The REAL American Dream by Alpheus Madsen

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The REAL American Dream

by Alpheus Madsen
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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!

Bill Whittle’s Afterburner — Winning the Lottery

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!

110 responses to “The REAL American Dream by Alpheus Madsen

  1. I will be a contrarian, and say that wealth is, indeed, part of the American Dream, though not necessarily rich and a life of conspicuous consumption. It’s the ability to be independent enough to be able look any man in the eye and tell him to go to H*ll. P.T. Barnum told an interesting story about a side show barker in London who Barnum made the following suggestion: Come to America; come work for me; and save your money and open your own sideshow. The gentleman did just that. The gentleman probably was never as wealthy as P.T. Barnum, but he had succeeded at the American dream.

    • And in time-honored Hun and Hoyden tradition, I’ll be contrary to your contrarian position. 🙂 I don’t think it’s about wealth as a primary aspect at all, but about independence, the ability to proclaim, “Leave me alone, I don’t have to do a single thing you say!” and to enforce that proclamation. Wealth can assist in the enforcement, but beyond a certain level (as paladin says below) it doesn’t really add to the independence, and protecting the wealth can in addition become a limitation on the independence.

      • One of the unsettling things about my generation is how leveraged to the hilt they are in debt. In addition they don’t *own* anything. They don’t own their houses. They barely own their cars. Every scrap of surplus they have is eaten by rent, taxes, loan payments, and bills – and not for luxuries! Luxuries are actually pretty inexpensive. The cost of a shiny smartphone, everyone’s favorite excoriation of ‘those kids these days’ will set you back the price of a week’s groceries. A shiny laptop might be a major purchase, but we’re still talking less than a months rent. Rent, healthcare, food, and taxes – these are what puts most people my age over the edge.

        (Myself included, without the debt part. I’ve managed to avoid that so far! I’m moving again, taking a job with much higher pay, but by my calculations the area in which I’ll have to live has precisely dialed their rents to eat my salary. I’ll be doing work that I find important, but I won’t be getting out of the trap. I can’t do something like purchase a home, because the job is so insecure and the area so far from home that I can’t plan on being there more than a few years.)

        Ownership is a pretty key foundation for independence. The Wright Bros could never have invented the airplane in someone else’s bicycle shop. If your savings, painstakingly accumulated over years, barely amount to enough to live for a few months, then you can’t very well tell your boss to pound sand (unless you’re willing to face bankruptcy.)

        Right now, most people I know are being ground down into something resembling serfdom. (We’re talking engineers and skilled tradesmen.) The social status games and abuse in the workplace is one symptom of it.

        • The “invisible hand” (including government interference) had “dialed” the rents to where they are. All other things being equal (which they rarely are) the difference pay between the two areas should more or less match the difference in costs of living.

      • Concur. And, was listening to a song just yesterday with this exact theme…
        Long-Haired Country Boy
        Money is one way to achieve that independence.

      • I may be missing something, but it looks like your contrary position wasn’t contrary at all, since it looks like you essentially restated what Kevin Cheek said. 🙂

        Kevin wrote: “It’s the ability to be independent enough to be able look any man in the eye and tell him to go to H*ll.”

        You wrote: “I don’t think it’s about wealth as a primary aspect at all, but about independence, the ability to proclaim, “Leave me alone, I don’t have to do a single thing you say!” and to enforce that proclamation.”

        Well, I agree with both of you. So there. 😛

    • One of the unsettling things about my generation is how leveraged to the hilt they are in debt. In addition they don’t *own* anything. They don’t own their houses. They barely own their cars. Every scrap of surplus they have is eaten by rent, taxes, loan payments, and bills – and not for luxuries! Luxuries are actually pretty inexpensive. The cost of a shiny smartphone, everyone’s favorite excoriation of ‘those kids these days’ will set you back the price of a week’s groceries. A shiny laptop might be a major purchase, but we’re still talking less than a months rent. Rent, healthcare, food, and taxes – these are what puts most people my age over the edge.

      (Myself included, without the debt part. I’ve managed to avoid that so far! I’m moving again, taking a job with much higher pay, but by my calculations the area in which I’ll have to live has precisely dialed their rents to eat my salary. I’ll be doing work that I find important, but I won’t be getting out of the trap. I can’t do something like purchase a home, because the job is so insecure and the area so far from home that I can’t plan on being there more than a few years.)

      Ownership is a pretty key foundation for independence. The Wright Bros could never have invented the airplane in someone else’s bicycle shop. If your savings, painstakingly accumulated over years, barely amount to enough to live for a few months, then you can’t very well tell your boss to pound sand (unless you’re willing to face bankruptcy.)

      Right now, most people I know are being ground down into something resembling serfdom. (We’re talking engineers and skilled tradesmen.) The social status games and abuse in the workplace is one symptom of it.

      • PS: I am taking the job. I am very cognizant of the rather large risks I am taking in doing so, and that the rewards for the work will be working on the development of an important technology and experience, not actually gaining much in the way of long term savings. I am doing so of my own free will, and because of my bizarre situation and all of the other things I’ve sacrificed, I have the means to do so. No complaints there.

        But I’m pretty much on the top of the sinking ship. How on Earth do other people get by, much less do so while living to a standard that any highschool graduate of two generations ago would consider minimum decency?

        • A high school graduate two generations ago puts them roughly 50 years back, yes? So, we have to look at the standard of living for someone who graduated high school in 1967.
          In 1968, per the Seek Publishing kardlets,
          average income was $7,844 per year
          a new house ran $14,975 (1.9X average income)
          average rent was $130/month (20% average income)

          Then again, you have to consider what is hiding in these numbers. In 1967, no high school graduate would have owned a computer or some variation on a smart phone or cell phone. In the 1960s, the average new house was only 1540 square feet (new houses now tend to run 2000 square feet +). As late as 1965, just 10 percent of U.S. homes had air conditioning, according to the Carrier Corporation. (More may have had window air conditioners to make 1 room comfortable – and I remember growing up in the 70s with one of those in my window.) A microwave would have been exceptions – they were not widespread then. There would have been no smoke detectors in that house either.

          The future for that 1967 high school graduate (who did not go on to college) would not have been all that bright either, long term. The late 1970s with stagflation and oil shocks and the buyout crazy in the early 1980s resulted in significant unemployment of those folks who had previously been working in many factories. The recession associated with the S&L crisis in the 1980s was not kind either.

      • For many people , a huge part of the financial problem is their student debt, which all too often paid for nothing of much value.

        If any other type of investment were sold with as much excessive hype as is higher education…including graduate education…the promoters would very likely be prosecuted.

      • your twopence invested safely in the bank?

    • I have to agree with this; I realized a couple of days after I sent this to Sarah that I forgot to include my definition of being wealthy, which includes four elements:

      (1) I have found something I like to do,

      (2) that helps other people,

      (3) that allows me to pay for my current needs, and to a lesser extent, my wants, and

      (4) to be debt free and saving/investing for the future.

      Except for the self-discipline that these things require, they really aren’t all that difficult to achieve. And, as drloss says, a major reason these provide wealth is because they provide independence.

      In any case, though, the American Dream is far from becoming instantaneous filthy rich.

    • I’m going to disagree with both you and the author. The American Dream has nothing to do with go-to-hell money (although if you achieve success and prosperity you will have that too) and it is not defined as freedom, although freedom is a necessary precondition to the American Dream.

      The American Dream, as most commonly defined, is the ideal that every US citizen should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative. In other words, if you work hard, and have determination and initiative, you will be economically rewarded. A variation on this theme is the belief that in the United States, people are free to pursue opportunity, and that through hard work, they can make a better life for themselves and their children.

      The converse of the American Dream here is rather odd as well. If you fail, despite working hard and with determination and initiative, the American answer has always been that you’re allowed to pick yourself up and try again.

      • I can’t argue with what you say. I think I tried to get at the idea that equal opportunity is an important part of the American Dream, but the notion is buried somewhere in the worrying about what bureaucrats are doing to the American Dream. And I am deeply disappointed that I completely overlooked the part where if you fail, you can always get up, dust yourself off, and try again. That’s a *very* important aspect of the American Dream.

        Come to think of it, recently I came across the notion that the American Dream is “You get rich, and if you can’t get rich, it’s your fault and you don’t deserve anything”. This is FAR from what Americans believe about the American Dream. Indeed, Americans *admire* the people who have tried and failed, even if they never succeed; similarly, Americans have great compassion for those who wish they could try, but cannot due to injury, or illness, or some other limiting factor. The fact that we tend to celebrate those who succeed despite such handicaps isn’t because we’re itching to condemn those who don’t — it’s because we love underdogs, and especially love it when someone succeeds despite giant obstacles put before them.

        I have a sister who is schizophrenic. It’s currently unclear if she’s going to be able to do anything particularly “successful” with her life — but she takes art and piano classes. Small things, perhaps, but my wife and I both admire her for the little things she does to try to establish a little bit of normalcy in her life.

  2. Living within ones means. Very few people define this. Let me take a stab at it and define “means”
    So you need a place to live so mortage/rent for the year
    You have X family members in residence multiply X by 1400 for the year
    Food Say $150/month X family members multiply by say $50 each (teenage years double or triple depending on how many you have)
    Communication/entertainment: Say $100 a month minimum (hint this is luxury spending over the $100/month)
    Bills: This will vary by jurisdiction and residence own? you can expect about a minimum of $600/month. Rent? It can be about $100 to $300 per month
    Taxes! This depends on your job/income. Have a full time job? Say about 40% of your gross is taxed for a round figure (may be less, rarely more). Self employed? Over 50% of income for taxes.

    Now, plugging my own figures in I figure I an live within my means on a measly 19K a year (in Canada that is). Life of Reilly would be about 40K (gross).
    So this is just a bunch of WAG’s that I am throwing out there and each persons needs and wants (anything over the basics qualifies as a want not need). Been thinking about these numbers and living within my means a lot lately.

    • People with lots of things tend to get bored with them, and neglect them. Seldom has getting a thing made me happy for more than a week or two at the most. And then I’m looking for a new thing.
      Sitting back, looking at what you have, and being happy with that is really hard.

      • “Sitting back, looking at what you have, and being happy with that is really hard.”

        Hard, but definitely worthwhile to cultivate. I know I am happier and more content when I focus on the wonderful things I already have in my life. But it does take work and conscious effort.

        • Being grateful for what you have in is, IMO, the primary key to happiness.

          This extends to far more than material possessions.

      • Had a discussion with my mom a few weeks back and I was expounding on how wealthy I was. My wealth is in “things” and people not assets or property. There are things I want, which I classify as luxuries not needs. That’s part of the issue with some types, they reclassify the luxuries as needs and start drowning.

      • I sometimes have the opposite problem. I’ll sometimes get something I *really* want, and have even plotted on how I would use it…but when I get it, I don’t have the time to use it the way I intended, and it collects dust. I’ll occasionally look at the item with sadness and melancholy, because it reminds me of my unsatisfied dreams…

  3. I have heard the claim that however evil lottery might be, it is also the only moral tax: Nobody forces you to p(l)ay it, unlike every other tax.

    • The lottery is also a surefire way to ruin a person’s life. Most winners tend to wind up in debt a few years later, with their family relationships ruined.

      • It takes strict financial management to evade that fate. I’m thinking of that family that recently won a large lottery prize (one of those multi-state deals) and immediately used the money to set up a charitable fund, because that had been their goal. Any family relationships they lose over that move are well gone, IMO.

        • It would be interesting to interview lottery winners and determine how many of them had sensible financial plans already in place (Savings, investments, retirement plans, etc. I suspect those who did have them in place before they became even more wealthy, don’t have those spend-into-bankruptcy-within-5-years problems.

          Funny, but I know more about what I’d do if I won the lottery than I do about what I’ll be doing tomorrow. Tomorrow approaches a probability of 100% happening, and the my winning the lottery is only about 0.0000002%

          • I like to dream about what I’d do with lottery winnings, but I’d prefer a smaller payout to one of the mega-payouts, because it would be harder to fly under the radar with a giant one. (Part of my “dream” would be to have a foundation with its origins obscured from everyone but the IRS, so that I could give anonymous gifts to people.)

            • It’s my understanding that if you were to accept the lottery in small chunks, payed once every year, you will pay far less in taxes, than if you get everything all at once. I like this idea. I, for one, would appreciate a guaranteed $30k a year

              It’s also my understanding that most lottery winners opt to get all the money all at once…

              • I gather that the two payouts should be approximately the same in terms of Present Value, but I haven’t ever bothered checking the math because I simply don’t care. The annuity form of payout has certain susceptibilities, such as inflation and changing tax rates, which likely encourage the “take it now” approach.

                I wonder what would happen if a winner used the proceeds to establish a tax-exempt charitable trust, paying the ticket holder (and possibly various family members) to act as Directors and Officers of the foundation. I am confident that the initial tax bite would still occur; the taxman ain’t passing up his bite at that apple.

      • A guy in my church when I lived in Spokane was part of a company that bought up lottery winnings (and things like big lawsuit payouts and such). Large numbers of people would end up in terrible debt a few years after winning. This company would buy up their annuity payments for dimes on the dollar, so they could get from under that burden. Then the company would have that income for the next 20+ years.
        It was a very successful business model, evidently.

      • I recall reading that if you buy a lottery ticket, and later read that YOUR number is the winner, the first thing to do is see a financial counselor. DO NOT tell anyone else you have the ticket.
        I will never buy a lottery ticket.

      • The lottery works both ways. You are not guarantied a win, and the winner is not guarantied to be smart or logical enough to get it right.
        There have been many winners who went on to be perfectly happy afterwards, but those stories are boring so we never hear about them.

        • Indeed.

          The people saying ‘I will *never* buy a lottery ticket’ because winning would ruin them, are much like the people who say ‘I will *never* have a credit card’.

          What they’re really saying is, ‘I am certain that I am fatally irresponsible’.

          They may well be right, but that’s not something you boast about ad if it were a virtue.

    • An interesting question. It gets into theological arguments about gambling, and, though I don’t gamble, am undecided. The argument is similar to that behind prohibition. Since the ones I see playing the lottery the most are those least able to afford it, there is a point there, but it rapidly gets into nanny states and all sorts of things. Perhaps the question is really whether governments should utilize gambling to generate revenue. No, I don’t have an answer to that, either.

      • I think that misses the Ox’s position, that lotteries are voluntary rather than (as with taxes) mandatory. No position was taken on the moral goodness or otherwise of lotteries. Or taxes, for that matter. Although if the military held raffles to support their budgets, with the raffle prizes being various weapons systems (along with a period of support services?), I’m pretty sure they’d do pretty well…

        • I don’t think I’d approve of that. Those weapons systems were bought with money extorted from me by threat of imprisonment. Any money realized from their disposal should go to reducing my tax burden.

          • I think that drloss is talking about a standard raffle scheme. Army buys four Abrams with the raffle proceeds, and the winner gets one of them. Or they buy three Patriot batteries, keeping two, the winner gets one (I wonder – does the system recognize ballistic carp?)

            I’d want to be able to pick and choose the prize, though. There is no place around here to park a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier.

      • Since the ones I see playing the lottery the most are those least able to afford it, there is a point there,

        I don’t think it’s much of a point. The people least able to afford playing the lottery are generally in that position because they make poor decisions like playing a lottery they can’t afford.

        Could the government refrain from taking advantage of some people’s stupidity? Maybe, but that isn’t going to make them any less stupid and someone will come along to take advantage of that stupidity. Meanwhile, the government will lose out on the legitimate income who treat the lottery as entertainment (a couple of bucks for a few days of dreaming about what you would do with millions is a far better deal than going to a movie).

        • And that’s how quickly it gets into the nanny state. People forget that Prohibition was a progressive idea, done in an effort to benefit Americans. The question of whether the government should be involved in it is a reasonable one. Yes, it can generate revenue, but so can houses of ill repute. Forgetting for the moment that prostitutes wouldn’t want to tarnish their reputations by working for the state IRS, is this something we want our government doing?

          Note this is different that the argument that these need to be illegal; this is simply asking does the government need to be involved in them.

          • I guess it depends on how you think the government would respond to the lack of revenue. If they would just raise other taxes to compensate, abolishing the lottery would be immoral; as the ox pointed out, everybody who pays into a lottery is a volunteer.

            If government would shrink its operations in response to the loss of lottery revenue, there wouldn’t be a countervailing moral good to offset your concerns. Except for the fact that if government spending were that elastic, we could shrink the government and cut regular taxes rather than lotteries.

            You’re trying to argue that a vague sense of immorality should trump what all decent people see as a necessary evil.

            • Actually, I’m arguing that the government shouldn’t exploit people for funds. If the sole argument for government lottery is revenue, why not prostitution? Why not state run drug sales – get them hooked and you’ve got revenue for life. Where is the line?

              • State-run drug sales? You mean, Obamacare?

                As for prostitution, the state does practice it and not simply in Nevada, but the only way they’ve ever managed to turn a profit from it is when they label the fees “campaign contributions.”

            • If government would shrink its operations…

              Okay, now you are just being silly.

          • “done in an effort to benefit Americans”

            So what? That’s the usual pretext for tyranny.

        • So? It’s their money, and it’s none of my business what they spend their own money on. Gambling, liquor, drugs, prostitutes, cigarettes, fatty foods, campaign contributions, ugly jewelry, ridiculously expensive shoes… that’s their business.

          • Sure, I’m just pointing out that the correlation between lottery playing and not being able to afford lottery playing might have a causal relationship, but not in the direction that some might think. If someone buys a lottery ticked he can’t afford because he makes bad decisions, banning lotteries isn’t going help him make good decisions.

        • Meanwhile, the government will lose out on the legitimate income who treat the lottery as entertainment (a couple of bucks for a few days of dreaming about what you would do with millions is a far better deal than going to a movie).

          This is how we treat the lottery. Something entertaining, to go ‘what if’ with, for a couple of dollars, the cost of a Maccas meal maybe… the most we’ve won? We used to buy more entertainment – namely, some DVDs of stuff we enjoy watching, and gave the kids each a 20$ note to go spend how they wanted. (Books, music, in that case.)

          • Exactly. Same here.

            Also, I’ve found the ‘win the lottery’ fantasy to be an interesting thought exercise. Thinking about what you would do if money were no option, to the point of what you would prioritize, because winning the lottery doesn’t give you *time*, can help you uncover and clarify goals you never knew you had. I.e. can help you in life, without winning any lottery.

      • Yes, for me, the question centers on whether a gov’t should be involved in lotteries.
        (And, yes, Ox’s point was that the tax is moral, as it’s voluntary.)

    • The lottery is a tax on people who can’t do math.

      • Right I’ve often referred to it as the innumeracy tax. It does tend to tax the poor as they don’t understand the odds. I heard 1 in 275 million quoted for the PowerBall. Odds of being killed by lightning are about 1 in 700,000 in any year, being killed by a shark about 1 in 3.75 million. You are ~400 times more likely to die of a lightning strike than win powerball.

        Morally is it evil? The libertarian in me sides with Orvan and says it
        only affects those unwilling to look at the odds. The long term cost of stupidity is usually far higher than a few dollars. As a Christian I do not see gambling as forbidden/inherently sinful unless you let it adversely affect your duties (like caring for your spouse/children etc.) or if you become fixated on it making it so to speak an idol. Many coreligionists would disagree with me on this point (including most Baptists). I do play from time to time wasting a few dollars. Of course I pay more for lunch most days and it provides a few moments of amusement.

      • 2 bucks a week allows me to dream with at least a possibility of it happening; rather than dreaming with no possibility.

        But the stock market gets me anywhere from 10 to 14% annual interest.

        Slow but steady wins the race. Too bad very few of those people ever read, or understood, Aesop’s fables.

        • Precisely. I’m buying the ability to dream for a few days.

          • Bingo!

            *kitty giggle*

          • Dream of being showered with unearned wealth for a few days? *I* can do that for free, with as much practical realistic chance of it actually happening. Moreover, with what I save by not enriching those who are already gotten obscenely fat from offering empty promises, I have better chance of funding income-generating activity that’s under my control and not that of random chance.

          • I’m aware that you do this, and so I was a bit concerned that the video I linked to was very critical of this practice.

            But the way Bill Whittle says “Figure out what you want to do, how you can do it, and then go do it” sends chills down my spine, and almost brings me to tears, so I had to include the link…

          • And thus it is acceptable to play the lottery with your entertainment budget, not your investment and/or capital budget. 😉

            • THIS. Then it is a choice between two lottery tickets and, say, a new ebook (indie, that is, not tradpub).

              I have a bit of a rule – I buy a quick pick Powerball when the jackpot exceeds the odds against, and I remember to do so. So I spend somewhere between $6 and $10 annually on the dream. Much less than even my book luxury spending.

              I’m certainly not rich – but, let’s see… At ten dollars a year, fully reinvested for ten years, and a return of 15% per annum – I’d have about $200 at the end of ten years. Of course, that is not the value as if I had $200 in hand right now; current real inflation is around 4%, so that is around $140 for my best estimate of the net present value.

              (Or at least I think so – been a while since I fiddled with Excel financial functions… Already fixed one obvious error…)

              The thing is, that many of these lottery players have extremely small disposable income (or at least believe they do). Even the “cheapest” mutual fund requires a minimum of $25 a month, according to my quick lookup just now (used to be $10 when I was in the business, but that’s too many years ago). Even buying a ticket for every Powerball drawing is somewhat less than that.

              • The thing is, that many of these lottery players have extremely small disposable income …

                Somehow I don’t see the government enforcing a regulation requiring of “Your bank balance must be this high to enter.”

                • Well, the low-end funds don’t, either. Note that I said “don’t believe they do.”

                  Even when I was a data entry clerk/receptionist/secretary (whatever brought in money) and the wife was working daycare – we managed $50 a month when the kids were little. That went up a fair amount over the years, although not as much as it would have if college and health insurance costs hadn’t inflated more than the relatively safe investments earned.

                  So far, the only college “debt” is that the two girls in college right now are on remaining tuition payment plans; they haven’t had to sell their indentures to Uncle Sam. I think we’ll get through without them doing that, either. (The boy I don’t know about. He got up the gumption to go USMCR, but since then is still not moving all that decisively on the rest of his life. Sigh…)

    • I despise gambling, and even have religious misgivings towards it; however, it’s something that I don’t think the Government should be involved in. Whenever the lottery issue comes up in Utah, I always vote against it, because I strongly dislike the notion that something should be legal, but only for government.

      The only reason I think gambling should be legal is because I’m a silly anarcho-capitalist type, and it’s hard to for me be against something being legal merely because I despise the activity in question…

  4. Proverbs 17:1- Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.

  5. I think American dream is also about immigrants making a much better life for themselves than what they would have experience in their home country.

    My paternal grandparents were from Britain and were part of underclass – multiple kids to bed, no heating, little food – and it would have been almost impossible for them to rise above their station in life. They emigrated to Canada, not America, and were able to get decent working class jobs and a nice apartment with a bedroom for each child. My grandparents talked a lot about how they lived Canadian dream tho they didn’t have much.

    • I think this is something that people forget about the American Dream: theoretically, it can be done anywhere. It’s just that in certain countries — Canada, Australia and the United States particularly come to mind — to some degree or another, the culture and (theoretically, at least) laws come together to make it far easier than in other parts of the world.

      • The Aussie Dream is rather similar, I’m told, to the American one. From what I gather, a lot of it has to do with becoming financially independent and secure (ergo, having your own house without having to rent) and not worrying overmuch about bills, and having a bit for pleasure spending so you don’t have to feel like being a slave to the grind.

        At some point, it seems it became ‘follow your dreams’ – not sure where that came about – but daydreaming versus tempering one’s dreams with reality isn’t something a lot of people like to do…

  6. I have a friend who works in an outdoor education facility, doing historical work with students during the school year. He’s also worked at summer camp since college. He said to me a few years back that he felt like he wasn’t being a proper adult because he was still doing the same things he was in college, and that he should settle down to a “proper” job. I told him that he loved being outdoors, he’s great with kids (natural teacher), and he was getting to do the things he loved and getting PAID for it as well. Most people work to do the things they love on the weekends.

    He’d never thought of it that way. A lot of people don’t.

    • Exactly. It’s been said that the perfect job is one which makes you think, “I can’t believe they’re paying me to do this!”

    • People need a proper definition of being an adult. They think it’s one thing while it’s really being personally responsible for all your things. Like working, paying your bills/way, and not subsisting on the largesse of others. That’s it in a nutshell. Of course there are certain exceptions to that. I know of a few people that are outliers.

      • Yes. If this friend were still living off the generosity of others because he didn’t have a “proper” job, then he might have a point. But, if he’s happy and taking care of himself (and any others he should), then he’s fine.

        • The one counterargument I could see to that is that is the question of whether he’s able to save enough so that not only is he not dependent on the generosity of others now but that he won’t be dependent on that generosity in the future. A big part of “adulting” is not only the ability to take care of yourself right now, but to be prepared for the lean times that will inevitably come.

        • Yes, he’s got everything he needs taken care of, and enough to go rockclimbing as well. And they even put him in charge of the summer camp for a couple of years, and he was only in his 30s. 😉 (They took him off not because he’d done poorly but because that was a poor use of his talents once they’d found an administrator. He’s better off teaching.)

  7. There are all kinds of ways to waste money. Gambling, drinking, drugs, etc.

    Freedom includes being able to partake of these vices, at least to some degree. Or to seek treatment to overcome an overwhelming desire for them. I have known people whose lives were deeply affected by gambling. I know of one divorce for certain, and an instance where the family business was nearly lost (they lost ownership of the property but continued to operate as tenants). In that instance one member of the family was stealing, trying to cover the debts. The family was in deep denial about the extent of a problem that was pretty much known to everyone who worked there, and it got very expensive for them.

    The freedom to foul up your life will exist even if you make all vices illegal, as a black market will ensure that they are still available. Only one of my examples involved legalized gambling.

  8. There was a ‘numbers racket’ before government got into lotteries. And if government got out, there would still be one.

    Should government take advantage of gullible people? To some extent that’s part of the definition of government. 🙂

    • Should government take advantage of gullible people?

      No, it should not.

      To some extent that’s part of the definition of government.

      In function maybe, but, for example, this was not the intent of our Founders. The problem is that the government is an organization made up of people.

      However many checks and balances you build into a system the system you set up is still dependent on people acting in good faith. There will always be people who think it is their duty to take care of others and there are people who desire assurance of provision. So with the best of intentions the first group will take advantage of those who prefer the myth of care and safety over the opportunity and risks of freedom. There are also the people who will work the system to their advantage, either by taking power, becoming a puppet master of those in power or by employing the system to pick other’s pockets for their benefit. To blame the government is to forget the real problem, all actions can be traced to people, as individuals or in packs.

    • The numbers rackets remain alive and well in the Northeast. The odds are so much better from the mafia than from the government that they have survived surprisingly well, despite the smaller purses. What this says about government and exploitation is left as an exercise for the reader.

  9. 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.

    While there would be a lengthy series of blog post to discuss all of the contributing factors, I just want to note these things. I have noticed a trend of late.

    First: Keep students in school as long as possible to keep unemployment numbers down. This includes tactics such as expanding the number of jobs which now require a post high school degree to enter. (Although this trend is also the result of the failure of public education to do its job in teaching student to read, write and cipher. Unfortunately this problem is now being extended to colleges, many of which are more interested in teaching you what to think than how to think. As I said this could be a series of blog posts.)

    and

    Second: Have as many as possible buried under debt that they will vote for instituting a socialist system of ‘free college’ for all. (Which will be for who the state sees fit to educate for the purposes that the state wishes them to be educated. As most of the populace has been carefully trained not to read the small print…or think of the ‘unintended’ consequences…they will be surprised when this happens.)

    • The higher education bubble also allows the otherwise unemployable to have positions as “teachers”.

      • Administrators. So very many administrators.

        ‘Everyone must go to college’ creates truly VAST vote and patronage farms, for whoever is best at coopting bureaucracies.

  10. To me, the American dream is opportunity. The opportunity to succeed or fail. As long as you don’t go blaming other folks for your failures, then you’re good. I don’t want much out of life. A roof over our heads, food on the table, and a stack of books and needlework/miniatures to entertain me. I’m good. I don’t play the lottery because I’m terrified I’d win. All I can imagine is someone kidnapping my grandchildren or younger nieces or nephews. Not worth it. I’d be a nervous wreck lol. The hubs has turned down a couple of jobs that would keep him away from home for weeks at a time or one that would just require backbreaking hours where he would work too much. We are content in our life. We don’t want the money that bad to sacrifice our family time. We do well, don’t get me wrong, but we don’t need more except the occasional raise here and there and that happens. I used to play bingo and limit myself to spending $25 a week. It was cheap entertainment for a couple hours and my sister and I could talk a little bit. But we’d see obvious strapped folks spending hundreds of dollars. Spending the rent money they had to make up the difference. It was sad.

    • Opportunity, aye.

      The band started well, but as the evening grew darker the music seemed more and more off. The realization slowly dawned on some that the instrument were drifting from the careful setup before the concert began. During a short intermission, someone asked about this and must have suggested re-calibration. The sharp retort came back, loud enough for all to hear, “Oppernockity tunes but ONCE!

  11. Seems to me that the American Dream is as idiosyncratic as are Americans — to each a dream of his own.

    • YES! And that’s why the freedom is so important. Because not everyone will have the same dream, and they want to pursue it in their own way.

      • Yes. Your BadDream is even worse than the BadFun you have in your free time.

        Off to the diversity camps with you! 😉

    • And thus we come to the meat of the sandwich: To each his own, and on their own head be it. No Central Commitee mandated two point three children in a appropriately sized grey concrete apartment, with a government allocated job, for us! Go join the circus! Become a stockbroker! Sell fresh fruit at a roadside stand, or even non-government-approved lemonade! Become and accountant, or (shudder) a lawyer! And when the accountant wants to write books, no approval outside the accountants family is required.

      This is basically why I have responded “Meh, whatever floats your boat” when various groups demand to be allowed to do things their way. As long as you are not also demanding public support while doing said things, knock yourself out.

  12. I think the American Dream is well summed-up in the line “The Land where no man has to bow” (from the song Mick Ryan’s Lament)

    This absence of the requirement to bow to one’s ‘superiors’ has always bothered a certain subset of the population, and still does.

    • The one that ought to forever remain bothered.
      When they are no longer bothered, it should only be as they have achieved their departure from said certain subset.

    • There seems to be a tendency to class certain people as “anti-authoritarian” because they refuse to bow down to the accepted authorities willy-nilly. Engineers in particular are known for having this tendency.

      The funny thing is, though, that most such people have no problem bowing down to authority — if (and this is a BIG if) that person has established himself as an authority, both through demonstrated knowledge and through actions. Such people have no interest in following the bellowing commands of the people who claim to have authority, but are found wanting, particularly if their only claim to authority is a credential an appointment of some sort.

  13. c4c

  14. Christopher M. Chupik

    Money isn’t everything, but it’s not nothing, either.

  15. Timely, as some lady won the big lottery the other night.

    Anyhow, I, after getting a bit too deep in debt then digging out, have remained well within my means since. Right now, the only debt I have outside property taxes and utilities etc, is owed to myself. I borrowed against my 401k to buy the house. If work POes me enough to quit, I’ll owe it all back and a bit less than half what they paid to move me up here, but I’d just empty the account, pay the taxes on it pay them, and still have enough to get by until something comes along.