Last night, President Barack Obama delivered some telling remarks to a fire station full of people in Roanoke, Virgina. I’ll save you the trouble of reading the (long and uninspired) speech and provide you with the most interesting part:
“If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” – President Barack Obama, July 13th, 2012.
It would be easy to respond with something along the lines of, “Somebody else made that happen? Who? Who magically imagined the product or service, started the business, built it up, and created the jobs? Who was it? The tooth fairy?” And to some extent, President Obama’s statement is so ridiculous as to merit that sort of quick, flippant response.
However, he’s not entirely wrong. This reminds me of an argument that Massachusetts Senate Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren would probably make. If he’s talking about a mid-sized or large business, where an entrepreneur has hired additional employees, then at that point the business’s success isn’t purely that of its founder.
Employees add value to a business through work and ideas. That’s why you hire employees, after all. Steve Jobs didn’t invent every last detail of the phones, computers, and tablets to come out of Apple over the last decade. There were engineers working on those products who developed them. So, employees help entrepreneurs to build their business. “Somebody else” did indeed play a part in making that happen.
But what makes the president’s remarks so inane is the totality of what he’s saying. He’s not saying that entrepreneurs and employees work together to build a business. It’s not a collaborative effort. It’s all thanks to the employees. Usually, I can understand the way the president’s mind works on most issues by examining it through a pragmatic, liberal, or progressive framework. This one baffles me.
As I explained, I can see that he has some of a point, but he’s still just obviously wrong on the broader point. Sure, the employees help to build the business, but the business itself wouldn’t exist without the entrepreneur. So, to say to entrepreneurs and to business owners, “…you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen,” is just wrong. It’s silly. They did build that by setting the foundation for the business.
Entrepreneurs are almost always the hardest workers in their business. They work a simply insane number of hours to get their idea off the ground. If they succeed (and they face a tremendous risk if they don’t), then they’ll start to grow and to hire employees to help. Honestly, if I were an entrepreneur and I read those remarks by the president, I would be furious. It’s a tremendous insult to the true job-creators in America, entrepreneurs.
In the context of a long, somewhat rambling campaign speech that touched on every issue under the sun, it may seem as though I’m over-exaggerating the importance of a minor thing he said. But President Obama isn’t a stupid man, or even one who makes off-the-cuff remarks he doesn’t really mean. He’s a very smart man, and he meant what he said.
When the most important issues for most Americans are economic growth and job creation, I believe it’s essential to know exactly where both candidates stand on the importance of entrepreneurs. Yesterday, we learned that President Obama believes that entrepreneurs don’t build businesses. Ultimately, they’re irrelevant. Take that for what you will.
Update: This post and others from conservatives have sparked a backlash among the president’s supporters, who argue that President Obama meant no such thing. I have written a follow-up post in order to explore and respond to their arguments. For a greater understanding of the speech, I would encourage you to read it.