So who really builds America's businesses? Is it entrepreneurs? Or is it the government?
The real answer is neither, and I'll get to that in a moment.
The whole issue of "who built that" blew up when Fox News and a bunch of Republican bloggers decided to twist one of President Obama's quotes. Here's what he actually said:
"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet."Let this be a lesson to all writers out there about the danger of using pronouns. Rephrase your words to avoid unfocused pronouns if you want to avoid this type of problem. From the context of the president's speech, it's pretty clear that President Obama was referencing "this unbelievable American system" and "roads and bridges" when he said that you didn't build "that." When reporting on the speech, the president's opponents dropped those preceding sentences, though, to make it appear that the president instead was referencing "you've got a business" when he said "you didn't build that."
Since this incident first blew up last month, the president's supporters have counter-attacked by pointing out every instance when someone hitting the president over this line accepted or benefited from some government program. When the Republicans planned a "We Build It" theme for their convention, writers noted that the Republicans' schedule speaker, Maryland entrepreneur Sher Valenzuela, actually built her business using $17 million in government loans and contracts.
But I don't care if someone finds an entrepreneur who started a business that accepted no government loans and no government contracts. I don't even care if that business doesn't use the Internet or any other government-funded or supported technology. No matter how independent an entrepreneur might be, there is no business on Earth that was built solely by its owner.
That's because owners don't build businesses. Customers do.
No business owner ever made a dime of income without customers. Banks might give you loans. Investors might hand you money in exchange for shares of the company. But no one makes any income if customers don't spend.
When you go out shopping, you're building businesses with your dollars. You are deciding, with your spending, which businesses will be able to pay their bills, hire new workers, donate money to their communities, and have enough money left over after expenses to deliver profits to their owners. Without people like you spending money, businesses won't have the income to pay those bills, hire new workers, donate to worthy causes, or give their owners any profit. Without customers, no businesses get built - and I don't care how their owners vote.
That's why it steams me to hear Republicans trot out business owners such as Valenzuela who take credit for their business' success. Smart business owners give credit where it's really due - to their customers.
I don't want to spend my money to build a business owned by someone who believes he's entitled to my cash. I want to spend my money building up business owners who take care of my needs - who deliver solid value in return for my dollars. I want to build businesses run by people who believe in customer service.
People who practice great customer service don't think short-term. They take a long view, starting from before a potential customer even thinks about walking into their stores. Great business owners know that not only must they provide something that meets their customers' needs, but that their customers also must feel comfortable and secure enough to make that purchase.
If you're business owner who really sees the long view, you know that you won't be able to attract customers when they're worried about losing their jobs. Or not being able to afford anything after paying their bills. Or when people can't get to your store because the local government cut its budget and won't pay to plow the streets in winter, repair them in the spring, or run enough buses throughout the year. You know that the financial health of your entire community determines how many customers will walk through your door.
So that's why you pay a living wage to your employees. That's why you give to the local public schools. That's why you pay your taxes, and don't look for every obscure loophole to get out of paying a fair share.
And that's why when some selfish business owner down the block starts yapping about how he built his own business thanyouverymuch, you sigh and tell the staff to get ready. Because that selfish loudmouth just showed how little he thinks about his customers. Which means that, maybe, a few of them might decide to spend their money to build your business instead.
Originally published at Sensible Talk