Can anyone explain to me why the president is so persistently angry at successful people?
In 1982, I essentially started with nothing when I graduated with average grades from UCLA. Through subsequent perseverance, risk, tenacity and hard work, I've managed to secure a vilified place in Barack Obama's definition of the upper class.
Back in my undergrad days, not unlike many of my less-than-mature male classmates, I spent too much time chasing coeds and quaffing cheap beer, and too little time hitting the books. Fortunately, soon after graduating without distinction, I had a head on collision with ambition and ever since have had a love affair with hard work and the rewards it can bring.
Soon after entering the workforce, it didn't take long to discover that current and future employers, not to mention myself, would be far better served if I became my own boss. Having to ask my superior when I could go to lunch or if I could extend my lunch hour didn't agree with my personality, disposition or general aversion to subordination.
So at age 25, I convinced a successful friend, 20 years my senior, to back me on building a seven-unit apartment in Santa Monica, Calif. In the beginning, I really didn't know what I was doing but my smooth tongue, quick-study attributes and will to succeed provided jet fuel for a budding enterprise. What started as a one-off apartment building quickly evolved into multiple properties culminating in the development of a 126-unit apartment building, which we still own today.
By 1990 at the age of 31, I still had lousy cash flow but managed to create a net worth in excess of a $1 million. Twenty years ago, before 20-something Internet billionaires became commonplace, a two comma net worth at 30 was an achievement. Unfortunately, as quick as I reached seven-digit status, my world began to crumble. It was 1991 and the country went into recession and Southern California real estate was in a freefall. There was actually a joke making the rounds that really illustrated my plight:
"Strolling down the street, two women crossed the path of a talking frog who announced his ability to transform into a real estate developer upon being kissed. One of the women picked up the frog and put it in her pocket sans smooch. Upon her friend's curious query, the 'frognapper' crisply stated that a talking frog must be worth more than a Southern California developer."
Rags to riches to rags in about a half a decade. A new baby (entering NYU this week) added to the deep stress and the deep debt that began to mount.
Fast forward a couple years: To the rescue came my sister with an idea for a new business to make themed board games. With nothing to lose, I departed Los Angeles with a wife and toddler in tow and moved in with my in-laws in San Diego. Slowly but surely, the 80-hour workweeks began to pay dividends. What started as small family enterprise with my sisters and one outsider began to grow. One million in sales the first year became three in the second and doubling again in the third. One employee became two, then five and so on. Our business became bankable, providing we would agree to take survival-only wages and give personal guarantees. Paying off real estate debt would have to wait but I could at least feed my family and move out from my in-laws.
Today, that business employs 35 people and enjoys millions in annual sales. While we're profitable most years and have been in business for 16, the bank still requires personal guarantees on our lines of credit, so if our fortunes change, I'm still at risk of giving it all back and more.
In addition to this particular business, I've since restarted a real estate development business and started with my brother and wife a health insurance brokerage business selling mostly Health Savings Accounts (yes, I have strong opinions about ObamaCare).
All the while, the government enjoys the upside of my risk taking and none of the downside. With Obama's tax increases on the "well off," as a California resident, I will now pay in excess of 50 percent of all my income in the years I do make money. And yet, the president castigates me for being "rich" and "well connected." I wonder if he considers how excessive tax rates adversely impact my ability -- and incentive -- to reinvest profits and grow my businesses; particularly in a tight credit environment.
Furthermore, given the ever-growing government burdens placed on me as an employer, while it doesn't take an act of Congress to consent to new hires, it is not without the fingerprints of Congress and the president that the bar has been raised significantly in convincing me to agree to add staff at any of my companies.
After toiling for nearly three decades, teetering on the edge of bankruptcy more than once in my career, the president has the temerity to pummel me with inflammatory rhetoric and endless additional taxes. I really do wish he would explain why he is so angry with me. My ascension to a status that has secured his continual ire didn't come as a result of being a lucky sperm, unearned connections or laziness.
With all due respect, long days, calloused hands, blind optimism and compartmentalized anxiety were the fuels that energized this journey -- not to mention working under the greatest system in the history of the planet. A system where there is general consensus on the need to provide a safety net for the truly needy shouldn't be eviscerated to redistribute wealth garnered through ingenuity, guile, risk taking, sacrifice and hard work.
Mr. President, I understand that my "Mr. Toad's" wild career ride wouldn't balance with everyone's constitution. But it is imperative for you to understand that risk takers pull many in their wake as we raise the national economic tide to the benefit of the entire populous. Please don't undermine the incentives that compel me, and the army of American entrepreneurs, to do what your trillion-dollar stimulus has failed to do -- create jobs. It is at the peril of the country and economy that you continue to lambaste and overtax our kind.
Chapin is CEO of USAOPOLY, partner of Zephyr Partners and chairman of Health Savings Associates. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org