Elizabeth Warren “You Didn’t Build That” Speech

1 You Didn't Build That On Your Own Speech
2 George Lakoff
3 References

You Didn't Build That On Your Own Speech

Warren gained widespread attention[1] when a video was released in which Warren proclaimed an almost perfect theory[2] of why redistribution of wealth must be government policy:

“I hear all this, you know, ‘Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever,’” she said. “No. 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 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, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.

“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 a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

Warren and her husband, who have a combined net worth of approximately $15 million and a combined annual income (as of 2011) of almost $1 million, spent almost their entire careers at tax-exempt educational institutions which do not pay any taxes.[3]

George Lakoff

Elizabeth Warren’s Factory Owner speech closely followed the narrative of George Lakoff[4], a progressive linguistics activist and Professor at Berkeley. Like Warren[5], Lakoff was one of the academics who helped frame[6] how the Occupy Wall Street movement presented itself. Lakoff’s writings and theories[7] seek to transform progressive politics and he is a frequent speaker[8] on how progressives can reframe the political debate.

Lakoff developed a linguistic narrative that progressives needed to counter conservatives by focusing on the role of government in enabling individual success, a narrative in which no person became successful[9] on his or her own:

Nobody makes a dollar in this country in business without using the common wealth…. The idea that there’s a self-made man, that’s there’s a self-made millionaire is false, it is absolutely false, and that is the thing that Obama missed…. Without this you don’t have those roads, you don’t have that internet, you don’t have the banking system, etc.

Lakoff framed the issue[10] in a publication several years ago, in a manner very close substantively and linguistically to Warren’s formulation (emphasis added):

There is no such thing as a self-made man. Every businessman has used the vast American infrastructure, which the taxpayers paid for, to make his money. He did not make his money alone. He used taxpayer infrastructure. He got rich on what other taxpayers had paid for: the banking system, the Federal Reserve, the Treasury and Commerce Departments, and the judicial system, where nine-tenths of cases involve corporate law. These taxpayer investments support companies and wealthy investors. There are no self-made men! The wealthy have gotten rich using what previous taxpayers  have paid for. They owe the taxpayers of this country a great deal and should be paying it back.

In March 2012 a diarist at Daily Kos[11] noted the similarity of Warren’s famous factory owner speech and Lakoff’s formulation:

This passage and the argument surrounding it sound extremely similar to something we’ve been hearing recently and for the first time in a long time (and this book came out in 2004)…


  1. ^Class Warfare, Elizabeth Warren StyleMemeorandum, Sept. 22, 2011, 1:15 PM
  2. ^ Steve Bennen, The Underlying Social ContractWashington Monthly, Sept. 21, 2011
  3. ^ William A. Jacobson, Elizabeth Warren: Everything you have belongs to usLegal Insurrection, Sept. 22, 2011
  4. ^ UC Berkeley, George Lakoff bioUC Berkeley Website, Jan. 22, 2013
  5. ^ Michael Ono, Elizabeth Warren Takes Intellectual Credit for Occupy Wall StreetABC News, Oct. 26, 2011
  6. ^ George Lakoff, by George LakoffOccupy Writers, Exact Date of Publication Unknown
  7. ^ Zombie, The Little Blue Book: Quotations From Chairman LakoffPJ Media, Jul. 9, 2012
  8. ^ George Lakoff, Search ResultsYouTube, Jan. 22, 2013
  9. ^ Legal Insurrection YouTube Channel, George Lakoff - No One Got Rich On Their OwnYouTube, Jul. 25, 2012
  10. ^ Panacea Paola, How Elizabeth Warren Relates to George Lakoff and Progressive NationalismDaily Kos, Mar. 25, 2012
  11. ^ Panacea Paola, How Elizabeth Warren Relates to George Lakoff and Progressive NationalismDaily Kos, Mar. 25, 2012
Last Updated: October 29th, 2019