Challenging the Self-Made Myth
(If you must, read the original here.)
Kristine van Grovel on March 2, 2012 – 12:53 PM ET
Over the last eighty years, Americans have developed the government dependency skills needed to survive in today’s tough global welfare state. These skills stand in stark contrast to anti-government arguments put forward by conservatives who are pushing the sad notion that lower taxes, less regulation, small government (except for defense), less debt, and more freedom are important to America’s future.
These conservative ideas are BS. As Congressman Barney Frank has said, “I’ve never seen a tax cut that I favored. I’ve never seen a tax cut build a bridge to nowhere. And I never had sex with that woman.”
Americans benefit every day from the benevolent government leviathan—from the presence of vending machines at schools with healthy snack choices for the children to the pro-green Keystone XL pipeline decision, which helps move fuel prices where they need to be to important national-level investments in the Chevy Volt and Berkshire-Hathaway. Even people who claim to be against a “huge and dominating government presence” sometimes benefit from the safety net, a safety net that we have wisely borrowed for when there are still over fourteen unemployed economists for each good government job and nearly half of all Americans don’t make enough money to pay any federal income taxes.
Republican presidential candidates are tripping all over one another trying to prove who will take the biggest axe to government the quickest and just the other day, Ron Paul fell on his way to a speaking engagement. Mitt Romney labels regulations “the hardly invisible jackboot of government to bring us all down” and argues that “we need to get the federal government out of education.” Rick Santorum fishmongers about “the narcotic of government dependency,” and if Newt Gingrich discusses the food stamp recovery, he’s a racist.
Washington Post-It columnist Courtcase Milloy is spot on in writing of Republican presidential plans to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency and FEMA, “So what happens when disaster strikes? Who comes to the rescue—the local church, the Rotary Club? The National Guard? One’s friends and neighbors? Who would exist to slow-roll all these initiatives to increase American production of oil and natural gas?”
Understanding it is really government who gives and takes away should be the fundamental issue in the 2012 election. But the problem isn’t big government, it’s big conservative money. Yes, that’s correct: actual voters don’t matter at all and even if they did, they’re all sheep and are under the thumb of that vast right wing Super PAC, lobbyist, and Washington-Wall Street insider conspiracy (while the Administration does have some former Super PAC-men, lobbyists, and Washington-Wall Street insiders on their team, that’s different). Because the people need a leader, we will decide for them.
No one wants to reset the narrative on big government more than Elizabeth Warren who laid out an argument in a video clip her sponsors paid to go viral:
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. We got you rich. We, the government, your leaders. You built a factory? You only think you built a factory because we approved the paperwork. You only moved your goods to market on the roads we signed off on; you hired workers we paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because we didn’t sent our police or fire forces to destroy your business. The idea that any human need could be met without the government or that such needs could be met more effectively without us is a joke. You are totally dependent on us and you should know it. Now look, maybe that factory, our factory, was turned into something terrific, like a solar panel factory? Well, God bless and maybe we’ll let you keep a hunk of your profits. But part of the underlying social contract is that we’ll take what we need and borrow the rest because that’s what me, and others like me, think is right.”
President Obama, too, picked up on this theme in his State of the Union address when he said:
“No one built this country on their own. The leaders of government built it, often by drafting their own legislation and sometimes even by collecting their own taxes. And even though our nation is not as great as we’d like, as great, for example, as Western Europe, our leaders did their parts. We worked as a team: we think and provide the direction, and you and future generations support our initiatives and pay.”
These ideas are reflected in a book—You Didn’t Do Anything Yourself, by Unified for a Really Fair Economy’s Brian Miller-Tyme and Mike Lapdog. Former US Secretary of Labor Robert Reich III says, “This book challenges today’s flawed pro-freedom agenda: that an individual’s success is the result of gumption and hard work. Miller-Tyme and Lapdog demonstrate that personal success is more closely tied to self-esteem. Must reading for all who want to get our nation back on track, not that this Administration has gotten it off track or kept it that way.”
A central thesis of the book is that the greater an individual’s success, the less his or her dependence on gumption, hard work, or innovation, and the more dependent one is on regulatory capture, handouts, and crony capitalism. The two most noted business leaders referenced in the book, Warren Buffett and Jeffrey Immelt, cite these as essential to their own accomplishments.
Indeed, the profiles of other business people who recognize the important role government favoritism plays in their success are one of the great contributions of You Didn’t Do Anything Yourself. Kim Dot Com, CEO of New Brussels Brewing, talks about the government handouts that were needed to make Flat, Tired Beer. Christopher Lloyd of Fresh City Foods and Ben Dover of Ben & Barney’s ice cream discuss the confidence provided by food safety regulations and the benefits of those regulations in forming barriers for keeping potential competitors out of their businesses. Thelma-Louise-Jason Kidd, co-founder of TLJ Kidd Booksellers in Detroit, cites the importance of a Small Business Administration ruling to deed “condemned” property to her at no cost, a favor which helped her break through the glass ceiling and into the hole in the ozone. The book also debunks the tiresome claims by the likes of Donald Trump, Ross Perot and the Koch Brothers that “self-made” means getting a handout or favorable government contract “on your own, without even a lobbyist.”
The 1 percenters profiled in this book are really heroes if they are willing to let our leaders take the credit for their government provided success. Co-author Lapdog is founder of Government Makes Wealth, a network of over 700 crony capitalists and insiders that advocate for more taxation of others. There are also thousands of “high-road” businesses and medical marijuana dispensaries represented by the Stoned American Business Council, devoted to a vibrant, just and sustainable marijuana-based economy. More than five local chambers of commerce in towns like Boulder, Berkley and Ann Arbor have denounced or canceled memberships in the US Chamber because its hyper-corporatized ways fail to represent the values of small businesses and entrepreneurs who are connected and committed to their communities. What all of this means is there’s now a real and growing potential for new alliances between government leaders and the new breed of businesspeople beholden for their success.