Major Dad 1984

Cursed By A Classical Education

Let's just say that I intend to use this blog to blow off some steam that I might be feeling with the International/National media, my work situation, or maybe even to tee off on the family in a humorous way of course!

11/21/2004

The American Dream...Fact or Fiction?

I've probably been spending a little too much time on some other blogs, posting comments to their musings than staying here at home putting mine into the blogosphere. Okay, you've got my attention and hopefully I've gotten yours for a little while here...

On the blog of "The Urban Fox" we've been having a very spirited debate about the relative goodness or badness of the way the American and Western socieities have become as "The Fox" puts it, lavish consumers of far too much. We're raping the rest of the world...gaining only for gain's sake. Having posted a number of responses, counter responses I decided to see if my audience has some thoughts on the idea of the American Dream. Specifically, is it still available, attainable, and worth chasing?

First, I would maintain that America has one of the best, most accessible education systems available to both young and old in the world. While I think that it's far from perfect for a large number of reasons, nobody in America can say that they didn't have access to education. We mandate that kids from 5-18 attend school on the order of 200 days every year. Pulling out 104 weekend days, a dozen or so holidays, week long vacations once a semester, and then a summer break where kids and teachers can take a couple of months off to recover to begin anew in the fall...we've got the calendar covered.

Next, can anyone argue that American and "The West" are the economic, industrial, and technological leaders in the world? Name another nation that has the track record of innovation, production capacity, and will to do what it takes to better mankind. While many people will say this is evil, over-consumptive, and flat out lavish...do we not share our advances and gains with the rest of the world? Is anyone willing to say that the world is worse off for some of these advances? (Let's leave SUVs out of the discussion....) Let's think about some of the wonder drugs, the medical advances, the agricultural surpluses we share, and the like.

To wrap this all up, let's take a look at freedom. In the West, we have freedom of speech, freedom to travel, and freedom to create wealth beyond the imagination of many others around the world. The key to doing this, is desire. Desire alone cannot be a driving force it must be coupled with the willingness to actually do something to improve your lot in life and the willingness to take the risks necessary to achieve a goal.

There are some in this country that live in what I'll call depressed areas. The industrial power of the "Rust Belt" is waning, perhaps to be lost forever. However, the residents seem to be locked into a geographic region that keeps them from going to where the new jobs are...a hesitance to re-train themselves for the next job...and generally a lackadaisical view of life.

What seems to be lacking in our society today is the "pioneer spirit." If we were to capture this again, I seem to think that we could get ourselves back on track and move forward with our lives. Government isn't going to be able to do this by itself. Personal responsibility and desire to improve the general condition are the key ingredients. Government simply helps in setting up an environment where this is all possible.


Read the rest of the longer story!

11 Comments:

At 7:57 PM, Blogger Jim said...

You make some very nice points, but it is so much more complex than we can understand. We have no way to know all the variables so even the best experts are speculators...so I may as well speculate too.

The West is currently on top of the heap, but the real reason is because we currently have access to sufficient raw materials to meet our consumption...at the expense of some less powerful and corrupt governments. We all know about the IMF/Worldbank fiascos....huge loans which almost never lead to the capital improvements they were designated for- squandered/stolen, whatever. The taxpayers of those countries are left holding the bag. SOME debt is forgiven, but to just make the interest payments the desperate governments have fire sales on their resources and raw goods which we gladly gobble up.

The American Dream is available, but barely. People can educate themselves to any level their intellect can handle, but unless you have money to start with you are going to be Wayyy in debt with student loans....I know a teacher who was 20K in debt to go from Bachelor's to Masters. It will be a long time before his teacher pay will able him to pay it off.
Our way of life keeps going from borrowing as well. There is no more abundance of native raw materials to match the desires of our population. Without cheap foreign labor coming in to do all the menial work, our lifestyles would be curtailed. If all the countries who hold Treasury Bonds cash them and start spending all those dollars currently held out of circulation....we will have a big lifestyle change because lots and lots more "dollars" chasing the same goods and services = mega-inflation.

At some point every population maxes out. Nobody knows when the exact point is, but when it happens it's already too late. There will be scarcity at some point unless the population "adjusts" to what can be met by renewable raw materials. You can have 10 Doctorates from our education system, but when the time comes when it is obvious to all that that there just isn't enough to go around....might will be all that matters. All this may very well happen after we are dead and gone, but I think it is our duty to future generations to work it out now.

Our technology is great, it makes life fun in a number of ways. It prolongs life. It complicates life too. If all our cell phones, computers and the rest crashed....who still knows how to do business without them? That generation is slipping away.

I guess my point is: our ideals and hearts are in the right place, but the cold hard facts surrounding our lifestyles aren't being addressed.

I can only hope we will have the foresight to adjust our ways willingly, before mother nature enforces her laws- which always trump any ideal.

 
At 8:05 PM, Blogger Mary said...

I agree that we're lacking the pioneer spirit. Many view their jobs as an entitlement ... I don't want to bet my future on the certainty of my job!

I like your blog ...

 
At 8:28 PM, Blogger MajorDad said...

iKnit...

I would have responded via email, but think that it would have gone off to electronic mail Disneyland (no-comment reply).

Glad you like the blog...

Tell all your friends about it!

See you on the high ground...

MajorDad1984

 
At 10:15 PM, Blogger Joe said...

Pioneer spirit is exactly it, MajorDad. Pioneers move forward and seek progress because they cannot be satisfied with what they have, they must make it better and make themselves better. That's what I think the essence of the American Dream is; a progressive force that constantly improves and advances. I think we've lost some of that, not so much in technology and industry (although there are a few Asian nations nipping at our heels), but in culture. We have an antique culture in that we are still rooted in racial prejudice, class division, and monetary superiority. Of course, it's not like many other cultures are sprinting into the future, but as so many of our aspects have led the world, our culture should also serve as a paradigm.

 
At 9:08 AM, Blogger Jim said...

Pioneers have new land to tame and raw materials to harvest. Yes I agree with all- we have great freedoms, opportunities, culture. What is our plan to keep it sustainable?

 
At 3:24 PM, Blogger the urban fox said...

The main problem with this view is that we rich nations also steal the poorer countries' innovations (e.g. American and European corporations patent indigenous medicines and ingredients from poorer countries without international intellectual property agreements and thus rob the resource right from under their noses), interfere with their agriculture to the extent where we destroy their self-sufficiency and force them to rely on our trade and goodwill (see the latest post in my blog for an example, I won't bore you with a repetition here) and impose our so-called "free" trade rules on them, which essentially means we ruin their homegrown industries by forbidding them from imposing any restraint on our imports while simultaneously imposing high taxes (often 100% or more) on theirs.

It's a complicated situation. America's not the only suspect here though; this has been Europe's preferred method of getting ahead for centuries.

 
At 6:57 PM, Blogger Joe said...

Well, how about an incentive to recycle, or to subsidize reclaimed resources like purified water so that consumers can have more than just their consciences, which get stifled all too often, as reasons to purchase recycled goods. I remember reading an article, whose location I can't remember at the moment, that did the math on some foreign city's recycling program, which actually saved them money instead of being a burden to their budget.

 
At 7:03 PM, Blogger Joe said...

Here we go

 
At 3:53 PM, Blogger Rich Casebolt said...

I have to wholeheartedly disagree with those who imply that we are inevitibly resource-limited ... for that discounts the greatest resource we have; the ability of the human being to adapt and innovate to better his/her lot.

In fact, the only thing we have to fear is our own commplacency.However, just because we have the abilities to adapt and innovate doesn't mean that we aren't infallable. We must be wise as we keep moving forward.

This is why we must be very careful of how much we let government provide "incentives" to direct individual economic behavior ... it breaks the feedback loop between liberty and consequence, and too often leads to the retardation of real progress.

For the last ten years, I've worked in the battery industry. In the late 1990's, I designed a lot of test equipment for the various electric-vehicle R&D efforts that were going on then. Many of those were pure-electric vehicles that promised zero emissions ... but had so many practical drawbacks for their users that none ever became commercially viable.

Yet, even before the bugs were worked out, California was mandating fleet percentages of ZEV's ... and appeared to be ignoring the more-practical hybrid-EV development efforts that, while not zero-emission, would be commercially viable (read that as: practical for you and me to own, not just economically, but technically).

That mandate, I am sure, drove a lot of the push to pure-EV technology ... and, IIRC, is now compelling the automakers to sell (and sometimes give away) large numbers of glorified golf carts to meet the fleet percentages. These ZEVs are only good for around-small-town usage ... and I seriously question their crashworthiness on the public highways.

At the same time, the rollout of the practical, and ultra-low-emission, hybrid vehicles was delayed by this push to meet a mandate-driven (as opposed to market-driven) requirement.

From this to low-flow toilets, the track record of activists and bureaucrats successfully mandating the right decisions about individual economic behavior is pretty poor.

... The Alleged Mental Case ... (bolt)

 
At 4:13 PM, Blogger Rich Casebolt said...

Oh, Urban Fox ... riddle me this.

If corporations are such powerful oppressors ...

... how did a redneck from Rogers, Arkansas come out of nowhere and steal so many customers from established corporate giants like Sears and J.C. Penney?

... how did a college kid start a computer-building business in his dorm room, move it to Round Rock, Texas, and steal so many customers from IBM?

-----

BTW, you say that our overconsumption is threatening the world ... I say that our "overconsumption" is providing the rest of the world with opportunities to create their own wealth.

For all its flaws, the multiple, tight feedback loops between liberty and consequence that exist within free-market capitalism do more to assure the most efficient and effective use of our resources than any of the alternative socioeconomic structures.

 
At 11:18 PM, Blogger Joe said...

Well, the success of a few entrepreneurs and the enrichment of a select few surely justifies rampant conglomeration and the squashing of family business...but that's ok, they were barely solvent as it was.

 

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