The American Dream—the idea that any American has the ability to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, work hard, make good decisions, and lift themselves from even abject poverty to extreme wealth—is what has always made America different from any other nation on earth. Only in the United States’ free market capitalist economic system has this level of economic mobility been possible, which is why people from around the world have flocked to the United States throughout its history. But is the American Dream still possible?
According to a recent Rasmussen Reports survey, 59 percent of Americans believe that it is impossible for any individual American to work hard and get rich, the highest level ever. Not only that, only 48% believe that it is possible for anyone to work their way out of poverty, while 39% disagree. Rasmussen also shows that pessimism is at an all-time high, with only 25% of Americans believing that the economy will be better a year from now than it is today. Given the sorry state of the American economy, that’s a very sad statement.
Sadly, it appears that the American people have lost faith in the American Dream. Can we really blame them? After all, look at the current state of the economy. Last month a record number of Americans were not in the labor force, as more and more Americans are digging into their retirement accounts, including their 401(k)s, to pay their bills. Young people in particular have little reason for optimism; after being promised their entire lives that getting a college education was a way to virtually guarantee a job and a good living, many of them are chronically underemployed (if not unemployed), and saddled with hundreds of thousands of crippling college loan debt.
These same people who are struggling see what is going on around them; there are multi-billion-dollar corporations (warning: video autoplays) sending their money (and, consequently, potential jobs) overseas. At the same time, 43% of the top 1% of earners live in the Washington, DC area, which also includes 7 of the 10 richest counties in the United States. Overall, the DC metro area is the richest metropolitan area in the country. People in DC are getting rich off of the work being done elsewhere in the country. Meanwhile, high taxes and stifling regulations are standing in the way of entrepreneurs, preventing companies, especially small businesses, from creating jobs and even preventing people from opening their own businesses. The message out of DC, in today’s economy, is: don’t bother trying to work hard, build a business, or create jobs, because the government is going to stand in the way and punish any success that happens through punitive taxation. Instead, the government has a tax code and welfare system that gives poor people incentives to stay poor.
The left has created the environment that makes some people rich, and keeps them rich, through cronyism and nepotism, while keeping other people poor by providing promises of handouts and no incentive to pull themselves from poverty. The American Dream, and economic mobility, have been turned on their heads. The way to become rich is now to lobby government for the money earned by one’s fellow Americans. Poverty is not an uncomfortable condition to avoid and escape at all costs through hard work and good decisions; it’s a subsidized lifestyle also supported by money earned by others.
Obviously, the answer is to get government to leave us all alone. The middle class is paying to make bureaucrats, lobbyists, and politicians rich, and to provide just enough for many poor people to avoid work while creating no incentive for them to improve their status. For those, particularly on the left, who are concerned about the shrinking middle class and income inequality, look at the perverse incentives that have been created. Whether rich or poor, the path is through Washington, DC taking the tax dollars of that shrinking middle class.
So is the American Dream dead? No, but it’s certainly on life support. Only through free market capitalism, limited government, and economic liberty can the American Dream be revived and revitalized, creating the same economic mobility that made America great and strong.
Jeff Scott is a former and aspiring future radio host currently hosting his own weekly podcast, which you can listen to at www.jeffscottshow.com. You can find him @jeffscottshow on Twitter and on Facebook.