“Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own,” Obama said then. “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.”

Obama cited teachers and mentors who helped “create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges.”

Then, Obama teed up the line that left Republicans giddy. “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,” Obama said, returning to his thesis.

“The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”

(From Huffington Post)

Paul Allen, billionaire Microsoft co-founder, is attending the London Olympics.  Or, at least, his mega-yacht is.  “Octopus” stretches for 414 feet—over a third again as long as a football field—along the West India Dock on the River Thames about now.  It might be the biggest yacht at the games—it sports a helipad and swimming pool on deck, and space to float two submarines onboard down below—but is only the tenth biggest yacht in the world, according to Boat International Media, Ltd., a publisher of yachting magazines.  Here’s a picture. 

 Al Mirqab

The Octopus would be the ninth largest yacht in the world, except that Larry Ellison, found of Oracle, extended the length of his yacht, the Rising Sun, by about eighteen meters during its construction, to ensure his yacht was bigger than his fellow software mogul competitor’s.  Ellison won the yachting arms race between the two men (for now) because his yacht was the last to be launched, in 2005, whereas Allen’s was launched in 2003 (Ellison later sold his yacht to David Geffen).  Of the other eight yachts on the top ten list, at least six are owned by Arabian heads of state.  The other two are owned by Russian oligarchs.  Here’s a picture of Ellison’s (now Geffen’s) Rising Sun:

 Rising Sun

(Incidentally, the prize for the largest yacht in the world, the 165 meter aptly-named Eclipse, goes to Roman Abramovich, a Russian oligarch who made his money in a conglomeration of various businesses and industries, including plastic doll manufacturing, aluminum, and oil and gas.  Abramovich owns the Chelsea football (soccer) club, and resides primarily now in London.)

But, did Ellison and Allen build those yachts?  Taken literally, of course the answer is no.  Teams of workers from German shipyards actually built those yachts.  World class naval architects designed them. 

Okay, but Ellison and Allen paid the money to have them built, so they could be considered to have built them on that accord, right?  While it’s true that Ellison and Allen paid the purchase price for the yachts, there is a great deal more that goes into the contemplation of building a massive sea-going vessel than just the purchase price.  For instance, would Ellison and Allen have even contemplated pouring so much money into a yacht if they couldn’t be assured of the relative safety of the high seas?  Without the US Navy keeping the world’s waterways safe so that rich idiots could engage an arms race for luxurious sea-faring accommodations, would building the yachts have even been considered?  Did Ellison and Allen build the US Navy?  Did they build even a single warship, even with all the taxes they have paid over the course of their careers? 

Capitalism depends on property rights.  Property rights depend on the ability to exclude others from possession, ownership and control over property.  Excluding others from property depends on having the capacity to prevent, at the point of a bayonet; the tip of surface to air missile; or a myriad of other means, the interference of peaceable possession and control.   Did Ellison and Allen, even in their capitalist roles as software designers and developers, build any of that?  No, it was provided them at no additional charge on their tax bill as part of the economic infrastructure developed and defended by the United States. 

The Republicans foaming hysterically that Obama is wrong and that entrepreneurs did in fact “build that” business of theirs willfully ignore the foundational requirement for capitalism—that there be defensible and definable rights in property.   Which is ironic, as Republicans are also the first in line to propound the importance of a strong defense.   Nobody really owns anything except that they can forcibly exclude others from it, and neither Ellison nor Allen could forcibly exclude all others from their yachts or their software billions by their efforts alone.  Just like it takes a village to raise a child, it takes peace through superior firepower to raise a billionaire.  (Incidentally, in the sense that Russian oligarchs often must command their own private armies if they are to amass wealth, they could be considered to have “built that” much more so than their American counterparts, but still, they never do it alone.)

The myth of rugged individualism that took hold in America during its frontier days is enduring, but it’s false.  To be sure, there were some few who pushed into the frontier and singlehandedly forged lives for themselves out of what Mother Nature had to offer.  But neither the Puritans nor the Virginians, the original settlers from England, were rugged individualists.  They each came over as groups, hoping through collective efforts to make a go in the new land.  They each borrowed heavily from mother England in designing the economic and social infrastructure in which they would attempt to meet the challenges of survival.  And those few mostly mythical pioneers that pushed on to the frontier wilderness alone could not have built anything of lasting duration without which they found others with whom they might cooperate.  

Today’s successful entrepreneurs who believe that everything they accomplish is achieved through their own initiative, talents and drive are either psychotic or psychopaths.  Most probably, they are a bit of both, as their delusions that they are singlehandedly “building that” is aided by a psychosis helping them to willfully exploit their fellows for their own glory. 

I don’t much care for Obama, and I certainly loathe the unremitting expansion in the federal Leviathan he and his predecessor have overseen.  I would rather prefer the federal government simply create the possibility for success through providing an exemplary economic infrastructure and get out of the way.  But Obama’s observations, for which he is being mercilessly excoriated by the Republicans, were essentially correct:

“…when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”

Indeed.   Only a delusional psychopath could see things otherwise.