Sunday, August 26, 2012

Missing the point completely

Who built what?  Elizabeth Warren vs the outraged right.
I hear all this, you know, “Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever.”—No! There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there—good for you! But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that maurauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea—God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
I happen to agree with every sentence of Ms. Warren's defense of the social contract—probably because I understand where she comes from.  She grew up in Oklahoma during a period of economic development and one of the undeniable features of that landscape is how utterly reliant people are on each other.  It's true—the more skills you have and the more self-reliant you are, the more you are made aware of your need for outside help.  You may be a damn fine carpenter but you don't make your own nails.  And people with skills know this—which is why they are forever organizing associations for mutual self-help.  Ben Franklin was notorious for this kind of behavior.  Jefferson, who actually could produce nails at Monticello, was such an organizer he eventually would help invent, along with Franklin, the United States.  Very multi-skilled people like the Amish organize themselves so tightly, outsiders often view them as a cult.

Even Robinson Caruso needed Friday!

But these perfectly accurate remarks have set off a storm of outrage.  And it's for one simple reason.  Yes, you need collective action to build roads, have homes with windows, span your rivers with steel bridges.  Yes, you need schools so we can have surgery and the Internet.  Yes collective action is a good thing.  But these support systems are essentially available to everyone, yet only a few take the required action to build a successful business.  Collective action is necessary for survival but individual initiative is still required for progress and innovation.

For me, what is actually painful about watching this debate is that Producers OWN both sides of it.  OWN them!  And yet this debate is based on some deeply-held ideas.  And why is that?  Because for most of the history of industrialization, we have been told that societies must be organized around the idea of individual rights or of collective power.  These extremists have given us Mao's Communist China and Margaret Thatcher's England.

The CORRECT Producer understanding of this "debate" is that it is utterly irrelevant.  A well-run social order isn't always collective action or always individuals operating on their own—it is a mixture of both.  Always!  Now an interesting debate can be had over which part of the society should be a haven for individualism and which should involve group decision-making, but those who have believed that one side or another should always prevail created some truly ugly societies.  So please count me in the universe of those who believe we should have good roads and public schools but also laud the solitary geniuses like Steve Jobs who can find a new way to utilize the gifts of the social order into a new organization that changed the landscape.

The answer is BOTH!  ALWAYS!

No comments:

Post a Comment