This series explores the truth about America’s culture of dependency: that it is driven by the antiquated ideology about an economic system that no longer works in the favor of the people.
I was recently reflected on American history and how it was that this country has gone through so many catastrophes and calamities and still managed to rise to the top as a world power to be both feared and followed. It is in this history that I see where this notion of The American Dream became possible. Through the rise of men like Vanderbilt, Rockerfeller, J.P. Morgan, and others. These men who built empires from relatively humble beginnings and went on to contribute so much what this country became. However, it’s no secret that the America in which they were living was a much different place than what it is now. So the question emerges: is The American Dream now just a dream?
Capitalism is the backdrop for the story of The American Dream. The principles and ideologies inherent in capitalist theory have saturated our mindsets and changed the way we interact with one another. The ruthless competition that it inspires for aggressive business is taken as a social model that we use to create socially acceptable identities.
How many times does one here a person identify themselves by what they do? How celebrated is it when an individual speaks of their aspirations for economic and/or business domination as opposed to say developing a charitable organization or performing civil service? In regards to the ideology of capitalism and its presumptions about people, there are 2 major issues.
Capitalism makes 2 major assertions regarding people: that people are mostly self-interested and those that accumulate material wealth are the most happy. While it is arguable whether these two assertions are accurate, the fact that America has adopted the capitalist economic model means that the economic structure of our society will create the truth of these 2 premises by default of forcing people to survive within a system that already presumes this to be true. The system exists and makes these assumptions, people will become these things in order to survive within the system. These 2 assertions combined with the fact that individuals are viewed as commodities and their only value is based on what they create brings those at the bottom of the economic structure to seek, above all else, material wealth.
Capitalism is the ideology often attributed with making The American Dream possible. I can see how one might make that assumption. it would appear free market enterprise, competition, and the drive for innovation would offer a smart, hard working American the opportunity to enter the market and make something out of nothing. But this is not wholly true. The truth is that those men like Vanderbilt, Rockerfeller, J.P. Morgan and others were not just smart, ambitious, hard working men who did great things. What made them successful was their ability to accumulate working capital to fund their ambitions. Capital that today, in light of the economic crash of Walls Street, the folding of the real estate industry, the collapse of the automobile industry, and the deterioration of the banking industry, is not easy to come by. This in turn makes The American Dream only possible for a small percentage of the country who have private means or the power and influence to secure capital.
Social mobility is as American as apple pie. It is what drives Americans. Our dreams, hopes, and fantasies of being one of those amazing rags-to-riches stories. But the truth about social mobility brings light to the dreams we conjure in the dark.
A study conducted by colleagues of Harvard and Berkeley discovered the determinants of social mobility in the United States.
The top 5 factors that influence social mobility
Racial and economic segregation
– Harvard Research Study, Where is the Land of Opportunity?
For some this may seem discouraging; however, there is nothing possibly tangible about a hope based on a lie. The study exposes the truth about upward social mobility in America. According to the study to climb the social ladder in America, one cannot be self-interested and only concerned with accumulating material wealth. The greatest factors affecting social mobility have to do with an individuals connection to the people closest to them: their family and their community.
The study found that people who grow up in communities with a large amount of married parents tend to do better economically as well as people who grow up in racially segregated communities. This makes the obvious point that as much as we may want to buy into the model that everyone pulls himself up by his own bootstraps, apparently it takes a lot more than one pair of hands to do the pulling. It is not hard to see that the fact that the ability to amass capital has become much more regulated and less risk-taking, if one wants to be socially mobile in America today, they’d better have some help.
America has become the most blindly nostalgic countries in the world. We hold onto antiquated methodologies like a dog with a clean bone. We refuse to see that while we have been reveling in our own greatness, the world has been making advances and innovations to that which we created. That in turn has created an entirely different reality, which to accomplish greatness will require an entirely different model for dreaming.
Economists of today have stated that America is not a pure capitalist country (maybe it never was). The model under which we live is a mixed economy that falls somewhere between socialism and capitalism. Hence, the redundant battles between the right and left wings of politics who constantly argue about social welfare and private enterprise. I imagine America much more of a mixed economy now than it ever was. That being said, a purely capitalist view of navigating the system will fail to produce the results of years past.
Perhaps it is because these moguls who came to power during a past era, refuse to learn new tricks and instead want to hold the country hostage to ways better off discarded. Or maybe it is that we think that we can bring the dream back to life and restore the world to the way it was. Or maybe it is simply the loss of hope that comes from letting go of a dream that we cannot bear. Whatever the reason, the time to move forward and bring our mindsets in alignment with the present and give our imaginations over to a future that springs from the present is more than overdue.
As people trying to understand and navigate the system in hopes of achieving our American dream, we have to honest with ourselves about the system that we are dealing with. The capitalist moguls who made names for themselves in the early days following The Civil War, were dealing with a country with less regulation on the economy and trade market. Those men might have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps, but they also had less scissors nipping at their strings. Things they did then to come to power will get you locked up now. They are no longer the success models to be followed.
We have to explore new models of economic prowess and success. We have to wake up and take a look around. Absorb the truth of the reality in which we live and then go on to dream of how this America can imagine a new dream. We need to dream a new plot line to The American Dream. Otherwise, the 1% of people controlling American wealth will remain at the top and us poor dreamers will be left at the bottom along with our pieces of our dreams.
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man
Marx, Karl. Capital.
National Bureau of Economic Research. Where is the Land of Opportunity? 2014.
Wilcox, W. Bradford. Family Matters. Slate.com. 2014.