Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Deliberate misinterpretation?

Jonathan V. Last, writing in a newsletter for The Weekly Standard, makes a strange case for the false claim that Mr. Obama is somehow against American entrepreneurs. (I reproduce much of the emailed newsletter below.)

Last includes a paragraph from Mr. Obama’s speech, and then goes on to, what?, deliberately misinterpret his words?

In essence, Mr. Obama states that successful people’s success depends in some measure on help others have given, or infrastructure which has been provided by the body politic. How can his words, taken in context be misconstrued?

Yet Last does misconstrue.  He writes that there is a “…mountain of people who do succeed on their own merits.” And he goes on to laud Steve Jobs as one of those persons.

I wonder if Mr. Jobs would agree with the President or with Mr. Last. Did Jobs invent the internet? Did Jobs acquire the skills needed to produce his first working computer through auto-didactic means? Did he build the garage in which he worked? Did he string the wiring for the electricity he used?

One could go on. Doubtless Last doesn’t care; if he did he wouldn’t have posted this piece in the first place.

Not your finest moment of intellectual integrity, Mr. Last.

Trust, but verify, Dear Gentle Reader(s).

The capture:

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the weekly Standard

July 25, 2012

By Jonathan V. Last



It's been over a week, so I want to remind you of President Obama's amazing riff on entrepreneurialism at an event in Roanoke, Virginia. Relive the glory:

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me—because they want to give something back. They know they didn't—look, if you’ve been successful, you didn't get there on your own. 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.

It's astonishing, isn't it? I'm on record for being an enormous squish on the question of capitalism, but when I heard this rant, I snapped my head back and thought, Jeez, he doesn’t really believe this? Does he?
It's undeniably true that lots of successful people didn't get rich on their own or through good and valuable work. Plenty of people are born to money, prestige, and power—through no efforts of their own. Plenty of people get rich adding no value—moral or economic—to society. Think about all of the people who've gotten wealthy by trucking in "green energy" over the last few years. Or made killings in finance by working with the derivatives that brought our economy to the brink of collapse. In capitalism, the market is usually efficient and wise in the long term, but market failures happen all the time in the short term. And because of those market failures, plenty of people get rich by accident.
But here's the thing: Those outliers are dwarfed by the mountain of people who do succeed on their own merits. And their success in turn creates the opportunities for others to succeed, too.
Steve Jobs is a popular example of the genius entrepreneur—a guy who succeeded in a crowded space because he had particular talents that no one else did. But whenever I go into an Apple Store, what strikes me is how many opportunities Jobs created for other entrepreneurs. The iPhone and iPad created entire ecosystems where other companies stepped in and prospered along with Apple—cases and cords and apps.
President Obama looks at the Apple Store and sees companies that needed the help of others to succeed.
I look at the Apple Store and see companies whose success helps others succeed as well.

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