Montana Politics

Obama Changing the Individualistic Capitalist Paradigm


With a mostly predictable slew of endorsements from the Montana Chamber of Commerce (the only surprises being that they didn’t endorse Johnson and Skees. The fact that this was a surprise tells you something about the Chamber), I find my self more and more appreciating Barack Obama’s recent ‘gaffe‘ suggesting that someone who ‘builds’ their business might owe something back to the society for giving them their chance to succeed.

Obama addresses the two greatest fallacies put forward by those who believe it is possible to be entirely self-made: That the rich are either smarter or harder working than the rest of us. Of course that’s nonsense. Mexicans and Portuguese work harder than Americans; Poles and Spaniards have on average higher IQs. But what American small businessperson would have rather tried to start a business in any of those four countries instead of the US?

Obama is probably going to lose votes over this, and he is definitely going to lose money. But, like endorsing gay marriage, he’s changing the tone of the debate, taking positions most politicians are scared to take. He’s doing exactly what liberals have been castigating him for not doing, and whether he pulls it off this election cycle or not, he’s setting a good precedent for the Democratic party stand for something besides just less stupid versions of Republican ideals. If he can talk the way he’s talking and still put up a good fight in Montana, Montana Democrats might be empowered to take firmer stands and fight harder for truly progressive causes in the future (think Max in 2014). That’s enough of a reason to vote for him in my book.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.


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  • Wrapped into this argument is the supposition that small business is headed by rich people and that they don’t already pay significant taxes to pay for the government services that enrich their businesses, and pay for the public services that do nothing for their businesses. Care to clarify how this “broad” indictment of small business that both you and Obama embrace has any relation to reality? I use the term small business as it is more closely connected tothe “someone who ‘builds’ their business ” that you used. We are not talking Fortune 2000 here with a lineage of existence. These are small time merchants and service professionals.

    • “Care to clarify how this “broad” indictment of small business that both you and Obama embrace has any relation to reality?”

      No, I don’t care to do so, because I don’t endorse the broad indictment. I have every respect for small businesspeople (my father is one, although he’s never taken home anywhere close to a quarter million bucks), and I realize not all of them are rich. However, it is one thing to respect them, it is another to deify them. The cult of the small business in this country is getting a little out of hand, and in the long term we’d do better to tax them at the pre-Bush rate (when they were better off anyway) and invest properly in infrastructure, research, and education.

      In the long run, having an educated populace and good infrastructure (particularly digital infrastructure) will do more to help small business than bankrupting the country with tax cuts. This is the strategy pursued by China and Germany, the two large economies that have arguably done the best at weathering the economic crisis of the past years.

      • You’re changing the subject. “The cult of small business” creates 3 out of every 4 jobs in the private sector. Give credit to that fact and what it means to almost every Montana town that draws it’s life blood from that economic activity.

        • ““The cult of small business” creates 3 out of every 4 jobs in the private sector.”

          No, small business creates 3 out of every 4 jobs in the private sector. The cult that worships them, however, has created only a huge deficit and a weaker-than-hoped recovery.

          Indeed, the idea that small businesses are individual efforts, independent from society is detrimental not just to the treasury, but to those businesses as well. The Heritage Foundation and people like them think that the best way to help small businesses is to cut taxes, cut spending and cut regulation. This is consistent with an ideology that argues that individuals build businesses.

          However, a more realistic worldview would see that it is the sum of conditions in the market and in society that builds small business. This is the positions mocked by the Heritage Foundation and which mortifies conservatives. But it is the position that works: markets and governments together can make the conditions for a successful small and mid-sized business environment, not by asking businesses to contribute less, but by giving them more. Properly fund the government, invest in infrastructure, and put implement regulations that give small businesses a chance to compete with larger ones. Look at the Mittelstand: That’s what America ought to have, but those who claim to be standing up for small business (while receiving millions from huge businesses) are making it more and more difficult.

  • Obama addresses the two greatest fallacies put forward by those who believe it is possible to be entirely self-made

    This is what is called a straw man. No one thinks they are entirely “self-made.” At least no one I’ve ever met.

    • It’s obviously a continuum of ideas. But it’s rare to hear any businessperson give credit to the society they live in for their success, and common to hear that society is merely holding them back from their true potential, ala the Heritage Foundation’s blog regarding Obama’s words –

      “The slap in the face to hard-working Americans conveyed Obama’s belief that it takes a village… to create that venture you’re profiting from:”

      There you have it – first of all, emphasize how hard working and American small business owners are. No argument there. But suggesting that it doesn’t take a village to create a business, that it really is just the hard work of the business owner – is to express an opinion very similar to the one you labelled a straw man, an opinion that holds that small businesspeople are indeed self-made and owe nothing of their success to the village in which they built their success. The Heritage foundation believes it, objectivists and libertarians and a great many Republicans believe it.

      More to the point – if Obama is merely attacking a strawman, why is he receiving such heavy criticism? After all, isn’t the point of a strawman that no one would feel the need to defend it? And yet, merely for suggesting that people who own their own businesses owe something to the society, he has come under a storm of criticism. That would suggest that the belief in the self-made rugged individualist is not a strawman, but a deeply held, if irrational, dogma of economic conservatives.

      • PW, see my comment above. To state, “…merely for suggesting that people who own their own businesses owe something to the society…”

        Again that suggests that those people are not already paying for societal services. Where is the evidence that those people who create their own businesses do not, or owe more than what they pay now? We aren’t talking publicly traded companies here. These people sit on school boards, participate in community charity drives, throw their own money in for all sorts of fund raising efforts, and belong to community service clubs. Just what is the something they owe more for?

        • I’m suggesting that they pay as much as they did before George Bush et al pillaged our treasury. The tax cuts obviously didn’t cause the crisis, but the success of the 90’s clearly shows that the tax levels before the Bush tax cuts were not a limit on business.

            • No, I’m implying that they ought to go back to what they were paying before. The tax cuts were passed on the theory that if we taxed businesses less, they would create jobs, and that they deserved to keep “more of their own money”. Time proved the former wrong, and the latter never made much sense.

              • Again, you are changing the subject and your implication that you stated in your post opening paragraph. Now you are saying they owe more than they currently pay which is far different than saying they “…might owe something back to the society for giving them their chance to succeed. ” To overlook the great deal of taxes small businesses have paid and the contributions the owners make to our communities beyond the tax filings is insulting. The broad brush generic of “fair share” is meaninless. Need specifics.

                • Okay Craig:

                  What do you think I’m implying? Where do I say that small businesses don’t contribute to society? Obviously they do. I gave you specifics: they should go back to paying what they paid when the US had a sustainable fiscal policy. What I’m objecting to is the specific mindset expressed by the heritage foundation – the idea that it the construction of a business doesn’t require favorable conditions from society and government. That’s all, Craig.

  • Guess Budge never met Stuart Varney, who was arguing on Hannity that there is no relationship between paying taxes and business success. I could not have built my small business without the taxes others paid to provide me with paved streets, police and fire protection and a legal system. The taxes I pay help to build other businesses. That’s the only point Obama was making. He did not indict businesses, and neither did this post.

  • So, there I was, walking down the sidewalk made by the government, and there all of a sudden appeared a business, so I went in and took it for myself, since I couldn’t do it on my own.
    The problem is, where did the sidewalk actually come from? Well, taxes of course. Okay, where did the taxes come from. The workers who paid their taxes, silly goose. Sure, but where did the workers get their jobs from? Businesses, of course!
    But how were there businesses before there were sidewalks?
    Businesses can exist (not well admittedly) without government.
    Government cannot exist without businesses.

    • Somalia proves your point, Steve.

      Since you don’t appear to have ever read anything at all pertaining to ‘socialism’, let me clarify a few things for you.

      Socialism is not a form of government. It is a form of economic and exists quite well outside of your weak idea of ‘business’. Some countries you identify as ‘socialist’ have very good economies including healthy and favored ‘business’ environments. Barter is socialism, Steve. I’m not surprised you remain clueless about that.

      Many many cultures have existed as socialist entities in opposition to government, early Christians being the most pointed example. Your idea of ‘business’ is myopic. The Romans were empirical, demanding, forcing and trading for goods to build aquaducts and roadways while ‘business’ suffered under the steeled boot of that demand. If you made money, you payed for the Empire. It was the greatest mafia protection scheme in history. The enemy you fear is not socialism because you don’t even understand what it is. The enemy you fear are the people you keep electing.

      Socialism ensures that the benefit of wealth is spread to all. I’m not even going to argue this because you will never understand it. Your view of ‘business’ as wealth creators blinds you to the idea that labor actually creates the product of business produce.

      Anybody can operate a ‘business’ to their own benefit without government. Look at the Mexican cartels. Where you are completely wrong is the assessment that governments can’t exist without business. Yes it completely can. Empires and dictatorships have done it throughout history. Where you are completely and spectacularly wrong is assuming that governments which work in concert with business are beholden to those businesses because “Wah! socialism!” No, no they really aren’t, and you wouldn’t like the alternative much.

    • Government can, exist, without business, quite well. “business” as you understand it didn’t really exist widely until the renaissance. Before then, in most places the unlimited powers of the regency and lack of currency meant that independent business was unheard of outside of independent cities and merchant republics, where a small portion of the population lived. Later governments also existed largely without business in stages of their development, like Cuba, China, the USSR, and for the reason Rob noted – the government can take the place of business and hire workers directly. It’s less efficient, but it is possible.

      So, some things business is better at: agriculture, for sure, works better run by independent businesses; I would say most production is the same. Production of energy, distribution of water, both seem to be better run by the government but can admittedly work for both. Health care is clearly more efficiently run by the government.

      • What? Business has been around since ancient tribes met to barter with one another rather than killing the other to get what the other possessed . No currency necessary. Also, the old saying, “close enough for govt work” grew from that govt experience. There is absolutely many real stories about govt run health care, like the Indian health care services, that have a very poor record of efficiency and value to the customer.

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