The arrogance of scoffing at "you didn't build that"
August 11, 2012
There seems to be this urge by Republicans to riff on "you didn't build that", the individualistic impulse of conservatives to claim that their successes are entirely their own.
This is patently ridiculous. Let us consider the much simpler example of baking a cake. (Building a business is doing rocket science with one hand and brain surgery with the other by comparison.)
There's nothing wrong with taking pride in, and enjoying the labors of, baking a cake from scratch. But we need to think about what "from scratch" entails.
That flour didn't just appear in a conveniently located store. Farmland had to be prepared, planted, fertilized, irrigated, kept free of pests, and harvested. The wheat had to be separated, stored, moved, milled and processed down to flour. (Then, of course, it had to go through some process to actually find its way to a conveniently located store.)
Along the way, there had be rules about -- and enforcement of those rules -- what could be put into a bag marked "Flour" and made publicly available for sale as flour, since we generally prefer not to open our bag of flour and discover it is instead sawdust, or contains weevils or rat droppings or E.coli. Even this aside, we like to know that we can trust that a bag marked "Flour" can be trusted to tell us whether it is wheat flour, whole wheat flour, refined flour, bleached/unbleached flour, self-rising flour, etc -- and that implies more rules and more enforcement. For that matter, there have to be some rules about how the wheat was grown in the first place -- e.g., what wheat can be called "organic," what level of pollution runoff is allowable (since most of us prefer our rivers to remain relatively clean of agricultural runoff).
This is only ONE INGREDIENT, and I am doubtlessly skipping over all sorts of considerations, as I am hardly a farmer.
That you paid a few bucks at a handy grocery store for the flour hardly covers all of this; you have to live in a society that makes wheat-growing and flour production possible, much less under a system of government that ensures that you are getting what you are paying for and under a set of rules that doesn't leave lasting harm to society or the environment.
Only because you live in such a society can you run down to the store and buy a bag of flour for your cake. And being a member of a society -- and benefiting from the good it does for all -- has its membership fee.
Building a business is hugely more complex than even a single ingredient for a cake, starting with the production by society of educated, qualified personnel to be your employees, to say nothing of your customers. Try waking up on a deserted island somewhere and deciding you're going to "build that" entirely with your own two hands without any resources or human contact!
The point isn't that people shouldn't strive to build great things, but that they shouldn't forget that they accomplished the things they did by standing on the shoulders of giants -- and the shoulders of the millions, even billions of people who made those giants possible.