04 September 2012

WE BUILT IT: A Reply to Beau Weston



I originally intended to merely comment on a blog post authored by William J. (Beau) Weston (who writes as Gruntled Center) dated August 28, 2012, in  w­­­­­hich he supported the President’s recent attack on American business.  I soon realized that if I wrote the comment I wanted to make, I would hijack his blog.  Accordingly, you, gentle reader, should probably read that blog first.



Welcome back.  And away we go………..


Nice try, Beau, but to quote the late Governor of Texas, Ann Richards, “that dog won’t hunt.”

You start by changing what the President said to what you wish he had said.  You have every right to wish whatever you want, but what the President said was "If you've got a business, you didn't build that."

That leaves you with two choices:
 


He is a distinguished legal scholar, a graduate of two of the most prestigious universities in America and a long-time adjunct faculty member at a third--  Columbia University and Harvard Law, magna cum laude, where he was president of the Harvard Law Review, and then a Lecturer and Senior Lecturer  in Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago (not “professor” as so many talking heads have proclaimed).  He is therefore presumed to be smart enough to frame his own answers and to say what he means to say.

Alternatively, he is an empty suit who cannot speak “off-the-cuff” and must be tied to a teleprompter to spout the words created by his handlers.  This option scares the hell out of me, inasmuch as he is the man who has the power to start WWIII.

Accordingly, like Horton, I believe the President meant what he said and said what he meant.  In that “it takes a village to raise a child” mindset so beloved by the Democratic Party, he asserted that people who took a risk and started an enterprise that that succeeded—where countless others fail—owe it all to a benevolent state.  Hogwash! 
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.
I’m sure there was.  My First Grade teacher, Miss Bessie Smothers, taught me and countless other Missourians (including my Dad), to read.  She did it in a class that, in my case, had 36 students, no aides, no air conditioning, no computers and white boards, no televisions, and only the occasional film strip with a record keyed to narrate what was going on.  She was a common sense woman and was proud of her profession and her students.  I doubt that she would have been standing with her hand out, demanding a share of a business established and nurtured into success by someone who was in her class 30 years before.

My high school speech teacher, Miss Mary Blackburn, was a great teacher.  For 42 years, she turned out students who could speak clearly, who could debate with attention to detail and a mastery of facts, and who were comfortable on their feet in front of crowds.  I am sure that she would not have demanded a share of the profits of a law firm founded by a former student which became successful after years of 2800 hour work years by the founder and the failure of many firms started at the same time.
Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.
Can’t argue with that one.  They were soldiers and scientists and pioneers who risked much, sometimes all, to create, defend, and grow our Nation.  And I suspect that damned few of them would expect anything from those who succeeded by their own hard work, other than the thanks and respect due them for their efforts.
Somebody invested in roads and bridges.
Well, the taxpayers—and no one else—paid taxes to build roads and bridges to connect this expansive land of ours.  While their taxes may be viewed by politicians who made nothing, sold nothing, and took no personal risks, as “investments,” most taxpayers saw the roads as a positive improvements of public lands and used them.  They sure didn’t look for any direct return on their “investment.” They didn’t demand that those citizens who didn’t pay taxes, or who did pay income tax resulting only from jobs created by the risk takers, re-pay their “investment.” All citizens were free to use the bridges and roads.
 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. 
 (Emphasis in original blog.)

Professor Weston says “I believe this is obviously true.”  I say “Hold on there, Cowboy.”



Contrary to Al Gore’s claim, neither he nor government research created the internet.  Educational institutions and private research companies did. The original research that led to the development of the internet started in the UK in the early 1960s.  The first “net” in the United States, circa 1969, linked the School of Engineering at UCLA with a non-governmental research firm, SRI International.  A couple of years later, Utah and UC-Santa Barbara joined that net, and by 1972, there were about 15 schools and research firms in the net.

In 1981, the National Science Foundation did unveil its Computer Science Network, but by then, commercial internet service providers (ISPs) were sprouting up, and within a decade the NSF’s net closed.  By 1995, the internet was free of the controls imposed by the original developers.

 In the mid-90s, the first web server appeared at CERN in Switzerland, where the world’s first super collider was being built.  At about this time, perhaps one per cent of the exchange of information was passed over the net.  After the appearance of commercial ISPs, the net flourished, and by about 2009, more than 97 percent of all electronic two way communication passed over the net.


The Americans who were part of this growth were people with vision and the courage to put all they had on the line, people who were willing to work insane hours and to hire others to work 40 hour weeks for a reasonable wage and who got paid first before the “boss” saw a dime.  But according to the President, the entrepreneurs are leeches who owe their success to government. 



As for the entrepreneurs who failed, you never saw government saying “You didn’t fail on your own.  There was a teacher somewhere in your life who failed. Somebody helped to create this American system that let you down.  Sorry about that bridge that collapsed because Congressman Hotair’s cousin, the general contractor, used substandard materials.  If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that. We all did.  So here’s our share because we were in this together.”  Nevah hachee, GI.

I do believe as Professor Weston and most Americans do, that God created the entire universe and still actively superintends it.  But I also believe that he made Abraham what we would call a successful man, with huge flocks and broad lands, while others worked for Abraham as shepherds, and cooks and laborers who depended on Abrahams’s success for their sustenance. Ol’ Abe was out in front and exposed, and most of the others would not have changed places with him on a bet.


Finally, the good Professor goes off on paean to Sociology: “The major insight that sociology brings to this problem is that privilege creates a whole ladder of unearned benefits that help us 'build it.'" 

That’s giving a lot of credit to one of the softest of the soft sciences.  Sociology studies “outcomes,” and says silly things like “[a]nd the greatest privilege is not realizing that you are privileged.”  How do you quantify that?  How do you test it to see if the hypothesis is correct? Two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen always combine to make water.  But each person is different.  Al Gore, a son of privilege, ended up in Vietnam while Bill Clinton, hardly a son of privilege, went to Oxford and protested a war, giving aid and comfort to the people who were trying to kill Al and a whole bunch of other people (including yours truly).

I once was a member of a major law firm in Philadelphia.  The lawyer who founded the firm (certainly not me!) was rightly proud of the fact that he grew up in a row house in South Philadelphia.  He worked his way through Penn, and started a small, two-man shop that, in 30 years became one of the largest and most successful firms in America.  It succeeded because he hired folks who shared his vision, his work ethic—although he and his first partner were the two hardest working men in the firm—and his drive to succeed.  But, in the end, until recently, even senior members were ultimately employees of the firm.  The governments that taxed the business, the support staff, the vendors who supplied the firm, and the attorneys were all paid before the two partners.  That was the risk they took, and in a bad year it could bite them.  On the other hand, in a good year, they reaped the reward of their risk-taking.  They did not do so because of privilege—they did so because they put themselves and their families on the line. 

The attorneys hired by the firm were top notch people, great trial lawyers and skilled professionals.  They “contributed” to the success of the firm only because the founders created a venue for others to succeed. 

And Barak Obama and Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi were nowhere around.  
 



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