Last Friday, President Obama gave a speech in Roanoake, VA in which he excoriated business owners and the “successful” for their rampant greed and confronted them with the truth about how they built their businesses. The short answer? They didn’t build a darned thing. We built it for them. And by “we”, Barack Obama means “the government”.
There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. (Applause.)
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.
This is, of course, a rip-off of famous 1/32 Cherokee Indian Senatorial Candidate Elizabeth Warren’s statement that “the rest of us” paid for the roads on which the rapacious captains of industry move their goods.
Not only is it a rip-off, but it’s also bog-standard left-wing cant and nonsense on stilts. Yes, the President was wrong, and I’ll give you some numbers in just a moment to prove it, but he was also boring. What he said is what progressives have said for more than a century. It wasn’t true in Soviet Russia, in Nazi Germany, in fascist Italy, in poor and oppressed Cuba, or in starving and shivering North Korea. It has not been true anywhere nor at any time. Free markets bring innovation, health, and prosperity for any who will work hard enough to get it. Collectivism brings stultification, sickness, and desperate want for everyone. Everything our government builds in this country, from roads to schools, we pay for. The beauty of our system of government is that we all pitch in to pay for the things we all find worthy of our money. Now, that system has been perverted horribly, mostly by those of Barack Obama’s ilk who demand we pay for things they find worthy of our money but not theirs, but that doesn’t mean the system is bad. We simply need to readjust it by tossing the would-be totalitarians out of office and voting in people who believe in limited and responsible government and will fight for it every day they are in office.
But let me examine a couple of the President’s contentions and bring some numbers to the game.
Barack Obama said that “someone” built the roads and bridges and Internet and he’s right. Someone surely did, and that someone, thanks to our progressive income tax system, was a rich person. The latest data from the CBO show that the wealthiest one percent pays more than 22 percent of all income taxes — the money that builds all the infrastructure that “helped” them get rich. In fact, they pay a larger share in taxes than they earn of the total wealth. In other words, even if the government acted the way Barack Obama says it does, “millionaires and billionaires” pay more into our government than they get out of it. That number holds true for the richest 20 percent, which includes incomes as low as $273,000 a year — the area where you will find nearly every small business owner. They paid almost 70 percent of all income taxes despite earning only 50 percent of all income.
If anything, Barack Obama ought to thank the top 20 percent for paying far more of their fair share of taxes and for allowing the poorest among us (who paid less than three-tenths of one percent of the income taxes) to use the infrastructure they largely built. Imagine what our nation — and your tax bill — would be if we didn’t take far more from the rich than we do from the middle or lower classes. Imagine the condition of our roads and schools or how many fewer fire stations and police officers we’d have.
While I’m here, let me say one thing about police services and the rich. The city of Chicago, from whence our exalted President hailed and which is run to this very day by a deeply-entrenched Democratic political machine, just racked up its 259th murder this year. Few, if any, of those crimes happened in the wealthiest Chicago neighborhoods like, say, the Kenwood neighborhood in which Barack Obama has his home. Each one of those crimes use more police resources than usual, cost more in salary and overtime, and require more people per case. The wealthy don’t demand from the police nearly what they pay in taxes. What do you think would happen if they did?
The wealth of “millionaires and billionaires” doesn’t merely build government infrastructure, though. It also pours into charitable causes in vast amounts. According to the Congressional Budget Office, in 2008 the very wealthiest among us — those who made more than $500,000 a year, which is less than one percent of the population — accounted for 24 percent of all charitable giving (pdf link). Those who made over $100,000 — 13 percent of all wage earners — ponied up 58 percent of the money donated to charity. So not only do “the rich” pay more than their share for the government but they also give lavishly to provide for those failed by the government’s gargantuan entitlement programs.
President Obama is wrong. We have no cause to demand thanks from the successful. We should not demand more from them, not when they give so much, willingly and unwillingly. “The rich” pay far more than their own freight every single year, and they always have. “Millionaires and billionaires”, who in reality are “hundred-thousandaires and five hundred-thousandaires” bear the lion’s share of the cost of our roads, bridges, police, and fire stations even though they use less of all of them than the rest of us. When the President said “somebody” built roads and bridges, he’s talking about the wealthiest among us, even though that’s not who he means.
The President’s speech was an attack on the foundation of rugged individualism that has always supported this country, the foundation on which our greatness was built from the very beginning. Barack Obama wants us to live in an America of his imagining — a magical land of perfect equality where the laws of economics and human nature do not apply, where everyone gets his own unicorn and the only ones who have to pay are the mythical “rich”, who toil endlessly to provide for us all without complaint. That, folks, is not America. Heck, it’s not anywhere in the real world.