When I first thought of writing “Who Built That,” I must admit I was still in Angry Cable TV Lady mode.
In 2010, Vice President Joe Biden had boasted that “every single great idea that has marked the 21st century, the 20th century and the 19th century has required government vision and government incentive.” Yes, he really did say “every.” My poor family heard me rant about this for weeks.
That same year, President Obama opined that the proper role of private entrepreneurs was to fulfill “the core responsibilities of the financial system to help grow our economy” — as opposed to fulfilling their own happiness, pursuing their own personal and professional ambitions or providing for their own families. Next, Obama argued that “at a certain point, you have made enough money.” Then, in the fall of 2012, Republicans got their electoral butts kicked. How could this happen after Obama got caught on the campaign trail openly denigrating American entrepreneurs? Let me remind you of what he said: “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”…
This government-built-that version of America is anathema to how our Founding Fathers envisioned, pioneered, practiced and enshrined the “progress of science and useful arts” in Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, of the Constitution. They understood that the ability of brilliant, ambitious individuals to reap private rewards for inventions and improvements benefited the public good. From colonial times through the 19th century Age of Progress, our political leaders and judiciary supported the most generous protections for entrepreneurial patent holders. Mainstream culture celebrated rags-to-riches capitalists.
“Profit,” however, is now treated as a profanity in today’s class-warfare-poisoned discourse. Those who seek financial enrichment for the fruits of their labor and creativity are cast as greedy villains, selfish barons and rapacious beasts — and so are the wealthy investors who support them. During the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign, candidates and operatives in both political parties derided private equity and venture capitalism as “vulture capitalism.” President Obama routinely indicted “millionaires and billionaires” as public enemies (before jetting off to raise money from them in Hollywood and Manhattan).
Class-warfare attacks continue to proliferate in Washington and Hollywood — even as private venture capital has grown from “the pilot light of American industry” to its “roaring glass furnace,” as San Francisco financier Thomas Perkins put it. These “vultures” are visionaries whose private funds have nurtured job-creating powerhouses — including many cutting-edge companies in the knowledge industry used by “progressive” propagandists to disseminate their anticapitalist message to the masses.
Apple, Intel and Microsoft? Venture capital helped fund that.
Private venture-financed firms are the center of the nation’s most innovative sectors: biotechnology, computer services, industrial services and semiconductor industries. In fact, America’s much-maligned venture capitalists “create whole new industries and seed fledgling companies that later dominate those industries.” From San Francisco venture capitalist Tom Perkins’s $100,000 investment in a few biochemists came Genentech — the multibillion-dollar biotech giant that produced blockbuster, life-saving drugs including Herceptin (breast cancer); Rituxin (non-Hodgkins lymphoma and rheumatoid arthritis); and Avastin (for several types of cancer).
Plenty of general-interest books have been written about U.S. inventions and inventors. But few of these history lessons emphasize the unique ingredients that created our country’s fertile climate for technological progress and entrepreneurship. Foremost among these are profit motive, intellectual property rights, individual risk-taking, venture capital, our unique patent system, and an unwavering belief in American exceptionalism. My mission for this book, which I wrote for my kids and yours, is to fight the wealth shamers with enlightenment and inspiration. “Who Built That” is a treasury of stories about my favorite American heroes of the 1 percent. They got rich, made other people richer, and made the world a safer, brighter, more comfortable and happier place to live. My personal obsession has always been with the mundane things we take for granted. That’s why I picked the makers of ordinary, everyday items that make modern life modern — toilet paper, the bottle cap, glass bottles, the disposable razor, root beer, wire rope, the alternating current (AC) motor, airconditioning, and durable flashlights.
I call the heroes of “Who Built That” “tinkerpreneurs.” These underappreciated inventors and innovators of mundane things changed the world by successfully commercializing their ideas and creating products, companies, jobs and untold opportunities that endure today. They enlisted some of the nation’s very first venture capitalists — private profit-seekers, not government funders — to help them succeed. They secured patents, met payroll, made lots of money, and bettered the lives of their countrymen while bettering their own. These tireless capitalists devoted their lives to improving their designs and products. They were self-made and largely self-taught.
No federal Department of Innovation is responsible for the tinkerpreneurs’ success. No Ten-Point White House Action Plan for Progress can lay claim to the boundless synergies of these profit-earning capitalists. Here is the marvel we take for granted: The concentric circles of American innovation in the free marketplace are infinite. This miracle repeats itself millions of times a day through the voluntary interactions, exchanges and business partnerships of creative Americans and their clients, customers, and consumers. I’ll show you how just a small handful of tinkerpreneurs profoundly revolutionized and improved every aspect of our lives — from the bathroom to the kitchen to the office, to the food and drinks we consume, and the medicines and medical devices that prolong our lives.
After delving into the stories of these awe-inspiring American makers and risk-takers, I know, dear readers, that you will agree: We owe them, not the other way around.
• Michelle Malkin is the author of “Who Built That: Awe-Inspiring Stories of American Tinkerpreneurs.” Excerpts from her book are shared here.