Every day we watch TV, read the news, and hear stories of people struggling; college graduates are unemployed, and the future looks dim. People have lost confidence. A recent study conducted by Harvard University found that over 50% of millennials believe the America Dream is dead. CNN reports 63% of people believe that the next generation will be worse off than themselves. These statistics pose the question, is the American Dream now a distant past time? If so, what happened? Have we lost faith in something so “American?”
First, let’s set the record straight. The American Dream should not be confused with a guarantee for success. In America, there are simply better chances to be successful due to an increased number of opportunities. In America, we are free to pursue our passions and use our talents and abilities as we determine appropriate. The American dream exists because of the complexity of our economic free enterprise system that provides individuals with a wealth of opportunities and enables them to pursue their interests. It exists because citizens’ have a right to private property, including intellectual property, and that property is protected by the government. The American dream is alive and well for those who are willing to play the game and play to win. However, the fulfillment of the dream is up to the individual, not the group.
With that said, the American dream is under attack, and its greatest threat is 'we the people.' As the Pogo cartoon says, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Once people convince themselves that the America Dream is dead, and people lack the motivation to work hard and challenge the status quo, the American dream dies. The previously referenced Harvard study found, “Millennials' skeptical attitude is in part due to the fact that the younger generation doesn't trust the government and doesn't feel the government is working hard enough for them.” This statistic is alarming. Since when did the government play a role in our success? What happened to personal responsibility? Furthermore, as the government grows, it takes a larger piece of the private sector via taxation, resulting in a decrease in the number of opportunities essential for the American dream to remain a reality. The government does not create anything; it only reallocates money generated by the private sector. As taxes increase to fund entitlements and other malinvestments, it becomes increasing difficult for Americans to compete globally.
Encouraging politicians to take other people’s money by the use of votes is not the answer. Further, we are spending money we don’t have, to pay for things we don’t need. Robert Cook, the former CEO and founder of this blog, says it best, “We’ve used debt to buy today what we can’t afford today and; therefore, we will have to reduce today’s outstanding debt levels by sacrificing purchases which otherwise would be made tomorrow. This will cause economic growth to be lower than living the ‘dream’ would anticipate. It’s payback time."
When we couple government's misallocation of resources and excessive borrowing with individuals borrowing money for expensive, non-marketable degrees, we are left with little to no economic benefit. The world is catching up with America, and catching up quickly.
Yet, there is hope. America remains the brightest beacon for hope and opportunity in the world. America is an exceptional place, and the American dream is alive and well for those that are willing to become self-reliant as Emerson wrote, and combine their gifts and talents with hard work. In America, our success is up to us as individuals. Without doubt, there is some luck involved. Nevertheless, luck favors those who work hard and prepare. These thoughts should be comforting and motivate us. The future is bright, and we have the potential to be exceptional people. Let’s play to win.
“If you can dream it, you can do it.” –Walt Disney
MIDN Matthew J. Miller
United States Merchant Marine Academy
Marine Engineering and Shipyard Management