’t build that business” is precisely what the President meant.

As pointed out upthread, the subject of the article you reference (which is actually a conservative editorial piece, not a news piece) actually did get a bunch of government assistance on top of the existing infrastructure. And as Hello, I'm David McGahan points out, this isn't an uncommon thing. And that doesn't even cover the tax breaks and subsidies for businesses that you also helpfully included in your link to the official campaign statement, which are also forms of government assistance.

So in the sense that seemingly everyone but the conservative commentariat understands, he (and most if not all businesses) didn't build that business without help from the government and existing government-supported structure and policies.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:24 AM on July 24, 2012


"... his campaign is asking us to believe he made two grammatical mistakes ..."

Oh for the love of ...

You know what? Even if you were right in your interpretation (which you are not), I don't actually give a crap. The whole modern political practice of plucking out a sentence from a speech and jumping up and down about "ooo the thing this person said this one isolated sentence is clearly DEEPLY MEANINGFUL" rather than looking at overall policy is monumentally stupid and pointless.

So, I'll be moving on now.
posted by kyrademon at 7:33 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I suppose this comes down to how we want to define "build." Do tax credits "build" factories? Do public sewers "build" dot-com companies? Does police protection "build" a restaurant? I'd argue no. Many of those things are necessary conditions for business and job creation, but I don't know anyone else who defines "build" that way.

Definition of BUILD
transitive verb
1: to form by ordering and uniting materials by gradual means into a composite whole : construct
2: to cause to be constructed
3: to develop according to a systematic plan, by a definite process, or on a particular base

I quoted Mitt Romney above making the distinction correctly:
“Of course he describes people who we care very deeply about, who make a difference in our lives: schoolteachers, firefighters, people who build roads,” Romney said, summarizing the president’s remarks. “We need those things. We value schoolteachers, firefighters, people who build roads. You really couldn’t have a business if you didn’t have those things. But you know, we pay for those things … we pay for them, and we benefit from them, and we appreciate the work that they do, and the sacrifices that are done by people who work in government, but they did not build this business.”
posted by BobbyVan at 7:37 AM on July 24, 2012


"... his campaign is asking us to believe he made two grammatical mistakes ..."

Bush asked us to believe a hell of a lot more incredulous things, and a lot of people bought that no problem.

Giving someone a pass on "okay, maybe it was just a grammatical brain fart" is a lot less harmless overall than giving someone a pass on "okay, maybe it made sense to assume there were WMDs in Iraq."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:38 AM on July 24, 2012


Bush asked us to believe a hell of a lot more incredulous things, and a lot of people bought that no problem.

Okay, I win. Adios amigos.
posted by BobbyVan at 7:39 AM on July 24, 2012


Okay, I win.

You're doing Metafilter wrong.
posted by mstokes650 at 7:44 AM on July 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


Maybe we could reduce this to a rather simple agricultural metaphor:

You can't grow a good crop in shit soil.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 7:44 AM on July 24, 2012


John Scalzi's essay walked a fine line, attributing his success to choices he made, challenges he faced, and the tools, infrastructure, helping hands and opportunities that were given or presented over the course of his life.

It's a story that more need to hear in today's world.

BobbyVan, you can argue semantics and win your argument. Enjoy that.

I hope, however, that more of us speak out like Scalzi and Warren, if not as eloquently, because there is a need.
posted by kmartino at 7:47 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Okay, I win.

What?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:51 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


1: to form by ordering and uniting materials by gradual means into a composite whole : construct
2: to cause to be constructed
3: to develop according to a systematic plan, by a definite process, or on a particular base

So did he not order materials with government-provided money and services? Were those materials not united via government-funded infrastructure? And where did that base come from?

Okay, I win. Adios amigos.

One does not win by harrumphing and sulking away. That sounds like quite the opposite.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:54 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


When someone sputters "Bush did that too, and he was worse," that's a tu quoque fallacy (we should really call it "the Bush quoque fallacy," given how often it's used).
posted by BobbyVan at 7:56 AM on July 24, 2012


So did he not order materials with government-provided money and services? Were those materials not united via government-funded infrastructure? And where did that base come from?

You're shadowboxing. I described many of those things as "necessary conditions" for business and job creation... "build" is an active, transitive verb. Tax credits, infrastructure and foundations, on the other hand, are inactive and dormant without a "builder."
posted by BobbyVan at 8:00 AM on July 24, 2012


When someone sputters "Bush did that too, and he was worse," that's a tu quoque fallacy (we should really call it "the Bush quoque fallacy," given how often it's used).

...Okay, allow me to explain WHY that gets used so often. It is because when people were pointing out these problems back in Bush's administration, we were being accused of being "unAmerican" or "unpatriotic," and lectured about how we should "respect the president."

So it is frustrating to have the same people who were lecturing us about how "you have to respect the president" then turn around and HECTOR a different president over much, much smaller issues. Clearly, "respect for the president" only counts sometimes.

I just wish that if "respect for the president" only counts sometimes, that y'all had been telling me that back in 2002 is all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:02 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


The "tu quoque" fallacy is "A is guilty of B, and therefore cannot complain about B".

EmpressCallipygos' argument was "A was forgiven for B, and therefore it is reasonable that X should also be forgiven for B".

Your reading comprehension is really not very good, honestly.
posted by kyrademon at 8:02 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I described many of those things as "necessary conditions" for business and job creation... "build" is an active, transitive verb. Tax credits, infrastructure and foundations, on the other hand, are inactive and dormant without a "builder."

Ah, I see. So when Obama mentions that they're necessary conditions, it means that he doesn't believe in the builder, grammar and context notwithstanding. However, when you say that they're necessary conditions, all of the sudden grammar and context are key. Odd, that.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:09 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


So it is frustrating to have the same people who were lecturing us about how "you have to respect the president" then turn around and HECTOR a different president over much, much smaller issues. Clearly, "respect for the president" only counts sometimes.

This is fantasy. Just admit that you're wrong here and we can talk about Bush in a separate discussion. Conflating the two men to excuse a mistake by Obama is a cheap debating tactic.

The "tu quoque" fallacy is "A is guilty of B, and therefore cannot complain about B".

I'm referring to the inconsistency variant of the "tu quoque" fallacy. As in, "BobbyVan gave Bush a pass for behavior B, but does not give Obama a pass for behavior B, therefore Obama deserves a pass for behavior B." It's also known as the appeal to hypocrisy. I presume you'll retract your dig at my "reading comprehension" (which was a mild ad hominem).
posted by BobbyVan at 8:10 AM on July 24, 2012


So asking somebody to stop talking out of both sides of their mouth is a fallacy now?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:11 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ah, I see. So when Obama mentions that they're necessary conditions, it means that he doesn't believe in the builder, grammar and context notwithstanding. However, when you say that they're necessary conditions, all of the sudden grammar and context are key. Odd, that.

No, I pretty much established that both the grammar and the context of Obama's remarks were intended to diminish the importance of the builder.

So asking somebody to stop talking out of both sides of their mouth is a fallacy now?

Well yeah, it's an ad hominem. It doesn't prove or disprove the claims coming out of either side of that person's mouth - it just shows that someone is a hypocrite.
posted by BobbyVan at 8:17 AM on July 24, 2012


It's transitive Godwinning. Bush=Hitler, don'tchya know?
posted by charred husk at 8:17 AM on July 24, 2012


So where should the credit go, if all of us (or many of us) are smart and hardworking? The man or woman at the top, it’s implied, is either lucky (as President Obama most certainly was) or pulled a few strings on the way up. So the credit then goes to the collective, the team, the society, the government. “You didn’t build that business” is precisely what the President meant.

Well, the right wants to craft tax policy based on the notion that 100% of the credit should go to the business owner. The President wants to craft tax policy based on the notion that business must credit society in part, and more so when the infrastructure on which success rests is in trouble.

Look, if smarts and hard work were all it took to be successful (however you define successful), then the unsuccessful among us are by definition not smart or hard working. The President is reminding everyone that this is obviously not the case, that there are plenty of smart and hard working people who, for whatever reason, have not seen success - at least not the success of the Romneys of the world. Thus there must be other factors at work: intuition, savvy, luck, timing, upbringing, education, and, yes, the ability to leverage the unique opportunities afforded to businesses by a society, and a President, that clearly values them. It's not the either or option you posit.

As you note, even Romney agrees with the President's basic premise. So the only way the President's words are at all controversial is if you willfully misconstrue them in order to fit your preconceived notions about the President's mythical anti-business, socialist stance. Unless you can point to more than a single, slightly ungrammatical sentence in support of that prospect, you're just making noise.
posted by schoolgirl report at 8:22 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


BobbyVan - Fair enough. You are correct about that. I retract my comment about your reading comprehension.

(However, I will point out it is also a fallacy to declare that you have therefore won the argument, which is why people got confused and miffed by your 'I win' response there.)
posted by kyrademon at 8:24 AM on July 24, 2012


No, I pretty much established that both the grammar and the context of Obama's remarks were intended to diminish the importance of the builder.

You mean the statement where you posit the argument as an either/or between grammar and motive, and then discount the grammar argument in order to support the out-of-context line with a logical fallacy of your own?
posted by zombieflanders at 8:25 AM on July 24, 2012


pla: "Rush, like Jon Stewart, produces his show as entertainment."

Tell that to Michael Steele. He said the same thing and ended up publicly apologizing for it.
posted by brundlefly at 8:49 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks kyrademon, fair enough. "I win," was a little cheap.

You mean the statement where you posit the argument as an either/or between grammar and motive, and then discount the grammar argument in order to support the out-of-context line with a logical fallacy of your own?

Not quite. I'm arguing that both the grammar and the context of Obama’s remarks support the argument that he was ham-handedly appealing to populist sentiment by undermining the idea that successful business owners actually built their businesses. Also, I'm pretty sure that amphibology is not a fallacy (but if it is, you can count that along w/ the grammatical errors the Obama campaign has asked to accept in order to justify their account of the President's meaning).

I'm getting a little bored of this argument and am going to withdraw here. I do agree that there are bigger issues in this election, and it's kind of a shame that we get so completely sidetracked by things like "I like to fire people" and "You didn't build that."
posted by BobbyVan at 8:51 AM on July 24, 2012


So we can either believe that the President made a grammatically incorrect statement, confusing singular and plural constructions

You fail at grammar and/or Google. Here's what the president said:

"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 — that- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."

The antecedent for "that" is pretty clearly "this unbelievable American system" (which includes roads and bridges, as well as government investments in research and the internet and other things mentioned later in the speech.)

As usual, Language Log has you covered with a discussion of the perils of using "summative that." But it seems obvious that the ambiguity only comes from quoting the president out of context.
posted by straight at 8:55 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not quite. I'm arguing that both the grammar and the context of Obama’s remarks support the argument that he was ham-handedly appealing to populist sentiment by undermining the idea that successful business owners actually built their businesses.

Which you support with this quote as followup:
The latter conclusion seems more in tune with the President's earlier statement in which he argued that there was nothing particularly special about the intelligence or industry of the successful...So the credit then goes to the collective, the team, the society, the government.
Well, then, the refutation of that means we're left with genetic predisposition or socioeconomic advantages. Pick your poison.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:59 AM on July 24, 2012


The antecedent for "that" is pretty clearly "this unbelievable American system" (which includes roads and bridges, as well as government investments in research and the internet and other things mentioned later in the speech.)

Obama campaign: "The President’s full remarks show that the “that” in “you didn’t build that” clearly refers to roads and bridges—public infrastructure we count on the government to build and maintain."

Well, then, the refutation of that means we're left with genetic predisposition or socioeconomic advantages. Pick your poison.

Neither. I'll take "the successful are usually smart and industrious, but most importantly they deliver a service or a good that their customers - and we can put them together and call them society - deem valuable."
posted by BobbyVan at 9:04 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


So the credit then goes to the collective, the team, the society, the government. “You didn’t build that business” is precisely what the President meant.

He pretty clearly means, You didn't build that business without the help of government-funded infrastructure. And therefore you owe a debt to continue funding that infrastructure.
posted by straight at 9:11 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


BobbyVan, those two statements say the same thing. "That" refers to roads and bridges and public infrastructure, "this unbelievable American system." You're ignoring the actual transcript of what Obama said.
posted by straight at 9:14 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


it's kind of a shame that we get so completely sidetracked by things like "I like to fire people" and "You didn't build that."

At the risk of being accused of ad hominem yet again, I can't help but think that you could always not engage in arguments about such things. The less people engage in such things, the less potential they have to be sidetracks.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:16 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


And by "you" I also am thinking of "everyone," of course. However, you are the one that most recently expressed such an "I wish people didn't get sidetracked by this" wish.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:17 AM on July 24, 2012


@straight: I hate to be pedantic (really!), but the Obama campaign said "that" was referring only to "roads and bridges." Their statement of clarification didn't say anything about "this unbelievable American system." I take their word over yours.

And Empress, I agree with your sentiment. It's hard to disarm unilaterally though!
posted by BobbyVan at 9:22 AM on July 24, 2012


Thank goodness we don't have to wade through painfully extended threads like this to discover what sort of logic underlies conservative thinking. Here, Craig T. Nelson exposes it all in ten seconds: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTwpBLzxe4U.
posted by fredludd at 9:32 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Neither. I'll take "the successful are usually smart and industrious, but most importantly they deliver a service or a good that their customers - and we can put them together and call them society - deem valuable."

That doesn't really address your claim that Obama is saying "there was nothing particularly special about the intelligence or industry of the successful," nor address the services and goods that the successful do not deliver that the government provides, and avoids the question as to what has made them so smart and industrious.

In any event, Obama actually does say at least one variation of this in his speech, except that he does cover the rest of the equation (emphasis mine):
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together.
That doesn't sound like someone who's claiming that there's nothing special about an individual or giving all the credit for their success to the government.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:43 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


We'll have to agree to disagree, Zombie. When you watch the video (starting at around 33:30), notice how the President describes the way he is "struck by people" who think they're successful because they're so smart and so hardworking. He argues that smarts and industry are common ("there are a lot of smart people out there," "there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there."), and plays the supposed vanity of the "successful" for applause. He asks us to believe that a good number of successful folks are ignorant about the role of the public sector in building infrastructure, educating children, and fighting fires.

This will be my last comment (I swear): the point of the President's speech is to emphasize the collective, and de-emphasize the individual. He's not completely dismissive of the importance of "individual initiative" (he wants to appear moderate and reasonable, after all), but what's missing is an appreciation of the unique talents and contributions of the individuals who really did build something.
posted by BobbyVan at 10:02 AM on July 24, 2012


It's funny that many of the same people who are quick to point out the importance of giving appropriate credit to the initiative of individuals are also the ones who thought Obama took too much credit for killing bin Laden. They were especially keen to point out that others had laid down essential infrastructure and mechanisms that allowed the president to accomplish a key national goal. Almost like getting bin Laden was, in some sense, the result of a bunch of different people contributing in various ways that weren't as high-profile as, say, helicoptering into Pakistan, but without which the whole enterprise might not have succeeded.

Smacks of socialism if you ask me.
posted by logicpunk at 10:12 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


He argues that smarts and industry are common

Are you making the argument that they're not?

and plays the supposed vanity of the "successful" for applause

Well, if they believe that they're blessed with uncommon smarts and industry, I'd say he's got a point.

He asks us to believe that a good number of successful folks are ignorant about the role of the public sector in building infrastructure, educating children, and fighting fires.

A lot of them are, at least if we take their public statements at face value rather than political maneuvering.

the point of the President's speech is to emphasize the collective, and de-emphasize the individual. He's not completely dismissive of the importance of "individual initiative" (he wants to appear moderate and reasonable, after all), but what's missing is an appreciation of the unique talents and contributions of the individuals who really did build something

That's one interpretation, which there doesn't seem to be a lot of evidence for. Conversely, his speech is applauding all of us for helping each other succeed as individuals, and that there's unique talents held by all of us that contribute to the success of both the individual and a whole. It's left mostly unsaid that there are many who were given advantages from the very beginning--say, being born the son of an wealthy executive and governor in a segment of society that is afforded first crack at the best opportunities in education, professional connections, and political power--and take those as evidence of their smarts or industry, and knowingly or not gives them some sense of superiority.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:21 AM on July 24, 2012


This would be only interesting if it were all hypothetical or nothing was attached to it that meant anything. I have seen this same thing happen with television shows, where people just cannot accept the reality of a situation that is clear cut. Some people just take things and cannot be relieved of their notions. Pointing out the truth (as seen) just makes them dig in further.

Just like here, with the discussion of the show, you had the creators flat out say exactly what was happening on the show, and there were still people who just can not process it.

Obama has been saying this same thing for years, that government has a useful role in helping to create a society (roads/bridges/firefighters/police/libraries) where we can all benefit. It has been the same message, again and again. So it is just ridiculously disingenuous for the people who are following the president's every word to act like they aren't completely familiar with this same idea that he has said before, for years, and will say again.

And like with the Craig T Nelson clip, and another clip where Glen Beck says he went to libraries, a lot of people simply do not realize how much this shared society is underpinning their success.
posted by cashman at 10:40 AM on July 24, 2012


As usual, Language Log has you covered with a discussion of the perils of using "summative that." But it seems obvious that the ambiguity only comes from quoting the president out of context.

Pretty much when the question gets down to, "Who are you going to believe, some angry shill for a corrupt Republican political campaign, or languagelog?", I'm going to end up choosing languagelog.

The thing is that BobbyVan and the Republicans desperately want to believe that Obama said this. I'm sure many of us remember their Republican friends and relatives angrily frothing at the mouth about how Obama was a CommuniMaxistMuslimSocialist. It doesn't matter whether it's true or not, but it's what they want to believe, and they'll keep screaming it in the face of all the evidence. It's delusional. And coming from a bunch of people who were perfectly fine with calling Kerry a guy who faked his wounds, it's just par for the course. You're not arguing about what Obama said, you're arguing about what you deeply believe he said.

Rush, like Jon Stewart, produces his show as entertainment.

You can say it, but that doesn't make it true. The purpose of Rush's show (other than to sell advertising), is to spend three hours a day spreading right wing talking points. You should provide evidence to the contrary if you have it. No one considers Rush an "entertainer." He is regarded as an important political philosopher and activist by his followers.
posted by deanc at 11:17 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


, a lot of people simply do not realize how much this shared society is underpinning their success.

If shared society did not underpin success, the immigrants would stay in their home countries and be successful there rather than moving to the USA to become successful. Conservative parents will scream to the high heavens about how government doesn't help anyone, and yet they will carefully and consistently make sure to move to the best possible school district for their kids, and so on.

This whole kerfluffle is nothing but a bunch of hypocritical, angry republicans who are desperately searching for a reason to feel indignant about something and feed their persecution complexes. If it weren't for the fact that they are wrong about everything and have no idea what they're talking about, maybe they'd have a reason to feel aggrieved, but the truth is that they're arguing in favor of falsehood.
posted by deanc at 11:21 AM on July 24, 2012


Pretty much when the question gets down to, "Who are you going to believe, some angry shill for a corrupt Republican political campaign, or languagelog?", I'm going to end up choosing languagelog.

Breaking my silence to suggest that Deanc read the comments from the grammar nerds at languagelog too, wherein a clear majority grudgingly admit that my position is the most logical.
posted by BobbyVan at 11:30 AM on July 24, 2012


Rush, like Jon Stewart, produces his show as entertainment.

Jon Stewart usually says he's just an entertainer in response to people who think he should more like a journalist. And those people are usually the ones who are upset with Jon for not making his conservative guests look bad. He'll be polite, deferential, and let them sell their book. I don't listen to Rush so I can't comment on how he treats his liberal guests or even if he has them on at all. Does he treat them well and let them sell their books? From what I know of his show I'd be surprised if he does, but anyone listen enough to be able to say for sure either way?

Leaving that aside, it's clear that conservative leaders take Rush's entertainment a lot more seriously than liberal leaders take Stewart's entertainment. As mentioned earlier, Democrats don't bow to Jon the way Republicans bow to Rush. I believe that's because The Daily Show is more interested in entertainment than journalism.
posted by Green With You at 11:42 AM on July 24, 2012


Early 2008:
"For our economy, our safety, and our workers, we have to rebuild America. I'm proposing a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that will invest $60 billion over ten years. This investment will multiply into almost half a trillion dollars of additional infrastructure spending and generate nearly two million new jobs - many of them in the construction industry that's been hard hit by this housing crisis. "
A few months later
"We'll also make necessary long-term investments in job-growth. Back in the 1950's, Americans were put to work building the Interstate Highway system and that helped expand the middle class in this country. We need to show the same kind of leadership today. That's why I've called for a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that will invest $60 billion over ten years and generate millions of new jobs. We can't keep standing by while our roads and bridges and airports crumble and decay. We can't keep running our economy on debt. For our economy, our safety, and our workers, we have to rebuild America."
A few months later, mid 2008:
"From the earliest days of our founding, it has been the hard work and ingenuity of our people that's served as the wellspring of our economic strength. That's why we built a system of free public high schools when we transitioned from a nation of farms to a nation of factories. That's why we sent my grandfather's generation to college, and declared a minimum wage for our workers, and promised to live in dignity after they retire through the creation of Social Security. That's why we've invested in the science and research that have led to new discoveries and entire new industries."
Later in 2008:
"And that's why I spoke in my radio address on Saturday about the importance of investing in the largest infrastructure program--in roads and bridges and, and other traditional infrastructure--since the building of the federal highway system in the 1950s; rebuilding our schools and making sure that they're energy efficient; making sure that we're investing in electronic medical records and other technologies that can drive down health care costs. All those things are not only immediate--part of an immediate stimulus package to the economy, but they're also down payments on the kind of long-term, sustainable growth that we need."
And on and on, ahead to 2011:
"The cost to business from outdated and inadequate infrastructure is enormous. And that's what we have right now -- outdated, inadequate infrastructure. And any of you that have been traveling to other countries, you know, it, you see it, and it affects your bottom lines.

That's why I want to put more people to work rebuilding crumbling roads, rebuilding our bridges. It's why I've proposed connecting 80 percent of the country with high -- to high-speed rail, and making it possible for companies to put high-speed Internet coverage in the reach of virtually all Americans."
Again, in 2011:
"Intel is possible because of the incredible capacity of America to reinvent itself and to allow people to live out their dreams. And so the question we have to ask ourselves now is, how do we maintain this climate that Andy Grove was talking about? How do we make sure that more companies like Intel invest here, manufacture here, hire here?

...

If we want companies like yours to be able to move goods and information quickly and cheaply, we've got to invest in communication and transportation networks, like new roads and bridges, high-speed rail, high-speed internet.

If we want to make sure Intel doesn't have to look overseas for skilled, trained workers, then we've got to invest in our people -- in our schools, in our colleges, in our children.

Basically, if we want to win the future, America has to out- build, and out-innovate, and out-educate and out-hustle the rest of the world. That's what we've got to do. (Applause.)"
It's the same things he's been saying for years - invest in America. Society and government matter and can help. The same things he's been saying again and again and again.
posted by cashman at 11:46 AM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Breaking my silence to suggest that Deanc read the comments from the grammar nerds at languagelog too, wherein a clear majority grudgingly admit that my position is the most logical.

Unless your position is that the grammar is unclear but ultimately Obama's meaning is correct (or alternately, Warren's meaning was clear), that's not the case.

Leaving that aside, it's clear that conservative leaders take Rush's entertainment a lot more seriously than liberal leaders take Stewart's entertainment. As mentioned earlier, Democrats don't bow to Jon the way Republicans bow to Rush.

Is there any Jon Stewart analog to Rush being a featured speaker at CPAC? According to Wikipedia is "an annual political conference attended by conservative activists and elected officials from across the United States." It's often a reflection of or precursor to official Republican platforms, and I can't recall any point at which Jon Stewart did the same thing.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:48 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]




New Obama ad:
"Those ads taking my words about small business out of context; they're flat out wrong. Of course Americans build their own business. Everyday hard-working people sacrifice to meet a payroll, create jobs, and make our economy run.

And what I said was that we need to stand behind them as America always has. By investing in education, training, roads and bridges, research and technology. I'm Barack Obama and I approve this message because I believe we're all in this together."
So this bs fake controversy can end now.
posted by cashman at 2:12 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wait....Rush Limbaugh is entertainment?

ah crap. That's what I was doing wrong.
posted by mule98J at 5:07 PM on July 24, 2012


BobbyVan : the Obama campaign said "that" was referring only to "roads and bridges." Their statement of clarification didn't say anything about "this unbelievable American system." I take their word over yours.

I, too, hate to sound pedantic (as well as disagreeing with someone who basically agrees with me), but I'll take what he actually said over the official coverup thereof.

Let me put it this way: "If you've got a business — that- you didn't build that": Either he meant that to deny credit to entrepreneurs; or, he meant it as a complete OT middle finger to entrepreneurs.

He meant something bigger, about America or roads and bridges? So why the hell did he toss in a throwaway nonsequitur about owning a business? Just to piss people off?

"I love this pie. We love fruit fillings. If you make a credenza - That? You didn't make that."

Take your pick - Random dis, or denying that agency to the latter.
posted by pla at 5:22 PM on July 24, 2012


cashman : So this bs fake controversy can end now.

Wow, foot-in-mouth-guy regrets sticking his foot in his mouth? Film at frickin' 11, dude.
posted by pla at 5:23 PM on July 24, 2012


(as if the factory builder doesn't pay taxes and is some kind of free rider).

Just as a datapoint, my husband is expanding his factory. The state of NJ, completely unsolicited, is offering him tons of tax incentives to do so. In fact, it's a rare factory that doesn't get huge tax breaks and incentives in order to build.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:31 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


snickerdoodle : Just as a datapoint, my husband is expanding his factory. The state of NJ, completely unsolicited, is offering him tons of tax incentives to do so. In fact, it's a rare factory that doesn't get huge tax breaks and incentives in order to build.

So just as another data point... What does his total payroll come out to?

Aside from the taxes on the business itself, how many millions does he "pay" in taxes through the income tax on his employees?

States and towns give businesses tax breaks because they will, in general, get FAR more in return. When you "give" a 100M/year business a tax break, you do so because you'll get 15-35% of that back in income taxes on its workers; plus the property taxes of those workers necessarily living somewhere; PLUS the taxes on actual income of the business itself.

I'll stand at the front of the line to damn Oracle for paying negative taxes thanks to offshore tax havens; But when we talk about WidgetCo in Anytown USA... C'mon, seriously guys? They contribute more to the public till than most of us can ever dream of.
posted by pla at 5:42 PM on July 24, 2012


pla, you know, I sort of had a bit of admiration for the Romney campaign when they out and out said back in November that it was fair game to lie about what Obama says. So if you want to say stuff like that an argue on a meta-level that the attack on Obama is fair, then go ahead. None of us are naive, and we've all been around the block. But don't look me in the eye and say stuff you know isn't true and expect me to believe it and run around trying to point out that you're being disingenuous when you already know you are.

The fact that you and BobbyVan are running around in circles trying to claim that "that" refers to something he didn't say and that Obama was making a simple, banal argument about the need to invest in public infrastructure when Republicans are specifically opposed to doing such things or paying for them is just playing the role of an obedient talking-points-repeating tool.

Ultimately, I think the issue is a simple one-- conservatism is a philosophy of hierarchies and everyone knowing their place. What really angers you and BobbyVan is not stuff like torture, or dishonesty, or anything like that, but that Obama "didn't know his place" and spoke with something other than slavish devotion and deference to right wing business owners defending their rights to support poor health care and education in America. Most of your arguments here, when you're not out and out being obtuse, is about that Obama said something to people he shouldn't have, rather than offering fealty, thus violating what Romney and Republicans believe to be a sacrosanct social hierarchy. But Obama, by his nature, is a bit more of an egalitarian and believes that the country only functions because everyone is involved in the national project.
posted by deanc at 5:58 PM on July 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


[some name-calling removed - folks, you have the ability to not make this thread into one or two people vs everyone.]
posted by jessamyn at 6:23 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


pla, I don't think it's any of your business, but let's just say it's a large enough company to have fancy tax attorneys so it can pay far less than the stated corporate tax.

Of course they pay taxes. But they also, in exchange, get police officers that show up with the alarm is tripped, schools that their employees' kids go to, a transportation infrastructure that gets their employees to the office every day and their products distributed across the country, and the weight of the US judicial system that allows them to protect their patents and trademarks from blatant copying.

There seems to be this idea that we're just giving our taxes away. We're not. We're buying something with them, and quite frankly, you get the infrastructure, services, and human capital you collectively pay for.

I brought up the tax breaks because saying "the company pays taxes" without also saying "but they very easily can get out of paying most of those taxes" strikes me as being pretty naive.
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:39 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


snickerdoodle : pla, I don't think it's any of your business, but let's just say it's a large enough company to have fancy tax attorneys so it can pay far less than the stated corporate tax.

The company can afford fancy tax attorneys. Its employees, not so much. So whether or not you have the best accountants in the world, you still basically pay 15-30% of your payroll in taxes, in the form of income taxes on your employees (and that, after the IRS takes the more formal 4.2% "payroll" taxes right off the top).

And sorry, but you don't get to use personal anecdotes to support your stance, then pull the "none of your business" card.
posted by pla at 6:45 PM on July 24, 2012


Is the fact that companies get tax breaks to build factories a "personal anecdote" now? And how does the exact revenue matter in this regard? It's not a multi-national conglomerate; it's a privately-help SME. Is that enough for you, or do you want to see our tax forms?

No one's disputing that taxes get paid. But I do think it's fair enough in a conversation about entrepreneurship and taxes to point out that the tax system does indeed encourage it in many ways, and that the value derived from the taxes plays a big role in the success of these ventures.

Anyway, that's my 3-and-out limit there. Feel free to MeMail me if you want to continue this particular line of inquiry further.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:14 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]




...You know, in some way I have a grudging respect for that Romney adviser - because he is the most honest about how the whole objection to Obama in the minds of many is that they're all weirded out that he's a different color and stuff.

They haven't admitted that outright, but at least someone's come close.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:15 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


pla: "Wow, foot-in-mouth-guy regrets sticking his foot in his mouth? Film at frickin' 11, dude."

Once again, the second sentence after the terribly insulting thing:
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.
Mr. Foot in Mouth guy must be freakin' psychic. He knew what you were going to say before you said it!
posted by wierdo at 9:33 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fox News keeps it classy.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:44 AM on July 25, 2012


Disinfo at its ironic best.
posted by cashman at 11:55 AM on July 25, 2012


The company can afford fancy tax attorneys. Its employees, not so much. So whether or not you have the best accountants in the world, you still basically pay 15-30% of your payroll in taxes, in the form of income taxes on your employees (and that, after the IRS takes the more formal 4.2% "payroll" taxes right off the top).

No. The employees pay the income tax, not the employers (although employers commonly provide withholding as a service). If the employees collectively decided to protest federal income tax and did not file or pay, who would the IRS go after, the employer or the employees? It would go after the employees. Paying employees who pay taxes does not equal paying their taxes in the same way that purchasing goods or services from another company does not equal paying their taxes.

The employer should pay its fair share of taxes to build and maintain the society and infrastructure that provide it with the opportunity to succeed, and likely to exist at all. It benefits directly, as has been stated repeatedly, from roads, bridges, rail, airports, police, fire services, the judicial system, national defense, public investments in health care, public education, etc.
posted by notashroom at 8:03 AM on July 26, 2012




Given that the last influenza pandemic killed up to 130 million people, and that vaccinations have wiped out diseases that ravaged whole populations (like smallpox and polio) - how the fuck is healthcare NOT an actual public good?

Speaking of influenza: Flu That Leapt From Birds to Seals Is Studied for Human Threat
posted by homunculus at 10:03 PM on July 31, 2012


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