Thursday, August 30, 2012

Rugged Individualism In Fantasy And Reality

Image credit: OWS Posters

Last night at the Republican National Convention, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez gave a speech that brought the house down, as Politico reports:
“I carried a Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum — that gun weighed more than I did! My parents grew that small business-from one 18-year-old guarding a bingo-to more than 125 people in three states. And sure, there was help along the way. But my parents took the risk. They stood up. And you better believe that they built it.”

Susana Martinez RNC speech transcript (text, video)
As with all great works of art, though, it's sometimes fascinating to look at some early drafts to see how an idea evolved. We here at the Cujo Labs are fascinated by the evolution (if you conservatives will pardon that term) of a political idea from its inception to its full flowering. To aid our studies, some of our trained operatives obtained the first draft of Susana Martinez’ speech. It looks like it was way too detail oriented before someone got to it with a red pencil:

“I carried a Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum — that gun weighed more than I did! But, you know, what was really hard was smelting the iron to make that thing. How much carbon do you use in gun metal, and is it nickel or titanium that you have to add? And then I had to build one of those machine tools that ream out the barrel. Boy, was that tough. And I had a little trouble finding enough saltpeter in the back yard to make the gunpowder, but hey, it’s simpler than cordite, and I had to be to the bingo parlor by 9AM to guard it.

“‘Cause you, see, that’s where things really got dicey. After I found enough people jobs so that they could come in and buy our stuff, there still wasn’t a road for them to drive there. That’s how I’d spend my evenings – paving all that tar I mixed and the stones I crushed during the slow parts of the business day …

“That’s what’s so great about America, it’s a place where you can make it if you’re willing to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, after you’ve picked the cotton and flax and spun it into thread, and shot the cow (I guess it’s a good thing I made that .357 first, huh?) …”

OK, maybe someone at the Cujo Labs just made that up, except for the first sentence, of course.

Despite the wacky ideas that some folks have about liberals, we actually do get that it takes a lot of effort and some sacrifice to create a business. Any of us who have even thought seriously about starting a business can relate to the idea that government can be more of an impediment to starting a business than it can be an aid.

And when it seems like the government’s only role in your life is to demand taxes from you, and you still have to pack a gun you can barely carry to the bingo parlor, because the city doesn’t think it’s a priority to guard your part of town, then it’s easy to get the idea that you did it on your own. But you didn’t. Lots of other folks worked hard so that you could have the things you used to build that business, and a properly functioning government made sure that the commerce it depends on is both safe and honest.

There simply are no “self-made” people in this country. The last one made those documentaries about living in the Alaskan wilderness, and even he had someone else make his clothes and his ax heads. We all are able to do what we do because there is a society around us that is able to do all those things you don’t have the time or the skills to do, like sewing those bootstraps on that you’re pulling yourself up with.

That’s what liberals get that these folks don’t seem to. We know that business, and most everything else in life, goes better if there’s an orderly, honest, educated, and healthy society around us. Whatever we as a society can do to make ourselves better in those ways benefits us all. At least, it benefits those of us who aren’t in the crime or security business. That’s what Elizabeth Warren was talking about when she said “You didn’t build this”. She meant that there were a lot of other people who helped build it, and they could only do so because there was a somewhat functional government there to enable it. As that government becomes less functional, thanks to those philosophically aligned with Ms. Martinez, we see that business works less well, which is just what anyone with any real sense would expect.

That’s what I find so annoying about Ms. Martinez and her ilk. It’s not that I envy her, or that I want to “tear [her] down” to use the words of one tiresome commenter recently, but because she just conveniently overlooks all that. Yes, it sucks when you poured your energy and savings into a business, then some librul gets all huffy and says that the business isn't all your doing. Trouble is, she's right. It isn't. There are plenty of people in this country who work hard, and some of them still do tough, dangerous work, usually with precious little reward. Despite that hard work, they aren’t successful enough to be a speaker at a political convention. They deserve a fair deal, too. They aren’t going to get one until the folks who were that successful realize they didn’t build it by themselves.


Anonymous said...

I am a liberal/progressive and I started my own business back in 1993. It has been successful, but I ran into some trouble several years ago because I got very sick and lost my health insurance. I am still struggling to work a full day, but I am beginning to get work in again. I am lucky because my parents are sufficiently well off (inherited money) to have helped me stay afloat while I was sick. I am also lucky because I have a Bachelors Degree and a Masters Degree, but no college debt because I got my education 25 years ago when it was still possible to afford a "good" education. I have worked very, very hard on my business, but I am well aware that, but for having had a good education and some luck at critical times, as well as people who have been nice enough to help me out and give me referrals, I probably wouldn't have been successful. To be sure, starting and running your own business is difficult, but one of the biggest pitfalls (as I found) was/is the messed-up situation with health insurance. I hope that Barack Obama stays in office and that the Affordable Care Act moves forward. That would do a lot more to make--and keep--small businesses viable than anything the Republicans will do. We don't do ANYTHING totally on our own.

BH said...

I really appreciate this post-- I've thought a lot recently about how in order to be the "self-made" person so many people believe themselves to be they would have to forge tools and build infrastructure in addition to starting the business that depends upon such things. I think that many of the folks who take such offense to the idea of interdependence over independence may well be harboring some deeply unconscious sense of shame over the help they have received to start their business (such as money from family, subsidized loans, etc). Or they are just truly adolescent in mind and spirit.

This post also serves to remind us that many people do back-breaking work to make their living-- should they be expected to do so into their seventies? Many Repubs-- whose jobs require long stretches of sitting in a chair-- seem to think so.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget the judicial and legal,system that our tax dollars support that allows these job creators to buy and rent their property and equipment. The same system that allows these people to sign legally binding contracts that sercure their business dealings. Patent law, that protects their ideas. The investment that we the taxpayers made in computer technology, satilites, medical research. People that don't get this are mindless fools.

Cujo359 said...

Anonymous @ September 1, 2012 5:57 AM:

It's true that one of the ironies of the "free market" economic philosophies is that it makes running a business harder, at least when it comes to things like having healthy employees. The ACA was dreadful, but it's better than the Republicans' plan. That's what employers, and the rest of us, have as a choice. Most of the economies we compete with either have the government underwriting health care costs in some way, or use non-profit insurance (what I'd call "real" insurance). We are trying to compete with one hand tied behind our backs, thanks to many of the very people who go on about our "competitiveness".

Cujo359 said...

Hi BH,

Looks like we've been thinking on the same lines. My training is as an engineer, and as an engineer who spent much of his career in small project environments, I've had to spend a lot of time thinking about how things get built. That, in turn, makes you think about all the things and people that build them. Without a functional society, we'd be able to accomplish much less.

I think many of the people who are offended by that thought are just people who have worked very hard at what they do. They get so busy that they don't spare the time to think about all that other stuff. When you've worked really hard to build something, you're likely to be proud of it, and a bit defensive about it. At least, I am...

Of course, it doesn't help that so many people who run their own businesses are type A personalities, and those personalities often include big egos.

Cujo359 said...

Anonymous @ September 1, 2012 9:01 AM

To me, the courts and properly functioning intellectual property laws are part of what I called making a society "honest". It helps make it honest in the old Teddy Roosevelt sense - an honest day's pay for an honest day's work.

And I agree that there will always be a need for government to fund the more basic types of research. Research, both scientific and technical, that has either no obvious payoff or is only likely to pay off in the long term isn't something businesses are good at. They usually can't afford it, and aren't likely to if it's not clear they're the ones who would benefit, anyway.