Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Essay: Finding and living The American Dream

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Finding and living The American Dream

From the book: Chum for Thought: Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters by David Satterlee

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Chum For Thought:
Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters

Finding and living The American Dream

You used to hear people mention “The American Dream” all the time. Not so much anymore. Now, what was that idea really all about anyway?

Frankly, there is no single definition, but it frequently includes ideas such as fair opportunity, hard work, overcoming adversity, personal success, getting ahead, and passing it on to those who come after. It involves sufficient faith in society to expect general freedom and opportunity. It is all about hope and moving forward.

The American Dream is not about “every man for himself,” a big enough hole to hide it, and enough guns to defend it. The American Dream is not about working for the rich man on the hill or across the tracks and scraping by with the help of a few stolen chickens. The American Dream is not even about steady factory jobs and a chicken in every pot. We dream about having the opportunity to turn our hard work into growth and true advancement.

In order for The American Dream to work, it needs to be available to anybody and everybody. We know that not everybody will even try to actually get rich. Some people are content to pray each day for that day’s bread. Some people are happy to
be able to provide ongoing comfort and security for their family. Some people dream of winning the lottery, striking the mother lode, finding fame and fortune, or making a killing on risky investments.

There is a problem; these last four things involve paths OTHER THAN The American Dream. One path relies on exploiting natural resources. However, cutting trees or mining minerals goes too-quickly from one guy quietly chopping wood or panning gold to clear-cutting forests, scrapping off mountaintops, and removing (or exploiting) anyone who is already there. The other path also relies on exploiting other people. In gambling or investing, the only way to get money is if someone else loses money; it is a “zero sum” game.

We can admire and envy the lucky gambler or investor who walks away rich, but we don’t have to be told that, unlike The American Dream, their business model can’t work for everyone. Other people have to lose in order for them to succeed. Everybody else has to leave the table poorer, wondering what they are going to say to (or how they are going to feed) their families.

And this is no way to run a country, either. When the financial bubbles burst, a lucky few get to scoop up their winnings. The rest of the country gets to wake up and discover that they are a little bit (or a lot) poorer – and that The American Dream is a little bit (or a lot) more “only a dream.”

My point is this: Trickle-Down Economics hasn’t worked and it never will. Actually working hard creates new wealth and well-being that has never existed before. Like growing crops, a miracle happens and anyone can end up with more than they had when they started. This NEW wealth can be put into circulation in a game of virtuous cycles where everyone wins.

The alternative is selling your hours for money – often for less than a fair or living wage. Too many people simply let some master exploit them, use them up, and keep them down. And, that is NOT The American Dream.