Obama's "You Didn't Build That" Speech Out of Sync With American Public Opinion


In a campaign stump speech in Roanoke, Virginia last Friday, President Obama clearly revealed that he believes individual success in this country is largely driven by luck and other people, rather than hard work, ingenuity, or productivity. (The speech is similar to a 2011 speech by Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, condemning individualism.)

Obama's claim is in stark contrast with what most of the public thinks. Since polls first began asking about this, upwards of 60 percent of Americans believe hard work matters more than lucky breaks, inheritance, or connections in determining success and wealth.

 Obama declared: "If you've been successful you didn't get there on your own." He reasons, "I'm always struck by people who think 'well, it must be because I was just so smart'. There are a lot of smart people out there!  'It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.' Let me tell you something—there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there!"

To be clear, Obama does concede that individuals matter, but he says their choices are less important than what others do for them. 

The president's reasoning might be described in the academic literature as one with a "low internal locus of control," assuming that luck and environment matter most. For instance, a student who did poorly on a test would assume the test was too difficult, or the teacher was incompetent; if this student did well she would conclude the test was too easy or she was lucky.

An individual with a "high internal locus of control" believes she can influence her success. If she did poorly on a school test, she may conclude that she did not study hard enough, if she did well, she would attribute this to good study habits. Clearly both environment and choice matter, but what someone believes matters most reveals a great deal about how they perceive the economic system more generally.

Survey researchers have used various survey questions to gauge whether Americans' tend to place the explanation for their success internally or externally.

A striking difference emerges between Americans and Western and Northern Europeans.

For instance 63 percent of Americans believe that hard work usually brings a better life compared to 37 percent of the French, 45 percent of the Dutch, and 46 percent of Norwegians. Only 14 percent of Americans primarily believe that success is more a matter of luck and connections, compared to a third of the French, Dutch, and Norwegians. Britons and Germans find themselves in between these groups and Americans.

For more than half a century, survey researchers have explored Americans' beliefs about the relationship between hard work, productivity, luck, inheritance, connections and wealth and success. Data from the General Social Survey demonstrate Americans' beliefs have changed little over time, and that they still believe hard work matters most.

A query of the Roper Center's collection of surveys bolsters the General Social Survey's results. Many differently worded surveys over the past half century, as shown in the timeline below, demonstrate that clear majorities still believe in the pillar of the American Dream: that hard work matters most.


CORRECTION: A previous version of this post included an ambiguous quotation from President Obama later explained by Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith. This quote has been removed to avoid further confusion.

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  1. So if only 63% of Americans believe that hard work leads to a better life, does that mean that 37% of Americans think that sitting on their asses and buying lottery tickets leads to a better life?

    1. 37% of Americans think that sitting on their asses and buying lottery tickets leads to a better life?

      I’m surprised that number isn’t even higher.

      1. I would surmise that they might be those who think that working hard is silly. Sometimes I think that.

        1. Especially if some fuck like Obama is going to steal half of it to give out to his buddies.

        2. A prospective 2008 LP presidential candidate on the value of hard work.

          God damn campaign finance laws.

      2. Mulatto, now that I’ve got you here, I have a question about piracetam that you posted about awhile back. What is the daily dose that you find effective, and how do you take it? I just got a 1 lb powder container from, but the directions were very unhelpful. I have been dissolving it in water, but it tastes like shit…

        1. Holy shitballs, the spambots are calling us out by name now!

    2. It is noteworthy that the survey says “Luck or Connections”.

      I figure a significant number of those 37% believe that the rich got there because they bought off the right politicians or got a referral from Daddy Warbucks.

      That throws the international stats into a bit of an interesting analysis. Do the French believe that the government needs to even the playing fields because the rich are too lucky/connected, or does the mass of government intrusion make them think their hard work won’t pay off unless they are connected? Probably a bit of both.

    3. does that mean that 37% of Americans think that sitting on their asses and buying lottery tickets leads to a better life?

      Around 37% of Americans self-identify as Democrats, so I would say, yes. Yes, they do.

    4. The remaining 37% work for the government, wherein sitting on their asses does indeed lead to better lives. The most important characteristic in gov’t advancement, however, is the ability to suck cock and kiss ass. I did not see this category on the survey…

    5. Eh. I’ve been working hard for years and still get paid shit. Luck and connections are a big percentage of success. Networking is very important, and is something I suck at.

      My dad owns his own business though, that he worked hard to build from the ground up back in the 80’s. I wonder, though, how much the government has fucked things up. If he could even do that again if he started today.

      Get the government out of the way, stop restricting how hard it is to start a business, and maybe I’d think hard work was most important again.

  2. Americans … believe hard work matters most.

    Please, Emily, don’t leave us in suspense. Does hard work in fact matter most?

  3. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business ? you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.

    The thing about this brouhaha is that people seem to take the word ‘that’ out of context. I believe that the word ‘that’ is referring to the previous sentence about roads and bridges.

    But when taken in context, it makes the whole speech more chilling because he seems to be saying that since you used roads built by other (ommiting that you helped to pay for them), then whatever fruits you receive from your labor belongs to all of us.

    The next war will be between collectivists and individuals.

    1. Well, yes, that’s the thing. A lot of people are saying that it’s taken out of context, but when placed back into context, it’s even worse (but more intellectual and requiring of more parsing, which is why no one reports it that way).

  4. The intellectual dishonesty it takes to believe that’s what he said and then to spread it around is staggering. I thoroughly expect Reason to carry water for Romney, but this is pretty disturbing. The fact that the context of the speech is a few clicks from you at any given time and still you people choose to disregard fact in favor of a lie that fits your desired reality is shameful.

    1. Who’s paying you? Clearly you aren’t familiar with Reason, at all. Nor did you listen to Obama’s speech.

      “Context” is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Sure, if it’s a 3-word sound byte, it can be taken out of context and made to sound like it means the opposite of what it does. But this is a whole speech, and it exists in the context of Obama’s whole career.

      You are a filthy lying sockpuppet.

      1. He’s an Obamatron. From Seattle. I think we know all we need to know.

        1. “Carry water for Romney” is such a dead giveaway that someone hasn’t read anything Reason lately, though. There’s about a daily article that has to have started with the premise, “How can we attack Romney today?”

          Now maybe Romney deserves all of it, and maybe not, but frankly Reason has published far more effective attacks on Romney, and more of them, than even the Obama campaign has.

          1. This is standard partisan behavior. You can attack TEAM X’s candidate all day but the instant you attack TEAM Y’s candidate, you’re suddenly TEAM X to anyone on TEAM Y, no matter how critical you’ve been of TEAM X. They literally don’t even register that you’ve done it. Attacking the TEAM means you’re on the other TEAM.

            That’s it; that’s how their little minds work. Completely binary.

        2. There are two retarded authors on that blog, not just one, dude. So that’s two Obamatrons from Seattle. Oh, and one’s profile says he has worked in government all his life.

          Now that says all you need to know.

          1. And the other one is…

            *dramatic episiarch hipster music*

            MARY STACK!!!

              1. Someone should seriously thank us for keeping that nut off the streets. Imagine the many babies she’d feast upon without this little blog to fixate on.

                1. If you’ve been successful at getting Mary to obsess over you, you didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think ‘well, it must be because I was just so interesting’. There are a lot of interesting people out there! ‘It must be because I commented more than everybody else.’ Let me tell you something?-there are a whole bunch of frequently commenting people out there.

                  If you were successful at this, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great assist from NutraSweet somewhere in your comments. Warty helped to create this unbelievable Hit Und Run system that we have that allowed you to comment a lot. Somebody like ProL invested in Star Trek jokes and BakedPenguin made links to hot chicks. If you’ve got a reputation–you didn’t build that. Somebody else, like JW, made that happen. The memes on this blog didn’t get invented on their own. Government research created the Internet so that all the people at Hit Und Run could comment and have Mary become utterly obsessed with them.

                  1. Nice.

                    I imagine that there are 2^(national debt) reworkings of this speech that inspire lulz.


                    Say that one was “only in it for the lulz”, who do you vote for: Obama or Romney?

                  2. I am hurt Epi.

            1. The comment is coming from INSIDE THE BLOG!!!

              1. It’s Mary and she’s been drinking!

          2. Oh shit, one of them is from England. And says he’s “left of centre”. Go back to your slavish devotion to the queen, you tea-sucking limey bastard.

            1. When you talk about Mary and slavish devotion to a queen, you never know what kind of sucking you’re going to get.

              1. A thorough gumming, would be my guess.

    2. What context are you talking about?

    3. So, you’re saying that as presented the words are the opposite of what Obama meant, and that you disagree with the words as they are presented?

    4. Hit a nerve, did I? To cover all of the group-think responses here: I read Reason every day. There is a lot of criticism of Rmoney, to be sure, but it’s in the vein of “he isn’t RON PAUL, but VOTE REPUBLICAN!” You aren’t fooling anybody with your phony Registered Independent? pretenses. And, since you need me to bring some facts in from outside your information bubble, in context, Obama is saying that, as a society, we’ve created a wealth building machine that we call INFRASTRUCTURE that not a single business in this country has been created without. “You didn’t build that” refers to the infrastructure, and not, as you all are trying so hard to believe, to the business someone has built from the ground up using those common resources. Furthermore, and if you haven’t ever attempted to start a business of your own you wouldn’t know this, sometimes being in the right place at the right time, knowing the right people, and the luck of the draw play a huge part in the success of your venture. To deny that is to admit to a lifetime of never having tried it yourself. That and your willful ignorance are what is keeping you back, not governmental interference.

      1. You know that thing that’s one level up from the subtext? It’s called the text. You need to pay more attention to it.

        1. +1
          always love it when the writers around here lay some smack in the comments.

        2. Raise your hand if you’ve built a successful business AND the infrastructure it relies on. I’ll wait.

          1. See this? It’s my hand, raised.

            My husband and I have built a successful business (ok, as successful as could reasonably be expected of a business started 9 months before the economy collapsed.)

            And yes, we built the infrastructure. Know how we built it? BY WORKING ALL OUR ADULT LIVES AND PAYING TAXES, YOU FUCKING MORON.

            You think money is a fruit growing on a government planted, government tended, government picked tree? You think government creates capital? You think government produces revenue? You think infrastructure is a gift, a treat, a blessing bestowed upon us by our beneficent overlords?

            Yes, you probably do. And that’s why you’re a fucking moron.

            I’ve been posting on these boards since the days of Joe and I’ve never called another commenter a name but sweet Jesus on a Harley you are one stupid, stupid sumbitch.

          2. I actually have built the electrical grids my internet business relies upon. I work for a private electrical utility, one among the 3,300 special districts here in California, my business sets the electrical rates. It’s called a landowner-voter district. It’s funny to me how people assume ONLY the government provides infrastructure.

      2. Not a single blog post Reason has made has endorsed voting for Romney you fucking nitwit.

        Furthermore, even if the context of “that” was in reference to the roads and bridges, OBAMA IS STILL FUCKING WRONG BECAUSE BUSINESS OWNERS PAY FUCKING TAXES JUST LIKE THE REST OF US.

        Spare us your Obama butt hurt over him saying something so incredibly stupid and go back to HuffPo or DU or wherever the fuck you crawled out of.

      3. Hit a nerve, did I?

        What nerve did you hit, exactly? Because all I see is a hysterical queen screaming about a “context” that doesn’t exist.

        And furthermore, if you have to parse in detail what the President was supposedly trying to say, you’re pretty much admitting that Obama’s communication skills are on par with Dubya’s. Congrats, you stupid phaggots got the Team Blue version of a bargain-basement model president.

      4. Your name is quite fitting for an Obama supporter.

      5. ” we’ve created a wealth building machine that we call INFRASTRUCTURE ”

        I don’t know who “we” are, but COMPANIES can and do build infrastructure for PROFIT. Capital projects are created by companies issuing general obligation bonds, Mello-Roos Act is an example of companies levying taxes.

        In 2007 alone, for profit utility companies, not society, have earned revenues totaling $25.2 billion in California. That’s called single businesses creating water, transit, waste disposal, electricity, airports, harbors, hospitals, telecommunication lines for other businesses. No government is capable of matching the speed and efficiency of private enterprise.

        Seriously, google Local Agency Formation Commissions before ranting about some sort of government-backed securities paying for infrastructure. Unlike government, special districts tailor services to meet local needs, they link costs to benefits, and they actually respond to their constituents.

        Everything the federal government touches turns to crap. Wait, I’m wrong, crap assumes a system that eliminates waste by expelling it, not subsidizing it.

    5. Funny how the alleged God fearing self-ordained righteous of the right wing interpret Biblical passage either strictly or liberally, whichever manner suits their civil political objectives.

      Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour

      I wonder if God is going to buy the argument that since God wasn’t specific about what he meant by neighbor, it was left up to them to pick and choose who they could bear false witness against without violating God’s commandment

    6. Oh, please. “that = roads bridges” doesn’t make it any better.

      You should try reading the whole thing in contact – – – – you don’t succeed because you’re smart … there are a lot of smart people. You don’t succeed because you worked hard … a lot of people work hard. Your success is because of government – teachers, roads, infrastructure, etc. that “other people” built.

      What’s that you say? You paid your taxes, those are your roads infrastructure too, why is your use of them somehow suspect?

      Obama’s message isn’t being missed here – the successful owe society. They didn’t earn their success, they attained it by exploiting the “rest of us” therefore we (actually government) have the right to take what we want from them.

  5. I don’t like Obama’s comments because of the undercurrents of social policy that will inevitably come, but I think that historically we tend to give credit to the individual more than we ought to. Look at the patent system. We credit so many innovators like the Wright brothers and Eli Whitney for their ingenuity, yet they were only one piece in the large scheme of things; they just happened to seek out a government monopoly which involved significant documentation. Or look at Steve Jobs’ legacy. I think he had a good vision, but there’s so much more to Apple’s success than him. How many people know who Bjarne Stroustrup is? He’s improved your life a hell of a lot more than any actor ever will, but he’s a foreigner living in the college-football-cheating hellhole of College Station. Yet I doubt even he would acknowledge his contribution to computing involves more than the inevitable step. I’m not proposing any government intervention, and Obama’s an asshole if he does so, but he isn’t totally wrong.

    The great thing about markets is that you cooperate with people without coercion. Building off others involves initiative, and that’s not nothing. I think that the hard work sentiment of most Americans reflects that. The previous success of others isn’t an invitation to confiscate more of their wealth and trap their initiative in the form of taxes or IP or other government involvement. But we shouldn’t pretend every innovator is a hero on his or her own.

    1. On second thought, my point is actually really petty – I think historically individuals receive to much credit for innovation, and I think a lot of people would agree with that. But the whole day I’ve seen LOL!@Obama memes built around famous inventions, and I think people have been taking this too far to the point of looking ignorant.

      1. You might be right if Obama’s point were your point, but it wasn’t.

        1. You’re right, I built a bit of a strawman there to beat. I just think we overswing with our appreciation for the individual in certain areas of live, invention being one of them. I saw this all the time when I was a patent attorney – the nauseating rhetoric of “genius” and “innovation”, and the disproportionate reward for such.

          1. *life. We beat the asshole team in softball followed by the inevitable celebration, if that isn’t apparent from my grammar and spelling.

            1. And you didn’t beat the asshole softball team by yourself!

              Unless you did, which would be pretty badass.

              1. We beat the asshole softball team in spite of my presence. I guess you could call me the government.

                1. Well, ya know what the constitution says, “From each according to his ability, to each according to their need.”

                  Or was that in the Bible?

                  Whatever. Good job beating those assholes.

          2. Broseph, Broseph, Broseph…….I am sure the thread is dead, so I will probably post this later if I see you on.

            You are leaving one thing out of that. If you have ever tried to forge a new path, build something new, create anything then y ou should know this. It is true you have to build upon what others have built, but you still have to smash your way through a gauntlet of obstacles. The instant people see you about to accomplish anything you face an army of nay-sayers and obstructionists. Success will always be in spite of everyone around you. Envy? Malice? Luddism? I dont know why people are that way, but they are.

            1. Yes, others could have done what Jobs, Edison, Goodyear, Whitney….but they didnt. I can assure you they did what they did in spite of terrible opposition. Those men accomplished things, others didnt. They deserve credit. Extraordinary individuals are the only way that mankind makes progress, and we make progress in spite of ourselves.

            2. I think this may be what you are trying to convey…

              “Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded ? here and there, now and then ? are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.
              This is known as “bad luck.””
              – Robert Heinlein

        2. Exactly. His point was not, “We engage in a bit too much hero worship and ignore what really goes into success.” And surely, if I were Obama, I wouldn’t want people to start thinking that way before an election.

          His point was, “You used roads paid for by tax dollars (yours, too, but no matter), so all your money belongs to us, so we can do whatever we want with it, like dole it out to campaign contributors.”

          1. No argument there. I just don’t like how progress is being mischaracterized in response/jest.

            1. Well, first of all, those people are powerful symbols and figures of the American myth, so even if not totally accurate, they are still the kind of myth that Obama hates, because it embodies individualism in spirit.

              Second, I have to disagree with you in small part, because I have found that one motivated (truly energetic and motivated) individual is worth 10 proles, at least.

              1. Also, out here in the West, a good number of the Interstates follow roads first scraped out of the wilderness by covered wagons and stagecoaches. The origins of the infrastructure are from rugged individuals and crazy entrepreneurs, even if their maintenance and improvement have been worked into the government over time.

    2. college-football-cheating hellhole of College Station.

      I’m no Aggie but lol it’s not that bad up there.

      1. You’d think their record would be better the last few years if they were cheating. There’s an Aggie joke in there somewhere.

        1. They did have Mike Sherman as coach….

        2. What makes you think they’d be any better at cheating than they are at any other non-collie-related activity?

    3. Re: Broseph of Invention,

      Or look at Steve Jobs’ legacy. I think he had a good vision, but there’s so much more to Apple’s success than him. How many people know who Bjarne Stroustrup is?

      He better not be an individual, lest one sins of giving his ingenuity too much credit.

      The great thing about markets is that you cooperate with people without coercion.

      Actually, markets provide information about people’s preferences to entrepreneurs, who can then shift resources to points of higher demand and allow for the coordination of efforts. The result of freely trading with others without coercion is the market, not the other way around. But that should not mean we give credit to anybody’s ingenuity, no sir – we have the patent system. And roadz.

      1. I know how markets work, I was talking about markets as a concept and cooperation as a condition. I’m not sure what that had to do anything.

        Otherwise, you’re turning my argument of “we give individuals too much credit for innovation” into “we shouldn’t give people credit for ingenuity”. That’s not what I said.

    4. “He’s improved your life a hell of a lot more than any actor ever will”

      Not if you’re that little lost girl who got saved by Indiana Jones and his helicopter.

  6. It’s taken Reason some time to get around to responding to this. Maybe they were just gobsmacked and didn’t know what to do.

  7. lol, Obama is such a useless dweeb!

  8. Obama has never actually accomplished anything other than positioning himself, in his entire life. He was practically installed in his political offices by a party machine. It’s no wonder that he believes that others are responsible for his success. They are.

    1. This is pretty much what I’ve been thinking about the whole deal. Obama has unintentionally admitted the secret of his success: other people.

      1. Yes – He’s probably never worked hard at anything in his life. He got into school with affirmative action. He cruised through with mediocre grades (why he won’t release his school records).

        Look at his White House schedule, or the stories about him at Harvard Law Review. He’s the President of the U.S. and a millionaire because…

        1. He got elected and sold a bunch of books.

          Glad to clear that up. Your other claims are lies until you offer some evidence.

          1. What other claims?

            Tell me how great his grades were. Point me to a Harvard Law Review Article he wrote (while the President of the publication). Tell me about a legal case he argued. A business he ran. A bill he sponsored in the Senate…


            1. Nope. Nothing.

        2. Couple points:

          1. Affirmative action doesn’t mean “you get in automatically because you’re a minority”. It may mean it was easier for Obama to get into Occidental and/or transfer to Columbia than it would have been for a white person, but he was still competing with every other minority in the country. If his grades at Occidental had been crap then it’s unlikely Columbia would have admitted him as a transfer student.

          2. If his grades at Columbia had been crap then he wouldn’t have been admitted to Harvard Law.

          3. He graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard Law. That usually takes more than mediocre grades.

    2. Does that make you part of the 37%? Or is Obama’s (alleged) path to success just a rare anomaly?

    3. How To Succeed in Politics Without Really Trying

  9. Servility is a choice.

  10. I want to see that first table compared with economic mobility. I suspect the order would be about the same.

  11. Well, what else is an affirmative action president supposed to think?

  12. To those of you who are successful in politics: you haven’t really done anything. All your papers and pencils and buildings and vehicles were made by private industry. Everything, including your paycheck, was paid for by money forcibly extracted from the people who earned it. You’re not called “public servants” for nothing. Deal with it.

    1. That title seems to have gone out of use for some reason.

  13. No, he’s got it right on.

    1. Your mom’s got it right on.


      1. Niiiice. *high-five* there is nothing like a good “your mom” joke.

        1. Oh hells yes.

          Shit man, nando’s mom is so stoopid she sold her car for gas money. Boom!

    2. Re: Fernando,

      No, he’s got it right on.

      Translation: I’m mediocre, so I take pleasure of sharing in success I did not create by being a collectivist.

  14. The people Obama knows didn’t “get there” without government. They got there by lobbying legislators to regulate their competitors into disadvantage. They gamed an unjust system. They sued their way into success.

    1. Just like the Wild lobbied for Parise and Suter?

      1. Meh. Zachary wanted to play at home. I can’t fault that. I don’t know what Suter’s deal was.

        1. Yeah, I was all ‘meh’ about the Parise/Suter thing. I’d be happy if we got one of ’em but had no high hopes.

          I actually have been hoping we’d get Shane Doan for a while, but word is that he’s out.

          Besides, Pens could use some low expectations for a season; might do ’em some good.

          1. No Beasts of the East this year? We’ll see what your boy Shero does. He’s up to something.

  15. It’s frightening to think we’ve given so much power to someone who…it’s not just that Obama gives the government the credit for my hard work–it’s that he thinks giving the government the credit for my hard work is the ideak.

    Does he think we’re going to like him more because he gives the government the credit for our hard work?

    This is the sort of thinking I look for when I’m doing job interviews–I’d hate to accidentally hire somebody like that to work in my office.

    He’s a bad apple.

  16. Re: Broseph of Invention,

    but I think that historically we tend to give credit to the individual more than we ought to.

    Yes, there are also guarding angels, fairies and genies. Oh, and pixies. Who thinks of the pixies? Huh?

    We credit so many innovators like the Wright brothers and Eli Whitney for their ingenuity,

    God forbid we credit people for being ingenious.

    Look at the patent system […] they were only one piece in the large scheme of things[…]

    We wouldn’t have the wheel if it weren’t for the temporary monopoly! Or Open Source!

    God. Are statists stupid.

    1. Old Trollxican…making stupid look stupider since 2006. Did you see him say anything about ‘not giving credit’ or “angels, fairies or genies”? No, you very well fucking did not. I swear I did not miss you one lick. Go fuck off somewhere where it’s safe to be stupid.

    2. Okay, since you can’t see the point unless it’s spelled out perfectly for you – we give credit to certain individuals more than we ought to. No policy undertones, just a commentary on hero worship and the tendency to elevate figureheads above everyone else. You know, the problem of politicians. Still trying to find where I said we shouldn’t give credit for ingenuity.

      With regard to the patent system – what the fuck are you talking about? I’m against the patent system, and was making the point that the reason we give a disproportionate amount of credit to certain inventors is simply that they enforced patents and documented their work through the patent system. This is a point made in Against Intellectual Monopoly as well as Jeffery Tucker’s speeches against IP. More is being rewarded than ingenuity, and it’s the government’s fault.

      Don’t ever call me a statist, you fucking twat.

  17. The president’s reasoning might be described in the academic literature as one with a “low internal locus of control,”

    As it is no different than blaming providence, or the stars, I would describe it in a much less kind, but more succinct, way.

    1. i give the author much praise for using that term (one popular with sowell, and heck… me)

      in general, one of the major differences between libs and conservatives is their understanding of locus of control

      libertarians tend to have similar locus beliefs to conservatives, not liberals fwiw

      where one believes the (primary) locus of control is, or in some cases where it should be, is a “premise thing”.

      iow one’s conception/beliefs about it are extremely predictive as to where one will come down on the policy issue itself.

  18. Obama’s belief is a radical departure from popular notions about the relationship between individual initiative and success.

    Popular notions? It is a total departure from logic.

    Even if you had people help you along the way, those people could not have come up with the same ideas the entrepreneur or innovator at the same time and then coordinate the efforts to drive that idea, for the simple reason that people cannot read minds! The ONLY way others contribute to one’s ideas is through TRADE – the trade of resources, knowledge and infrastructure. But these are also the result of individual efforts.

    Truly, no invention comes into or from a vacuum, but only the INDIVIDUAL MIND fits the pieces together to make something new. And that is not limited to inventions only: management, finance, entrepreneurship, engineering, art – all are driven by the ingenuity of individual minds.

  19. I have a pretty good job. I think I’m good at what I do. I’m not a slacker, but I’m not a workhorse either.

    I’ve worked with folks in the past who were just as hard-working as me, if not more so, but just aren’t as good at the work we do. By no means am I any kind of superstar; but I’m better than these guys. I had lunch with one of them last week; he’s been unemployed for the last 3.5 months after being laid off. When I left that company I found a job within two weeks.

    Why? Is it because I worked harder in the past or am working any harder in the present? No, not really. I was just lucky enough to be born with a marketable talent to parents who encouraged me to develop it.

    So I’m highly sympathetic to those who credit “luck” or “circumstances” as the primary determinant of success.

    1. Buddy, if you didn’t use the talent you were blessed with, would you have found that new job a mere few weeks after leaving/losing the old one?

      I’ve known talented individuals who, for whatever reason, didn’t apply themselves and they are roughly as successful as less talented individuals who work there asses off.

      1. I’m certainly not suggesting personal agency plays no part in success. Clearly it does. But inborn talent and the circumstances of one’s birth also play huge roles. Had I been born with below-average intelligence to borderline neglectful parents who took no interest in my education…the trajectory of my life would likely not be what it was.

        On the other hand, if I had worked a lot harder in school (and in my past jobs) I would probably be more professionally successful than I am now. Hard work counts; it’s just not the only thing that counts.

        1. Agreed.

  20. Am I the only one who thinks he was talking about the actual building the business is in? When he says “you didn’t build that someone else made that happen” he’s talking about the physical building.

  21. Full quote: “Somebody built roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

    Sounds about right. The entire conservative blogosphere fails in basic language comprehension, once again.

    1. If you’re a successful musician, chances are pretty good you didn’t build your own instrument, either. Does that mean the Gibson guitar company has a blank check claim against Ted Nugent?

      1. fwiw, many guitarists HAVE and DO praise their axe as instrumental (pun intended) to their success.

        the documentary “it might get loud” (or something similar to that name) is awesome and has great interviews with page, jack white, and the edge.

        the edge, fwiw , credits his digital delays.

        heck, echo and the bunnymen narmed their frigging band after theirs

      2. It’s along the lines of saying I owe my phone company more because I used their lines to make the calls that landed me a better job.

        My personal cost for US postage needs to go up because I used the USPS to mail my resume. You owe HP more money because you wouldn’t have been able to print that resume without a printer.

        You used Microsoft Outlook to email your resume-time to cut a check to Microsoft.

        Hell, you owe Chevron some money because it was their gas in the car that brought you to the interview and brings you to your new job everyday.

        Your ISP deserves more money because you used their lines to submit a profitable stock trade.

    2. Then Obama should have said “those”. He fails in basic language use.

      1. It’s odd that this is the defense put up for Obama, given that his genuflecting toadies are always going on about how smart he is.

  22. one of the big problems with govt/civil service jobs is that (in many, if not most cases and in stark contrast to most private industry jobs) working harder/better is often not going to help you at all, and in some cases, it’s disincentivized

    this of course results in “civil service mentality” where many people feel very entitled to their pay/benefits and will really push the boundaries of “retired on duty”, doing the bare minimum on nearly any task

    to SOME extent, there is reward for hard work, but nothing like private industry (in general)

    and again, in some cases, hard work leads to worse results for the public worker

    1. But at least you get to execute civilians and brag about your “good shoot” in the pigpen.

  23. If you’re going to believe in superstitious mumbo-jumbo like luck, you may as well believe that good luck can be tainted by bad, and that people who fail can poison those who succeed.

    If course, an individual’s failure can poison another individual’s success, but it has more to do with people’s decisions to associate themselves with failure than some garbage like “luck.”

  24. Obama is ‘out-of-sync’ period.

  25. This is one of the stupidest posts on Hit Run ever.

    “When we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”

    Yeah, way different from what Americans think.

  26. “Out of context”. Bah. So what you Obama-bots are saying is that Obama’s speech is no worse than Elizabeth Pocahontas Warren’s? Some comfort, that. It amounts to the same argument: all your successes are belong to us! You are nothing but an expendable resource belonging to the Glorious Collective.

    Frame it any fucking way you want to. I’m not on board.

    1. The liberals on facebook are wildly defensive about this. They point out rightly that the “that” in Obama’s speech was government built things not the businesses themselves. But that doesn’t mean what they think it does. Taken as a whole Obama is saying “sure you built you business. But you wouldn’t have a business without all of these government goodies. And you didn’t build those.” Thus, you wouldn’t have a business without the government and effectively the government has a right to whatever share or your business it deems fit. What Obama actually said is in many ways worse than crudely saying “you didn’t build that”.

      1. Wildly defensive because it is an indefensible position. I think Obama’s statement reveals exactly who he is, what he thinks, and is also a good generalization of the modern left. Confiscate wealth, consolidate power, marginalize the opposition. They are completely in thrall to the siren song of power for the greater good.

      2. That’s how I see it. If we’re going to talk “context”, then let’s consider the message Obama was trying to send with the speech as a whole. He was trying to counter the argument that his proposed tax increases would rob people of wealth they had created; his argument is that “we” created it and therefore it belongs to “us”.

        I don’t agree that the “that” refers to the roads and bridges; as Joe R pointed out upthread wouldn’t he have said “those” if he was referring to the roads and bridges?

      3. OK, maybe my english is a little bit rusty, but “that” is the direct object of “If you’ve got a business”. The full statement of his was, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” Generally speaking, a direct object refers to what comes immediately before it not a statement prior to the one in which it lies. My point is that in order to take their position, you basically have to violate the rules of proper English. It also ignores the fact that taxpayers (who, the as yet but soon to be successful business man is part of, created the very roads, etc that created his success). That said, I agree with you that regardless of how it was intended, it sucks.

        1. My point is that in order to take their position, you basically have to violate the rules of proper English.

          This is 100% true, of course. But these are people who routinely violate the Constitution. What’re a few grammar rules to them?

  27. When you get right down to it, Obama and his defenders have it exactly backwards.

    The private sector doesn’t depend on the government nearly as much as the government depends on the private sector. The government does nothing, nothing at all, that isn’t paid for entirely by the private sector. Period, full stop.

    To our Ruling Class and their lickspittle lackeys, though, its Everything for the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.

    1. Everything for the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State

      In other words, National Socialism.

    2. “The government does nothing, nothing at all, that isn’t paid for entirely by the private sector. Period, full stop”


      The very first dollar that government ever spent on anything came from a tax on wealth that had already been created by the private sector. The same is true for the last dollar government has spent and every single one in between.

  28. What if Obama changed from “Yes we can” in 2008 to “no you didn’t” in 2012?

  29. Oh, for fuck’s sake…

    LET ME BE PERFECTLY CLEAR. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

    It’s obvious that some rookie speech writer simply misplaced the style guide. Are we all on the same page now?

  30. While the study in question here is indeed very interesting in showing differences in attitude there is once very important factor missing.

    How does one define “success”

    See when I look at the question here is how I evaluate it.

    Hard work, Luck, and Connections between them represent a minimum component of success. That is you would require at least 1 of the 3 and 2 would be better in order to be successful. However the way in which they work produce very different outcomes.

    Hard Work is the most difficult way to become extremely rich/powerful/famous/important (whatever your goal is) but it does guarantee you a certain minimum level of success that is just not present if you are relying solely on luck or connections. With them while it is possible to end up living in a trailer park they offer a much larger chance of landing you in a corner office with a 9 digit bank balance.

    In the end I would still say that Hard Work is the most important because it is the one thing you can completely control for while luck and contacts ebb and flow around you but for some whose idea of success is being Paris Hilton I can easily see how they would consider luck and contacts to be more important.

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