‘You Didn’t Build That’: Obama Has a Point, but Middle Class Must Pay, Too
Recently, President Obama gave a controversial speech, saying that wealthy people ought to be willing to pay more tax because the government helped them accumulate wealth. He noted that nobody gets rich without good teachers and good infrastructure, so rich people shouldn’t grumble about his plan to raise taxes.
His comment to business owners that “you didn’t build that” drew particular ire — though the president’s defenders insist he was talking about infrastructure that supports businesses, not businesses themselves.
Obama is right about the broad point: The government does lots of valuable things, and people should be willing to pay for them. Where he goes wrong is in limiting that admonition to business owners and people with high incomes.
There’s something odd in how Obama talks about businesses. He’s been distressingly willing to praise “good” companies and criticize “bad” ones; in this year’s State of the Union, he praised Siemens (for partnering with a government agency, no less) while railing against US companies that do business abroad. He also sets overly specific goals for private business, such as increasing exports. The president talks like he views businesses as an instrument for achieving government policy, so it’s easy to understand why businesspeople would be wary of him.
Meanwhile, the programs that are busting the federal budget don’t disproportionately benefit business or the wealthy. By and large, they are middle-class entitlements like Medicare, Social Security, and the new health care entitlement in Obamacare. These programs may have incidental workforce benefits that make it easier for firms to hire, but their main benefits accrue directly to their beneficiaries, most of whom are not wealthy.
Obama has resolutely defended Obamacare and Social Security against Republican proposals to cut spending on them. He has put in place mechanisms to cut Medicare spending in future years, but not enough to make it sustainable — and he has attacked Republican proposals for further cuts as “ending Medicare as we know it.” (Of course, Republicans have also attacked the president’s Medicare cuts while proposing their own.)