A popular misconception we’re often confronted with is the idea that successful business people somehow made it through their own hard work, graft and smarts. While it can take immense perseverance, skill and acumen to build business empires, it is a fallacy to believe that ultimate success is down to the individual entrepreneur. Yes they may be the important component, but a lone effort it certainly is not. Maybe one can better think of them as the star strikers in football – great show and talent but completely useless without the backup of mid-fielders, defenders, trainers, coaches, managers, family, promoters, ad-men, agents, supporters and so on.
Popular films like the Iron Man series portray a fantasy world where a supremely gifted and arrogant engineer single-handedly builds a complete semi-autonomous robot exoskeleton with over-unity power source. Anyone with an actual real-world technical background (or half a brain) would tell you that in reality he’d have needed a team of ten to write and test the code for the control mechanism of the little finger on the left-hand glove.
So the team of scientists, engineers and project managers would need to be absolutely massive. And who would have trained them? Did Robert Downey Jr. recruit a bunch of uneducated kids and teach them maths, physics, computing, etc, from scratch? Not likely especially given the amount of time he spends partying and getting pissed. No he did it on the back of the education system of multiple countries (engineers move around). Who pays for that education? The public does, either through taxes or fees, both of which require people to earn something in order to pay. And then Tony Stark made his fortune selling weapons to Uncle Sam and other military forces, all of whom are for a large part funded by tax payers money.
Looking at the real world, you can take examples like Microsoft and Oracle and start to dig into how they made their money. A great deal of it was from the sale of licenses to government organizations: schools, local government, civil service, defence, etc. Beyond that these business rely on the infrastructure provided in the countries where they are based. Roads, railways, airports, water, electricity, police forces, emergency services, tax system, law courts, the list is long. All these things have to be paid for. And the taxes a benefiting company pays are also crucial.
But hardly a day goes by where we do not hear about how little some such multinational pays in tax by using some kind of smoke and mirrors trickery of holding companies, secret tax deals with foreign countries, charity status and Caribbean islands. In their defence they claim that they are entitled to this and that they are such a massive source of wealth generation that they should be exempt even from the guilt tax that may befall them.
People often struggle to understand the interconnectedness of the world. That there is no such thing as some genius pure producer churning out untold wealth, to which we must lie under, mouths open, ready to lap up the milk of the trickle down economic model. Duped or corrupt politicians provide incentives to attract multinationals, to breed star über-entrepreneurs, who will turn the economy around by their sheer will power. No it does not happen like that, no matter what the lying or deluded Neoliberals will tell you. These profitable multinationals consume infrastructure, education, water, electricity, security and customers, all of which are locked in a mutually dependent relationship with each other. A successful and fair government keeps all aspects in balance, recognizing that no one business entity can exist in isolation, that no one business, organization or group of people is the single key.
And it is an insane idea to decouple your business strategy with that of social responsibility, also known as generating consumers and creating the generation of skilled employees. Businesses reliant on domestic markets embroiled in savage down sizing ironically must hope that other businesses will be taking on well paid staff, or if international, are always on that external search for “new” markets.
So it was a great satisfaction to see the quote from Elizabeth Warren that is doing the rounds on social media. As ever I remain amazed that someone as intelligent and sincere is still permitted to operate in US politics.