Monday, July 23, 2012


By now you have certainly heard about how the Romney campaign has wrenched from their context President Obama's words pointing out that the self-made success is a fiction--that all entrepreneurship depends on the work of others as well as ourselves--to make it sound as if the President was saying that government is the source of productivity.  And you probably know that that's not what Mr. Obama was saying.  

Romney has turned this into a campaign spot featuring a New Hampshire businessman, Jack Gilchrist, protesting, "My father's hands didn't build this company?  My hands didn't build this company?  My son's hands aren't building this company?"  

Well, we're sure that all those hands--and many more--have built Gilchrist Metal.  But as ABC News and the Manchester Union-Leader report, the company has had important help from, you guessed it, government.  Specifically, back in the 1980's the company received a Small Business Administration loan of a bit less than $500,000, with matching funds from the New England Trade Adjustment Assistance Center.  In 1999, the company got the benefit of $800,000 in tax-exempt revenue bonds issued by the State of New Hampshire. Last year, the company was awarded Navy and Coast Guard contracts totaling just under $100,000.  

When this government assistance was pointed out to him, Mr. Gilchrist responded, "I'm not going to turn a blind eye because the money came from the government.  As far as I'm concerned, I'm getting some of my tax money back."  

Fair enough, Mr. Gilchrist.  But you've proved the President's point:  The success of your company has been importantly affected by sources outside your control, in your case, government.  We're sure that your company deserved the help it got--Mr. Obama never questioned that.  But without that assistance, your company would have harder time; indeed, it might not have survived.  What the President said was that none of us really make it on our own, and your company's experience shows that that's true.

A couple of other points:  Mr. Gilchrist's words imply that his company was somehow entitled to government's assistance.  Qualified for help is one thing; entitled is quite another.  And the business about getting some of his tax money back fundamentally misconceives the nature of government and the taxes that pay for it.  Mr. Gilchrist and his company get tax money back every day, in the form of roads and bridges, and police and fire protection, and regulations that keep foreign competitors from "dumping" products on the American market at unrealistically low prices to drive out our manufacturers, and the Internet (created at government expense), and in so many, many more ways that we take for granted.

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