Virginia Postrel observes that the President’s “you didn’t build that” remark appears to have legs and suggests an explanation:
Three weeks later, Obama’s comment is still a big deal.
Although his supporters pooh-pooh the controversy, claiming the statement has been taken out of context and that he was referring only to public infrastructure, the full video isn’t reassuring. Whatever the meaning of “that” was, the president on the whole was clearly trying to take business owners down a peg. He was dissing their accomplishments. As my Bloomberg View colleague Josh Barro has written, “You don’t have to make over $250,000 a year to be annoyed when the president mocks people for taking credit for their achievements.”
The president’s sermon struck a nerve in part because it marked a sharp departure from the traditional Democratic criticism of financiers and big corporations, instead hectoring the people who own dry cleaners and nail salons, car repair shops and restaurants — Main Street, not Wall Street. (Obama did work in a swipe at Internet businesses.) The president didn’t simply argue for higher taxes as a measure of fiscal responsibility or egalitarian fairness. He went after bourgeois dignity.
She goes on to explain how a cultural change, “bourgeois dignity”, is largely responsible for the enormous explosion of economic growth in the Western world that’s transpired over the last several hundred years.
I honestly don’t think that President Obama was thinking about small businesses at all when he made his remark. I genuinely believe that when Washington politicians, Republicans or Democrats, talk about policy it should always be understood that they’re talking about big businesses rather than small ones or the new businesses that are responsible for most new jobs.
More jobs? More growth? Lower taxes? Bailout? Reduce regulations? They mean big businesses. One example of this that stays with me from twenty years ago was Hillary Clinton’s response when interviewed about the healthcare reform she was developing and asked about the effects that what she was proposing would have on small businesses. It was the remark that lost my vote for her irrevocably: “I can’t be concerned about what could happen to a handful of marginal businesses”.
Look at the track record. Big businesses have gotten bigger. The rate of new business formation slowed. Big businesses have trimmed their payrolls by millions of workers. If that’s the plan, it’s working.