President Obama's critics had a field day when he made a speech a couple of weeks ago with the admittedly ill-timed remark "You didn't build that." Of course, he was specifically referring to infrastructure such as roads, sewer and water systems and bridges for which government maintained responsibility, but it sounded as though he was specifically referring to businesses.
But his ultimate point was correct -- in more ways than he knew.
A lot of business owners complained that the president was pooh-poohing their hard work with that clause, although if you heard the entire speech in context you would realize that he was doing nothing of the kind. Rather, he was criticizing the sense of entitlement and freedom from responsibility that they seemed to embody.
The big issue, however, is that those who run businesses do not operate in a vacuum.
Say if you always wanted to own your own business, you put a plan into place and ultimately become successful. Nothing wrong with that -- but here's where you do owe more to people than you may realize.
First, you had to get the education from somewhere, either in college (which someone had to pay for) or through direct mentoring, so someone had to show you the ropes. Then, you needed to get capital for financing, mostly likely through a bank but also perhaps through some program, whether private or public. Then, you had to deal with suppliers.
And -- more importantly -- you had to build a customer base, for without customers all your hard work would go for naught. (I'm probably missing some steps here, but you get my drift.)
Also, if you're a Christian you have to understand that God ultimately gave you these things and that your business, but not just that, exists ultimately to glorify Him. He requires you to treat your customers and clients with equity and justice, giving them good value for what they're paying and give your employees a fair wage or salary.
One of the major dysfunctions in our economic culture is that too often we focus exclusively on the bottom line and cutting costs, forgetting that our "investments," whether in taxes or people, represent the lifeblood of our economy. I sometimes think of Jesus' parable of the talents, his point being that we are but stewards of God's created order, and if we simply hold on to what we have because we're afraid of losing it, down we'll do so anyway.
Basically, being in business is not simply about making money, although that's certainly necessary. Rather, it's part of a social contract for which we all need to take responsibility.