‘You didn’t build that” is the new refrain of the extreme left. The good news is that they are finally revealing how they feel about free enterprise. The bad news, if you run any kind of business, is that they’re talking about you — and it’s their way of saying that government is entitled to more of what you built.
This anti-free enterprise attitude, epitomized by Elizabeth Warren, the liberal Harvard professor who has made it the calling card of her Senate campaign against me, is that every achievement in life is a collective effort. If you started a business and it has any success, “you didn’t build that” — government gets the credit, too. Small-business owners might remember it a little differently, given that most of them worked long hours, risked their savings, took on personal debt and gave up their weekends and vacations to become successful.
Warren is particularly worked up over this theme. She’s given to rebuking any business owner who dares to believe that he or she made it on their own. Who succeeds on their own? “Nobody,” Warren says, in an angry tone. After all, she says, every business owner benefits from government investment in the schools, roads and police and fire protection that “the rest of us paid for.”
It’s a phony argument, every way you look at it. For one thing, business owners obviously pay for those services, too. So where does anyone get off dismissing business owners as a bunch of freeloaders — as if only “the rest of us” pay the taxes that support public services?
The real problem with the whole “you didn’t build that” crowd goes even deeper, however. It goes straight to the heart of our free-enterprise system and to the character of the men and women who make it work.
Across Massachusetts are hundreds of thousands of businesses — from the big firms that employ many people, to the corner stores, dry cleaners, restaurants and hair salons that employ just a few. Sometimes they’re such fixtures in the neighborhood that it can be easy to forget how much work went into each business. They all began as a risk that somebody took, a dream somebody pursued — usually with a lot of cost, worry and aggravation along the way.
I meet a lot of small-business owners, and I admire them for a lot of reasons. They’re optimistic and full of energy. They throw everything they have into building something or making it better. They’re independent, proud of making their own way and willing to accept all the difficulties that go with that — the kind of worries that can’t be forgotten at closing time.
In hard times, more than a few have sacrificed their own paychecks to make sure their workers get theirs.
You know what else I’ve found? These business owners tend to be pretty grateful, too. They’re not the sort to take things for granted. They appreciate their customers. They remember the people who gave them a break or bit of encouragement along the way. They’re glad to have had a chance in life, and they love to provide a chance to someone else.
These entrepreneurs understand — better than any politician — where small businesses fit in the community, and how, in a free society, we all depend on one another.
If they say they built it by themselves, or made it on their own, they’re only saying that no one worked seven days a week in their place, no one showed up in their place to open the door at 5 a.m. or no one did their planning, working and sweating for them. Is it too much to give them that?
Only the most rigid ideologue would come along and insist that these men and women — the ones who do most of the hiring in America — have failed in some duty to their communities or to their country.
America’s entrepreneurs have built great things on their own. If only leftists like Warren and all Occupy protesters weren’t so wrapped up in taxing and regulating them without end or in denigrating their achievements, these men and women would do even greater things and hire even more workers.
And in this slowest economic recovery since the Great Depression, that would sure be a big break for “the rest of us.”