Many people fall for the fantasy of the American Dream. Who could blame them? It’s a beautiful story. Its moral is that you are completely in control of your own destiny. If you work hard enough, do everything you’re supposed to, and floss your teeth once a day, you’ll live happily ever after. Pffft. If that were true I’d be a millionaire.
There are several flaws with this theory. First of all, it’s fairly safe to assume that most rich people aren’t self-made. God knows Donald Trump isn’t. If it weren’t for daddy, the Donald would probably be one of those loudmouth losers sitting on the last bar stool at the corner pub, and everyone would go out of the way to avoid him. And do you think Paris Hilton would be rich from her own efforts? Please.
Second, getting you to buy into the American Dream has some very nefarious results. It undermines your confidence. You’ll always be able to look around and see people who are doing better than you are. What are you doing wrong? Aren’t you working hard enough? What’s wrong with you? Work harder! And it also makes you focus on what you should have, rather than taking a hard look at your current circumstances.
Rich people need all of us down here being worker-bees, so they won’t have to. They need us down here focused on grinding out our widgets rather than getting uptight about our current situations. We are commodities to them. The more they can get us to produce, the more valuable we are to them. It’s the same in a slave-holding society. The hardest workers are sold for the highest prices.
Third, the American Dream is based on the concept that there’s an unlimited amount of wealth in the world. Rich people would have you believe that wealth is like kudzu. Just provide the right conditions for it, and soon you are up to your eyeballs in the weeds of abundance. You’ll be so darned rich that you’ll be chopping money down with a machete in a desperate attempt to see daylight.
Poppycock. Wealth is finite. If it were infinite, it wouldn’t be worth anything. If our economy were based on the kudzu standard, you’d need acres of the stuff just to buy a loaf of bread. This is why so many economies were originally based on the gold standard. There’s only so much gold on the planet. When something is rare and hard to obtain, it’s considered precious. It is said to have worth. But really, gold is just a lump of metal. It’s just that we all agree to assign it value.
Now that we’ve established that there’s only so much wealth out there, you have to face a hard fact. In order for people to accumulate wealth, they have to take it away from the rest of us. In other words, they are rich because we are poor. The system is set up to keep you down.
But here’s where it gets really weird. Even the rich people are now bumping up against the problem that wealth is finite. They want more, but there isn’t more. Not really. So they create all sorts of fictitious types of wealth that are based on… well… nothing. More and more rectangular pieces of paper that are called money for no good reason other than that we all agree it has worth. Credit. Stocks, bonds, loans, unsustainable mortgages, liens that will never be honored… All of these things are starting to get further and further away from actual substantive value, and that’s why we have things like the economic disaster of 2008. Things fall apart. The center does not hold.
I think the thing that scares the 1% more than anything else right now is the internet. The 99% are starting to share information with each other. We are starting to pull our heads out of the sand and actually see things. We’re getting smarter, and they’re not able to get away with as much. And when they do, we’re getting angrier. We’re starting to share our anger with each other.
We are also starting to reevaluate what has worth. We are talking about quality of life issues such as human rights and healthcare and climate and education and housing. These are things that you can’t fake or inflate.
That’s got to be terrifying for rich people. They’re sitting there, jealously guarding their pots of gold. What will they do if we all decide that gold is no different than lead? If that happens, then the Trumps of the world will be revealed to be the fools that they are.
I think economics is going to be a vital and dynamic field during the rest of this century. Change is coming. I, personally, am looking forward to it.
On this particular day of the week I usually don’t rise until noon because I don’t go to work until 3 pm. So when the alarm went off at 7 am, I experienced some less than charitable thoughts. Especially since my dog Devo had been snoring most of the night. When he does that he sounds like a little old man muttering incomprehensively to himself. It makes me giggle, but it’s not conducive to deep sleep.
So I sat up in bed, rubbed my eyes, and thought, “Who does this? Have I completely lost my marbles?” I had agreed to meet a friend for breakfast. Waaaaaaaay on the other side of town. As in 25 miles through downtown Seattle rush-hour traffic. For eggs.
I thought of coming up with a lame excuse and going back to bed. But this is a friend who happens to be an airline pilot (my bff calls him my “flyboy”) and he rarely passes through Seattle. When he does it’s a high speed chase to catch up with him before he flies out again.
So I stumbled into the shower, then got dressed and hit the road. While sitting in stop and go traffic, I thought back to a time when I wouldn’t have considered driving 25 miles for anyone unless there was a good chance of a marriage proposal or at the very least a free car involved. And yet here I was. Stopping and going. What had changed?
It’s simple, really. I value true friends much more than I used to. Relocating 3000 miles from home to a place where no one knows you will do that to you. Suddenly friendship, the thing you always had been surrounded by, the thing that defined you, is no longer something you can take for granted.
For me these days, sitting across the table from someone who is genuinely interested in what’s going on with my life, and wanting to hear that person’s news as well, is a rare and precious opportunity. It’s worth more than sleep. It’s worth more than gold. It’s something to cherish. If I learned nothing else from this massive life change of mine, that lesson made it all worthwhile.
Breakfast with a friend is priceless. I might even have been persuaded to drive more than 25 miles for it. Maybe even 26. And the eggs were all the more delicious for the company.
[Image credit: articles.bplans.com]
Apologies in advance. I’m feeling rather cynical today.
Recently a dear friend told me he got into a very heated argument with his boss because he felt he was being underpaid and unappreciated. While I can understand how he feels, I have to say I inwardly cringed. It’s been my experience that nothing good comes of such conversations.
My friend seems to be of the impression that his employer will now see the error of his ways, appreciate the value he brings to the organization, and a raise will soon follow. Not bloody likely. If his boss were the type to recognize the value of his employees, he’d be properly compensating them already.
The fact is, as good as you are at your job, you’re never indispensable. Even Steve Jobs got fired from Apple. Look over your shoulder. There are at least 10 people standing behind you, eager to take your place. Especially in this economy. This means that the average employer can, and will, treat you like crap. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but if you want groceries and a roof over your head, that’s the way it is.
So before you start shouting, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!” consider this: we are all cogs in a massive wheel, and cogs can be replaced.
Recently someone I love very much told me that she had attempted suicide a couple of times in the past year. This broke my heart because I had no idea she was suffering in silence. Having struggled with depression my whole life, I know what it’s like to want to throw off that thick blanket of despair, and I know that sometimes it seems like there is only one irreversible way to do so. But that’s the thing. Once you’ve made that choice, you can never make any other choices, ever. How can you be sure there aren’t better times just around the corner?
I can also speak with a little bit of authority on this subject because as a bridgetender I cross paths with people attempting suicide several times a year. I’ve never actually spoken to one of these people. Either the police rescue them before they jump or they make good on their attempt.
I’ve often thought about what I’d say if I came upon a jumper on my bridge and no one else was there. I’m not trained in any way so I’m probably the last person that should be thrust into that situation, and I’d avoid it if I could, but if I had no other choice, what would I do to try to convince them not to take that last irreversible step?
First I’d introduce myself and ask for his or her name. Then I would say, “I don’t know why you’re here, and I don’t know why you want to jump. I’m sure you have your reasons, and they’re none of my business. But I’d like to tell you that this is probably the most important conversation I’ve ever had in my life, because I think you are important in this world. I think you have value. I really believe that every day you impact and influence people and you probably don’t even realize it. Some day, a month, a year, a decade from now, someone will cross your path who will need your influence. If you’re not there to do so, that person may never have the future he or she deserves.”
“I also think that things can change on a dime. You never know what tomorrow will bring. But if you jump, you’ll never get to find out. One thing tomorrow can bring for you is help. Someone to talk to. People who will take you seriously. And they are out there. I promise. We’ll make sure you get a chance to talk to those people, if only you stick around to do so.
“The fact that you’re still listening to me means that you are having second thoughts. That’s good. That means you still have choices. You can still not jump, and then you have a whole world of possibilities. I can tell you this. Every single jumper, without exception, screams on the way down. That means they regret their decision the minute they step into thin air. But by then it’s too late. And that sentiment has been universally confirmed by the rare people who survive jumping off a bridge. They say they wish they had never done it. Can you imagine that feeling of terror? Wanting desperately to take something back but not being able to do so? Would you want that to be the last feeling you have? I don’t want that for you.
“I can also tell you that it’s not as easy a way to go as you might think. See that concrete and wooden fender system down there? I’ve heard jumpers hit that thing, and you can hear their bones break all the way up here. That sound will haunt me for the rest of my life, and now that I know your name, it would be even worse. But even if you miss the fender system it’s bad. Your organs are lighter than your skeleton, so when you hit the water, your skeleton rushes past your organs, forcing them all to move up into your chest cavity. I can’t imagine that type of pain. It’s a horrible, horrible way to go.
“I don’t have all the answers. In fact, my life is pretty messed up. But I really do believe there’s more out there for you than this. You wouldn’t be feeling so hurt or scared or depressed or angry about your situation if you didn’t believe you deserved more, too. Don’t take away your chance to find out what’s out there. Right now you can go in any direction you want. Left, right, forward, backward, up or down. If you jump, all you’ll be left with is down. If you feel like you have no hope now, imagine how you’ll feel when you’ve only got one direction left to go.”
I don’t know. Maybe that would be the wrong thing to say to a jumper. Maybe it would do no good. But that’s what I’d want to say.