First we had nature – she gave us cowslips;
Then we had President Obama’s election – he gave us pink slips;
And now the President has created his very own special brand of gaffes which I have named in his honor, Obamaslips.
“You didn’t build that,” has now become a household phrase in the vocabulary of everyone who believes the President’s greatest achievement after nearly four years in office has been to make former President Jimmy Carter look good.
But let’s take the man at his word (great leap of faith required here) and say that this comment was taken completely out of context. I can almost buy into that since I’ve been listening to the President’s attack ads and I believe his staff has mastered this technique and knows what “out of context” is all about.
Okay, what the President was really saying was, “Small business people didn’t build the infrastructure which enables them to engage in their livelihoods.” By the way, it also enables all the rest of us who expect to see water when we turn on the faucet or flush the toilet; expect that when we drive we are going to be able to cross bridges that are safe and roads that don’t have pot holes; and when we flip on the magic light switch, we expect to find our rooms and our lives lighting up. We didn’t build those either.
Well, by building the infrastructure I mean we didn’t (or most of us didn’t) go out and pick up an axe or a shovel and start the process that once represented the greatest achievement seen on earth since the Romans. No, we didn’t physically build it – but we paid for it to be built. That is true of the person who works for someone as well as for the owner of a small business.
When I bought the house in Las Vegas in 2001 it came with a separate special present. That was a bill for the infrastructure that had to be built as the city spread out further and further from the Strip. The City advanced the money in order for this to be completed. But the ultimate cost of funding it was borne by the individual homeowner or rental apartment building or the person who took the chance to construct a small shopping mall so that your favorite fast food restaurant was only a short drive away.
As I recall, this originally amounted to about $8,000 for my house, but I don’t know the exact number as I wasn’t the original owner. By the time I inherited this bill it was down to a little over $6,000 – and while the City had floated a revenue bond and was paying interest of 4.5%, the homeowner was being charged 8% on the outstanding balance. (It’s kind of like big bank borrowing/lending – but not as profitable).
Well I paid off the balance since it was hard to get a guaranteed return of 8%, but I always wondered, how much competitive bidding went into this infrastructure build out? After all, if you’re going to pass the costs along to a third party who has no say in the matter, does it really concern you whether you’re getting the best workmanship at the best price since someone else is paying for it? But that’s a conversation for another time.
Let’s get back to the fantastic highway system that President Eisenhower constructed, connecting us from east to west and north to south. This was a project that was admittedly undertaken by the Federal government and not by small businessmen (or any of the rest of us). It was one of the great American achievements of the 20th century. But where did the money for this project come from – and how was it paid for?
Well, the part of the equation that President Obama doesn’t understand and I suspect never will is that the American taxpayer may not have been out digging ditches or operating heavy equipment to move boulders and mountains, but we, each of us paid for it with our tax dollars. And more than anyone, small businesses contributed the most to this enterprise.
The decades of the 1950’s through the 1980’s saw an explosion in the number of small mom and pop, entrepreneurial business come into being. They couldn’t have existed before the interstate highway system was developed. But they could exist and thrive once that system was in place.
As they grew, they paid more and more taxes because they earned more and more income. And their numbers grew and they hired more people to work in their roadside fruit and vegetable stand or at the little gas station that they had opened. And the economy exploded into one of the greatest periods of prosperity in the history of our country.
That highway system paid great dividends – and people realized the benefit that they had received and were happy to pay taxes for something which had given them an opportunity for a new and better way of life. Respect for those in Washington was probably at the highest level since George Washington was in office.
Today we find ourselves with a group of political Aristocrats who exhibit, with few exceptions, none of the greatness and little of the pride that was widespread and commonplace among our legislators and presidents of fifty years ago. We find small-minded people, bickering over who is most deserving of the best and biggest piece of meat to be carved from the still barely breathing wounded animal. So absorbed in their petty fighting, they do not see that the buzzards are circling overhead what soon will be merely a carcass. And the buzzards will strip it to the bone.
I guess what President Obama said is in fact true – “We didn’t build that.” But if we continue to elect men and women to public office with miniscule mindsets and self-serving petty agendas, “We will all pay for it.” And the price will be dear.