So I’ve given myself the weekend to ponder this, and I’m still not sure I heard it correctly. On Friday, Pres. Obama said this in a campaign speech:
“If 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…It must be because I worked harder than everybody else…If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help…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 President was referring to economically-successful Americans, and while he didn’t make that distinction, I will, because I don’t consider people to be unsuccessful simply because they’ve chosen to do things that don’t pay well but are nonetheless important, like teaching elementary-school children. But it’s his broader contention with which I really must beg to differ.
I completed 13 years of higher education, and yes, I traveled on public roads and bridges to get to my classes. So what? Every American has access to public roads and bridges. But not every American stays in school for 13 years and becomes a successful professional in two fields (and while I’m thankful to my parents for giving me a good brain to build on and for raising me with a good work ethic, I think that what I’ve chosen to do with such “raw materials” has made more of a difference in the economic results that I’ve achieved).
So, it’s not public infrastructure that makes people economically successful. If it were, then we’d all be economically successful. Public infrastructure is like the “game board” on which we all play. It’s what we choose to do on that game board that determines how successful we are in the game. Yes, we all need and benefit from public infrastructure, but an economically-successful American is not any more indebted to it and should not be held any more responsible for the cost of it than any other American.
Our American “social contact” has always been that we will build, maintain, and pass on, from generation to generation, an infrastructure in which people can succeed or fail economically based on their own individual choices and that we won’t collectively try to take either credit or responsibility for the results of those choices. Apparently, the President wants us to make a different contract, which would make us a different country.