OK

This is rather late for another view on the "you didn't build that" discussion, but I haven't seen anyone else make this particular point so I suppose I will.

Sometimes, a line of attack will come along that is not only staggeringly stupid, but staggeringly stupid in multiple independent ways at once, and when this happens it can be difficult to cover all the ways in which it is wrong. We might instead fall into the trap of latching onto the biggest error and drive that home, while failing to adequately address the other errors.

Case in point, Mitt Romney's attack on Obama's "you didn't build that" line. All the discussion I've seen has been about the very true point that Romney is flat out lying about what Obama was talking about. But I haven't seen anyone point out that there's another, also huge flaw in Romney's attack, which is that even if Obama had said what Romney claims, Obama would still be right.

Let's call it an "argument by counterfactual non-sequiteur", an argument of the form "my cookies are delicious because the moon is made of cheese". When faced with an argument like this, we might be immediately tempted to point out that the moon is not made of cheese, and get lost in a huge argument about that, so that we end up not pointing out that even if it were, that still says nothing about the quality of your cookies.

Because of course, what Barack Obama did not say but Romney claims he did, was in fact also true: business owners and entrepreneurs did not in fact build their own businesses, not by any usual understanding of the word "build". They didn't build the buildings where their business keeps office. They didn't make the desks or chairs or computers. They certainly didn't create or educate the human beings who populate those offices or use those desks and chairs and computers. Even if it's a homeschooled family business, or a carpentry or architecture or construction or computer manufacturer, at most they would have "built" one or two components on their own, nowhere near enough to actually make "the business".
Instead, where does all that stuff come from? Same as the roads and bridges: from other people, other businesses, and from various government programs.
A business, then, is really just a collection of pre-existing materials put together in a certain way to fulfill a certain purpose, and for the owners or founders of the business to claim that they "built it on their own" makes as little sense as planting a garden and then declaring that you have created Nature from nothing.

In fact, the more I think about, the more I think there's really no sensible distinction between what Obama said about roads and bridges, and what Romney is claiming he said about businesses at all. All those businesses not only take advantage of those roads and bridges, those roads and bridges (and education systems and every other aspect of the nation's infrastructure) should be viewed as being fundamentally a part of the business, just as much as the building the offices are housed in and the people who work there. Without them, there is no business. And the business owners certainly didn't build that stuff themselves.

I idly imagine myself on Fox News (never gonna happen and I wouldn't ever want it to), arguing this point to Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity, asking them if they think they have a great responsibility for having built their shows, and when they vigorously assert that they do, to reply "Wrong! You didn't build this, Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes did. They're the business owners, you're just an interchangeable employee who contributes nothing, while they deserve full credit for everything that's done here. And that's your logic, not mine."

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