On Friday night, in a campaign stop in Roanoke, Virginia, President Obama made what Michael Kinsley has called a gaffe. In Washington, a gaffe is when you tell the truth, or, in this case, say what you really think:
"If you've got a business - you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."
He left out the best part: "from each according to his ability; to each according to his need." This second quote, of course, is not from Obama, but from Marx. It should be engraved over each encampment of the gulags around the world.
Socialism is the doctrine that dare not speak its name. Conservatives run for office proudly on conservative philosophy, now summarized by the Tea Party as: fiscal responsibility - limited government - free markets. Socialists have to dissemble. Obama is not running and will not run as a socialist even though everybody knows he is one.
What is interesting about this quote, however, is that Obama is right. "You" didn't build that. You didn't go out and make the turbine to generate the electricity and string the wires to carry it to your factory or office. You didn't go out and mine the coal that heats the boilers that run the turbine. You didn't go out and smelt the steel to make the rails which were laid on rights of way to bring the coal to the boiler to make the electricity!
But if you didn't do all these things, how did they happen? By the division of labor in an advanced, transaction-based economy. How did each piece of the economy that you used get put there? Through the self-interest and incentives of other people. Each person along the supply chain had to see that creating a piece of that supply chain would serve the need of a customer, of his fellow-man.
But he didn't supply that need altruistically. At each step, the need was supplied at a cost less than the value that the user put on the good or service! That is how the economy created the wealth - the infrastructure - to serve "your" company.
And how were those services directed to your company? You paid for them. That is how the suppliers of goods and services and rights of way were compensated. Going further back, that is how your teacher was compensated - he was paid for his services.
Was that the only motivation of your teachers and suppliers? What leftists don't understand is that in 99% of the cases, the answer is "no." Your teacher might have seen it as an obligation to educate the next generation. The designer of the generator very likely took great pleasure in seeing his design become manifest in a piece of machinery. There is morality all along the line in free market transactions. It is not only illegal to defraud your customer, it is considered immoral to do so.
But, as they put it at Lincoln Center (the center for performing fine arts in New York City), "We can't live on love alone." We all want to get paid as much as we can for our work. That is human nature. That is self-interest. What the free market does is harness that self-interest - what Obama calls "everybody for himself" - into the service of the community.
Did "somebody else make that happen?" Absolutely. Many people. They did so on their own initiative because they by being paid they had the incentive to do so in a transactions-based free market economy. They did not need bureaucrats directing them. As for the public services "you" used? You paid your share of them through taxes. And you enabled the people who work at your company and for your supply chain to pay their share of taxes.