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How Can We Revive the American Dream?

Some have said that the American dream is dead—free markets are rigged, there is no way for people to move up, and we are helpless to our circumstances. In fact, in a recent CNN Opinion Poll, 63 percent of respondents said they were unsure if their kids were going to be better off in the future.

I like to use the example of Blockbuster to depict this sense of hopelessness. When David Cook founded the company in 1985, he revolutionized an idea of “renting” movies to watch at home. At the company’s height in 2002, Blockbuster was worth $5 billion. In 2010, the company declared bankruptcy and the company owned stores have all been closed. Ironically, in 2000, Blockbuster passed on a new, innovative company called Netflix because they were dedicated to their original business model of having brick and mortar stores and renting physical copies of movies to customers. Eventually, this little start up would be Blockbuster’s undoing.

How about a different depiction of the American dream?

I’m a big fan of the “Humans of New York” Facebook page that posts a picture of a person with a short saying or their story. It’s fascinating. I was enthralled with this woman’s story in particular, whose picture was uploaded on June 30, 2014:

I had a child when I was sixteen. I got kicked out of high school because of all the absences. My family and community pretty much wrote me off. But right away I got a job at a sporting goods store. Soon I was able to get a job as a receptionist at a tax company, and they gave me enough responsibilities that I learned how to do taxes. Eventually I learned enough to become an associate. Then I got offered a job at a smaller company, and even though it was a pay cut, they offered me responsibility over all the books—accounts payable, accounts receivable, everything. It was less money but I wanted that experience so I took the risk. And I’m so glad I did, because six months later, the controller of that company left and I was given that position. They told me they couldn’t officially call me the controller because I didn’t have a college degree. So I finished my degree 5 months ago—just to make it official! So after having a child at sixteen, I made it all the way to controller of a company, without even having a college degree. Can you believe that? Honestly, I’ve been waiting to tell that story so long that I told it to a customer service representative on the phone last week. She was nice about it and pretended to care.

So, what can we learn from Blockbuster’s failure and this woman’s inspiring story of overcoming great obstacles to become successful? Primarily, that innovation must be encouraged in our society. The best way for people to change their circumstances is through creativity and hard work, not dependence on the government. We must foster a vibrant economy and opportunity society where that continues to be true.

Nobody is forced to settle for the circumstances they were born into. But, as long as we continue to enslave generations to government dependence, we will continue to stifle people’s God-given talents. Work is not inherently bad; we need to show people how work can improve their lives in meaningful and lasting ways.