Friday, August 22, 2014

Ayn Rand Anticipated Obama's "You Didn't Build That" Outrage

Two years ago, President Obama created a firestorm when, in defense of "big government", he told a campaign audience, "If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that."

In the comments section of an Objective Standard blog post on the subject, Darin Sorrell noted how Ayn Rand anticipated President Obama's "you didn't build that" outrage. Sorrell highlighted two passages from Atlas Shrugged, which was published in 1957.

This exchange is between James Taggart, the useless, vicious CEO of Taggart Transcontinental, and Cherryl Brooks, a struggling, naive but nevertheless bright, ambitious young woman, who have just met. The subject is Hank Reardon, who had invented a revolutionary new metal. From Part I, Chapter 9:

    [JT] "He didn't invent iron ore and blast furnaces, did he?"
    [CB] "Who?"
    [JT] "Rearden. He didn't invent smelting and chemistry and air compression. He couldn't have invented his Metal but for thousands and thousands of other people. His Metal! Why does he think it's his? Why does he think it's his invention? Everybody uses the work of everybody else. Nobody ever invents anything."
    [CB] "But the iron ore and all those other things were there all the time. Why didn't anybody else make that Metal, but Mr. Rearden did?" 

This next passage is uttered by Floyd Ferris at a meeting of top government and industry officials, who are discussing government policy in a time of economy collapse. From Part II, Chapter 6:

    "Genius is a superstition, Jim," said Dr. Ferris slowly, with an odd kind of emphasis, as if knowing that he was naming the unnamed in all their minds. "There's no such thing as the intellect. A man's brain is a social product. A sum of influences that he's picked up from those around him. Nobody invents anything, he merely reflects what's floating in the social atmosphere. A genius is an intellectual scavenger and a greedy hoarder of the ideas which rightfully belong to society, from which he stole them. All thought is theft. If we do away with private fortunes, we'll have a fairer distribution of wealth. If we do away with the genius, we'll have a fairer distribution of ideas."

Sound familiar? Now let's hear what Barack Obama said on July 13, 2012:

    [I]f you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. . . . I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something—there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
    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.

Don't be fooled by Obama's lip service to "individual initiative". It's window dressing; an intellectual diversion to make his collectivist message sound more palatable to an American audience that still retains some respect for individualism. As I've noted before, the overarching theme of Obama's speech, and his worldview, is to marginalize the individual in favor of the "We". 

Ask yourself why. 

Yes, a few moments of self-reflection, observation and thought by any rational person will expose the absurd notion that individual initiative is not primary to achievement. But, as Elsworth Toohey said in The Fountainhead, "Don't bother to examine a folly—ask yourself only what it accomplishes." Ask yourself what type of person Obama's premise appeals to. And then, ask yourself what political/economic system depends on Obama's worldview, and what system depends on recognizing individual achievement as "Yes, I did build that."

Related Reading:

Piketty's "Capital" an Obama's "You didn't Build That": Perfect Together

Obama's Way vs. the American Way.

Mazzucato’s Fantasy: The “Courageous, Entrepreneurial State”

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