*The thing that we as Americans pride ourselves on is our ability to prosper and thrive in the face of adversity. That piece of American folklore is central to the founding and expansion of the country. It is also the basis of the American Dream – the idea that with hard work and determination a person will enjoy success.
Unfortunately this concept (the American Dream) is based on two false assumptions. First, that any individual’s hard work occurs in a vacuum. In reality, throughout American history the success of any person’s hard work was largely dependent on those around him/her.
For Adam’s business to thrive he must necessarily attract Barry, Chris, and Doug as customers, who theoretically have also been working hard enough to afford Adam’s product or service; this is true of necessities like home building or luxuries like beauty spas. One of the defining characteristics of a society is that the members of that society are interdependent on one another. This is why every settlement, village, town, and city always starts out with a group of people (instead of an individual) whose fortunes are tied together. The idea that one’s determination will undoubtedly yield prosperity is an extremely narrow view of economic realities.
The second false assumption is that wealth can be created from nothing. My hard work doesn’t magically make money appear in my bank account. Any money going into my account is coming from somewhere. All business transactions involve voluntary wealth redistribution.
But the origin of wealth in this country is that the power brokers and decision makers among the earliest American settlers, and continuing through the years, sanctioned non-voluntary wealth redistribution. They expanded through violence and deception, from small villages and island communities along the eastern coast of North America until today the United States controls territory across the globe.
The second, implied, assumption about the American Dream is false because it ignores the history of exploitation of thee weak by the powerful. The inherited wealth of our forefathers, based on less than honorable methods (look up the origin of the Panama Canal), has allowed the United States to be in the powerful position it is in today.
Even though the American Dream rests on two faulty assumptions that does not mean that it cannot be achieved. The key is understanding and embracing those underlying concepts, and adjusting our expectations and policies accordingly.
Understanding that hard work does not guarantee success is critical. Such an understanding means that society as a whole, and individuals in a society in particular, acknowledge that they must help one another. But because success is not a certainty it also means that a society need not, and should not, expend all resources to ensure an individual’s prosperity.
Understanding that involuntary wealth redistribution is not a great evil means that a society will tax its citizens.
Combining these two concepts means that a society will use its tax revenue to help those in lower economic classes to achieve more
Socialism is not anti-American; it’s not even anti-capitalist. And in fact it is probably the best chance for a majority of people to attain the American Dream.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org