The REAL American Dream
by Alpheus Madsen
Every so often I’ll hear a news report about a sports person, or a movie star, or an unusually lucky businessman, or a lottery winner, and the reporter will say “This person has achieved the American Dream!”. I always cringe when I hear that. The hidden implication behind such statements is that the American Dream is to get rich beyond your wildest dreams, and then spend your newfound riches seeking extreme pleasure until you are a mere shell of what you used to be. The problem with this, though, is that becoming rich has nothing to do with the American Dream.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that money isn’t important, by any means. Money is the means by which we can take care of our needs, research new ideas, and in general have fun — however, if we don’t have control of our money, it will destroy us. When I first heard of Robin William’s suicide, it broke my heart to hear that the debts of his houses, former marriage financial obligations, and difficulty obtaining new acting work likely contributed to his suicide. Someone who made millions over the years, however, shouldn’t have had these issues on his mind! He should have lived well within his means, and should have had his wealth secured in good investments, so that when these other trials came along, money shouldn’t have been on his mind.
But then, Robin Williams isn’t the best example: he was suffering from something called diffuse Lewy body dementia, which, as I understand it, is a horrible thing to suffer through. No matter what we can achieve financially, there will always be horrible things that can happen to us. Perhaps a better example can be illustrated by a mansion sitting on top of a mountain ridge in Moab. I still remember when we visited Moab as a family, and my Dad pointed to that mansion, saying “That was built by a person who made a fortune in uranium prospecting, and then lost it all.” That person is Charles Steen, who, with his wife, struggled in poverty leading up to that fortune, and then built that mansion, threw weekly parties for people in Moab, and flew with his wife to Salt Lake City for weekly Salsa lessons. Then, sometime in the 1950’s, the United States Government decided they had enough money for their needs, the price of uranium collapsed, and Charlie’s fortune pretty much collapsed with it. He managed to live until 2006, though, although he never had the wealth that he did in the 1950’s.
So the first lesson in this is that you must live within your means! Even if you have to go into debt, live within your means! Well, ok, it’s more difficult to live within your means when, like me, you’re not rich, but instead have mounds of student debt and getting blindsided somewhat regularly with medical issues. I cannot emphasize enough (backed by experience, to boot!) that if you have to go into gobs of debt to achieve your dreams, there’s probably something wrong with how you are trying to achieve your dreams. And I will not hesitate to say that the Federal Government’s encouraging of vulnerable students to go into mounds of debt pursuing those “passions” that simply don’t have any marketable value, in an attempt to get everyone into the middle class, is probably one of the most harmful things they could have dreamed up to harm the real American Dream, than anything else they could have devised.
It’s clear that money isn’t the core of the American Dream. If the American Dream isn’t getting rich, then, just what is it?
In one word, it’s Freedom. It’s the ability to decide we want to have a nice little cottage with a picket fence in the mountains, and/or a bungalow on the beach, and saving up until we can buy one or both. It’s the ability to decide what we can do and what we enjoy doing, and then use those to help other people with their problems. It’s the ability to save money for the future — both to own and do things that we think are fun, and to make investments that will ensure that we’ll be comfortable in our old age. It’s the ability to organize friends and strangers into small gatherings, clubs and even conventions, to discuss things that we enjoy discussing. It’s the ability to forgo that promotion, and its accompanying raise, because you’d rather live comfortably and see your family, than be rich and alienated from your children. It’s the ability to help people in need, because you have the time and resources to help those people. It’s the ability to do things completely irrelevant to our training and our profession, heck, to do things completely irrelevant to making money, just because we find them amusing. In short, it’s the ability to prosper, and to help others prosper too! And sometimes, when we are in the pursuit of all this, we do something so important, riches inevitably come in anyway.
Many people gain riches, but fail to do things that make them happy, and fail to organize their finances to secure themselves for the future. Such people fail to achieve the promise of the American Dream. In contrast, Brigham Young University ran a study to see how their business students were doing in the market place, and found that their alumnni would typically rise up to middle management and then get stuck there. Rather than cry “Discrimination!” (which, being Mormon, they can easily do) they ran another study to figure out just what was happening, and found that their alumni generally rose to a position with good responsibilities and pay, that didn’t require them to work long hours that would take them from their families — which is a very important family value. In other words, the alumni were finding work they enjoyed that was in line with their values. If we take for granted that upper management really needs to work those extra hours they do (a debatable claim, to be sure), then it’s clear that no amount of social engineering will put BYU Mormon alumni into upper management. They have their values, they know what rewards they want, and they get exactly what they want. This is what freedom looks like! And this applies to all minorities, even the smallest ones, which is why, beyond working to ensure that everybody is free to choose whatever career that might interest them, it’s a fool’s errand to try to fix perceived injustices in the marketplace.
The American Dream prospers in large part because we believe that we can do whatever we want to do, regardless of what others want us to do; thus, the greatest dangers to the American Dream are those imposed by government and, to a lesser extent, by society itself, via regulations and social pressures telling us what we can and cannot do, generally independent of what is truly harmful to others. So long as Americans have an attitude of ignoring the multitude of regulations and social pressures so complex that no one — not even bureaucrats, lawyers, judges and social justice warriors — can fully know, the American Dream should prosper, particularly if Americans grow to understand the regulatory thorns in our side, and find ways to root them out.
Now, I don’t wish to contradict our esteemed hostess’s reasons for participating in the lottery, but here is Bill Whittle’s video where he has an interesting take on why the lottery is evil. (Ah, who am I kidding? Sarah is an Evil Space Princess, so what would you expect? How can she not participate in something so evil as the lottery?) The point of providing this link isn’t to emphasize the evils of the lottery, so much as to provide yet another very optimistic take on just what the American Dream is — and what we should go and do about it!
So, what are you waiting for? Go, and live the American Dream! And do whatever you can to get rid of and/or neutralize those meddling bureaucrats!