Leave aside the politics and the specific example of a factory owner for a minute—the larger point Elizabeth Warren is making, that the success we enjoy is built on foundations others have helped to lay, is a deeply true one. It’s especially true of the things we often take for granted, like reliable infrastructure, public safety, etc. In human history, those were all hard-won achievements that still are not shared by the majority of people in the world.
It’s also true of things beyond just economic or political life. Thank your parents if you were raised well and turned out all right. Thank your teachers if they inspired you to learn something you didn’t know before. Thank your friends for making sure you aren’t alone in the world. Thank the older mentor who was there when you were younger to teach you about life.
A good society is one where this process happens almost invisibly, naturally. Where it’s simply assumed, and not argued, that we all have responsibilities we owe each other.
For me this quote is a reminder to be thankful for the things I have been given, and to make sure that I pass along those blessings to those who will come after me.
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there - good for you.But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads that the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory…Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea - God bless! Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take of hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”
— Elizabeth Warren