Since I'm starting a new contract today, and will probably not be around the bilge as often as I usually am, for a month or two, I figured I'd leave with one final rant.
This is in regard to Obama's remark:
Naturally, the political chattering class didn't miss the opportunity to take the remarks out of context.... in a modern world where the partisans look to extract any sequence of words, strip it from context, and present it as something monstrously offensive, it wasn't surprising that this would happen. The extreme partisans like to take all arguments, strip every possible nuance or shading, and then project the most extreme possible interpretation to a statement or act.... which is why Social Security becomes a 'Ponzi scheme', Obamacare 'destroys the best quality health care in the world', is 'socialism' (or communism or marxism, depending on how far to the fringe the speaker is), and so on."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 point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together."
However, Obama was 100% right.... even if his expression, WITH the context, was somewhat less elegant than it could have been. Others have made the same argument, and the same proposition, is far more elegant ways... the most influential of which (to me, at least), was 'Outliers', by Malcolm Gladwell, which I would highly recommend to anyone, right or left.
This is a theme that I've read a great deal about, and it's a direct contradiction to the Ayn-Randian myth about the 'self-made' man, the Titan of business and industry, the notion of elevating men to virtually god-like positions of virtue based on their own self-interest. It's a crock of crap, and there are many reasons why.
To me, the most interesting comment on this subject came from no less of a 'commie pinko marxist socialist' than Milton Friedman, dean of the conservative economists... who, in a brief moment of total candor, exclaimed that 'success in America is largely a matter of luck'.
Did he mean that individual initiative, hard work, innovation, shouldn't be credited to someone who has been successful?
Of course not.
However, the presumption that those characteristics are the ONLY factors which lead to success in America is simply wrong.... and talking about roads and bridges just isn't a remotely adequate argument for contradicting the Randian myth.
In virtually every example and situation, it is possible to point out the ways in which 'luck', as well as the overall economic system in America, was a substantial (if not exclusive) contributor to sucessful people. Gladwell provides numerous examples. Bill Gates is one of them.... yes, he could not possibly have built Microsoft to the very top of the software world without having had the intelligence, initiative, drive, and ambition for success..... but was that all it took? Gladwell points out a number of factors in Gate's early life.... advantages that ONLY could have been given to him by having a wealthy father, well connected, who managed to get his son opportunities to work in the computer area (detailed in 'Outliers', along with other examples).
Then there was the matter of 'luck'.... in Gate's case, the luck of being in the right place at the right time, just when IBM was a step ahead of Apple and others in creating a desktop computer solution that the entire world would embrace as the first personal computer to actually be useful on the desktops of businesses and schools around the world. Timing, as they say, is everything. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of individuals with overwhelmingly more software smarts than Gates, at the same age he was, who, by virtue of having the misfortune of being born 30 years too late, missed the very same opportunity. Old Milton Friedman was right.
One could hardly argue, in another case, that George W. Bush, while certainly having skills and abilities, didn't benefit from huge advantages provided by the luck of having been born to his father.... admission to Ivy League schools based on legacy admissions policies, the ability to duck out of the Vietnam war by getting a post in the reserve unit largely populated by the sons of rich men, getting set up in business with the help of his father's connections, making a fortune as an owner of the Texas Rangers by having the connections to benefit from eminent domain proceedings..... all of these things had nothing to do with George W. Bush himself. This does NOT mean that he didn't have the gift of good political sense... but one certainly couldn't say that all of those advantages were irrelevant to his ability to reach the highest office in the land.
Being born in America, alone, provides some of these advantages. Warren Buffet freely admits that, were he born in India, he couldn't possibly have been as successful in business as he has become. It's not just 'roads and bridges'.... it's so many other influences.
This does NOT diminish the skills and abilities of the people I'm referring to.... people without those skills and abilities, REGARDLESS of whatever special advantages they may have benefited from, could not be anywhere near as successful......
.....but the notion of the 'self-made man'?