President Obama’s now infamous “You didn’t build that” speech offered up two worldviews that betray his social-collectivist tendencies. The President engaged in a non-sequitur fallacy in his effort to establish the validity of two falsehoods by invoking a truism that is best embodied in the quote of Isaac Newton, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” That is to say, we owe our entire standard of living to the countless billions that came before us. Each new innovation relies on the tools and knowledge of prior generations. No one builds anything in a vacuum. The President falsely presumes that societal advancement is necessarily impossible without government involvement (e.g. building roads and schools). This presumption rests on the notion that absent government it would simply never occur to the simpletons in society to build a road, a bridge, a school, or to pursue research. We are but helpless babes that require the gentle guidance of our wise overlords.
Upon the (false) precept that government must play an integral role in society he now presumes this establishes a basis to conclude that society (the people) are morally obligated to pay government whenever, however and in whatever arbitrary amount deemed appropriate by government. More abstractly he is saying that because party A did something for party B then it is permissible for party A to unilaterally impose an open ended arbitrary obligation onto party B in perpetuity. This is little different than a drug dealer who showers gifts on a kid for a few years and then expects that kid to return the favors by doing anything that is asked: “Hey man, you owe me!”
The President’s fatal conceit is in believing that because government plays a tangential role in producing some societal goods it must then follow that government has the right to erect a barrier to the collective goods of society that may only be breached by accepting the necessity of an arbitrary debt obligation (taxes) to that gatekeeper (government). We do not owe any particular group or individual in society anything as a consequence of something they did or are doing. If that were so then perhaps we should pay taxes to GE as well for all the things they have produced that benefit society.
The only barrier to society’s goods is a natural one: our ability to produce goods or services that society values. If we desire to take something out of society’s pot of goods, we must first deposit something equivalent to the value that we wish to withdraw. Money is merely a claim ticket to the value put in the pot; it gives us the right to withdraw that value later (which is why counterfeiters and thieves are reviled, they withdraw without putting anything in). Conspicuous consumption must be preceded by conspicuous production. Taxes represent confiscation of our withdrawal rights that are diverted to government favored industries or classes of individuals. Government puts nothing in the pot; it simply forces us to pay for things we don’t want or to overpay for things we might want. Government’s limited role in society cannot justify arbitrary taxation with specious appeals to “fair share” (an objective definition for which you will have as much success in extracting from a progressive as you will in nailing Jello to a wall.)