Monday, July 23, 2012

"Effect of Jon Stewart" -- a reply to Tango

(Non-sports post.)

Tango quotes Jon Stewart arguing that Mitt Romney is "speaking out of both sides of his mouth," by criticizing Obama while saying much the same thing:

Romney’s own remarks to Olympians, offered during the opening ceremonies for the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City that Romney led, hewed closely to Obama’s suggestion that success is communal.

“You Olympians, however, know you didn’t get here solely on your own power. For most of you, loving parents, sisters or brothers encouraged your hopes,” he said after praising the competitors in footage unearthed by NBC News. “Coaches guided, communities built venues in order to organize competitions. All Olympians stand on the shoulders of those who lifted them. We’ve already cheered the Olympians, let’s also cheer the parents, coaches and communities.”

Obama, speaking in Roanoke, Va., on July 13, came to a similar rhetorical conclusion.

“Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.… If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help,” Obama said. “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.”

That quote was from Stewart.  This one is from Tango:

"I’m sure some political hack is going to explain the nuance that the two aren’t comparable, and explain it in a way that no one is going to believe him, but he says it loud, so he thinks people are listening."

Well, I'm not sure I'm a political hack, but I'll try it anyway.  (Tango didn't open his post to comments, which is why I'm doing it here.)

The difference between the two cases is that, for the Olympian, most of the help came from people who were close to the athlete personally, didn't get paid, and performed actions that very specifically benefited him or athletes similar to him.

For the businessman, most of the help came from strangers, who got paid, and performed actions (building roads) that benefited almost everybody.

The businessman depended on communal resources and paid help.  The Olympian, as Romney describes him, depended on unpaid resources targeted directly to him, and benevolent unpaid help.

It is indeed true that everything we do is dependent on the work of others.  In business, those others get paid.  I don't have the cite right now, but I remember reading that corporate profits average 8 percent of sales.  Suppose a company builds a widget.  Obama is correct -- somebody else made that happen.  Many somebodies.  Other people built trucks, and roads, and widget stores, and widget design software, and fork lifts.  Other people created a police force to apprehend those who try to hijack the company's widget trucks. 

And that's why all those people get 92 percent of the widgets.  

The company pays, through salaries and taxes and purchases, for the "somebody else [who] made that happen".  By a large margin -- 11 for the others, and 1 for them. 

On the other hand, I think we'd agree that "loving parents, sisters or brothers" didn't get paid.  I'd imagine that most coaches are volunteers, at least at low levels.  And communities usually ensure that the best Olympic prospects get better-than-average access to the venues they built -- in effect, an Olympian's neighbors subsidize him or her directly.  I'm sure Sidney Crosby got more game time and practice time than lesser players in his hometown ... but Wal-Mart never got its own exclusive lanes on the Interstates.

My view -- and presumably Obama's and Romney's too -- is that if you get something, you should give something back in return.  The widget company gives back with money.  The Olympian, on the other hand, cannot (and should not). He has to pay with love, and appreciation, and recognition, and respect for the people who helped him without any benefit to themselves other than good will.

We understand this intuitively already.  When Dad wakes up at 5 am every day to drive us to the rink, we appreciate it forever, and never forget his sacrifice, and say we couldn't have done it without him, and give him the puck from our first NHL goal.

When Acme Taxi drives us to the arena, we don't. 

That's the difference.  


At Tuesday, July 24, 2012 10:15:00 AM, Anonymous David said...

If the justification is that business owners pay for the outside contributors that contribute to their success, then that's exactly why those who benefit most from common resources (e.g. roads) should shoulder the larger tax burden...

At Tuesday, July 24, 2012 10:42:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

well done, good post. i think its cool to bring up this past speech from romney and have it part of the discussion. but it was never the issue (in my view) with obama's speech that businesses and rich people should contribute NOTHING back to society because they did it all on their own. clearly they should and clearly they do. i don't know any businessman that things otherwise. the debate is over whether businesses and rich people need to pay more than they already do. its a nuanced debate and obama's speech framed it in a way to suggest that they (businesses and rich people) pay nothing, do not acknowledge the benefits and assistance they receive, and he (obama) is finally the first politician to recognize this and propose an appropriate remedy.

maybe rich people and businesses should be paying more in taxes. obama's condescending and tone deaf speech does not make believe they should.

At Tuesday, July 24, 2012 12:21:00 PM, Anonymous Alex said...

It may be true that Olympians get better access to training venues, but that isn't equivalent to WalMart not having its own freeway lane. They don't build freeways for WalMart and they don't build stadiums for Olympians to train in. But they would probably give preference to an off-ramp at a location that WalMart wants to build at in the same way they'll let an Olympian use the track at the local college football stadium.

If it were true that Olympians got to where they were based only on the love and support of their families, the distinction might be true. However, Olympians get to their level of achievement with the help of many people, some of which are certainly paid. I doubt that there are a lot of pro bono Olympic-level sprint or swim coaches out there. An article I read about the Razor swim suits from a couple years back said that it took a number of people just to get someone into the suit - presumably they were paid either by the swimmer or the suit manufacturer.

Trying to make a divide between sports and business is impossible because sports is a business. Olympians may not have the 'teams' around them (personal trainers, cooks, accountants, etc) that NBA or NFL stars do, but that's because they aren't paid as much in general. I'm sure that the more high-profile athletes, like Michael Phelps or the women's soccer team, have plenty of paid help around.


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