Define Rich, part II: Rat Race and the American Dream

by Divorced one like Bush

There were some good responses to the first posting that I agreed with. They were, could we say, jumping the gun as to how I want to proceed, however. So, with this post I want to continue with looking at phrases/concepts/thoughts that are a part of, or were a part of any discussion regarding “rich”.

Have you missed the phrase: Rat Race?
Wonder why we ask: Is the American Dream dead?
Could it be that in an economy where “rich” is not or will not be defined, the race is won and the dream obtained? After all, we’re all rich now! Sodahead specifically asked the question.

We have polls regarding the Dream. From the group: Change to Win, the 2006 American Dream Survey:

A majority of American workers feel both the country (63%) and the national economy (63%) have gotten off on the wrong track. Just 26% of workers say the country is headed in the right direction, while 28% say the national economy is headed in the right direction.

The most widespread serious worries of American workers today include the prospect of not being able to afford health care when they need it (a serious concern for 77%), not having enough money for retirement (77%), losing their health care benefits (72%), not being able to keep up with bills (69%), and having their standard of living slip further and further (68%).

When asked the open ended question of what the American Dream means to the them, respondents say it means having a good job and being able to make a comfortable living (37%) while notably, almost no one mentions being wealthy or affluent (1%).

From New American 2004 survey report:

More than 4 in 5 Americans (85%) say that our society’s priorities are out of whack.
Nearly all Americans (93%) agree — more than half agree strongly (52%) — that Americans are too focused on working and making money and not enough on family and community.
More than 4 in 5 Americans (83%) agree that they wish they had more of what really matters in life.
Less than 3 in 10 say that having a bigger house or apartment (29%) or nicer things (16%) would make them much more satisfied.

In this survey is a chart of phrases asked to be rated in how well it describes the American Dream and importance for society on a 10 point scale. They report the percentage that rated each phrase at 8 or higher. The following are significant for this discussion:
“To consume or buy what we want”. Only 55% said it described the Dream and 49% said it was important.
“Achieving an affluent or wealthy life style”. Only 49% said it described the Dream and 44 % said it was important.
These are low numbers compared to the other phrases.

Thus, between these two surveys, the idea of getting rich so that you can consume as you please is not a big part of the Dream. In fact this survey found:

Over the past 5 years, nearly half of Americans (49%) say that they have voluntarily made changes in their life which resulted in making less money.
What kinds of changes have Americans who are downshifting made? One in three Americans (33%) say they have ”quit working outside the home” and more than 1 in 4 say they have either changed to a lower paying job (28%) or reduced their work hours (26%).

That brings us to the phrase: Rat Race.

A rat race is a term used for an endless, self-defeating or pointless pursuit…The rat race is a term often used to describe work, particularly excessive work; in general terms, if one works too much, one is in the rat race.

Now, consider that there were 38.8 million hits for “is the American Dream Dead” but only 3.98 million hits for “rat race”. “Houston, we have a problem.” People know what the American Dream is and they know we ain’t livin’ it, BUT, they have no idea what they have been living.

In that 3.98 million hits, only 1 MSM article came up early regarding “rat race” and how to get out of it. Early was page 2, second listing. Contrast that with the dead American Dream search having the first 3 hits being MSM articles.

This is how the article from MSN Money Staff, 7/20/07 begins:

Looking to get off the paycheck-to-paycheck treadmill or to drop out of the rat race altogether? Here’s what you’ll need: a solid plan for how you’ll spend your time and a way to either earn dramatically more or spend much, much less.

This is not an impossible dream. In 2004, 7.5 million U.S. households had $1 million in assets, not including their homes. The number of people worth $5 million has quadrupled in the past 10 years and numbers nearly 1 million.

So, the way to get out of the race is to win the race? Obviously they have not read what Americans believe the American Dream is. Or, could this article be getting at just how expensive it is to have the American Dream? Or, are they supporting the impression from the surveys that the chances of getting the Dream are slim and less so for the next generation? After all, what is 7.5 million households compared to a projected 110 million by 2010?

If we can not conceptualize (though we used to) what it is we are doing while having a feeling that we don’t like what ever it is we are doing because it is not part of the American Dream, then how can we define rich? However, if you are rich, and you make money from money, could there be any better environment than to have the masses unable to recognize their dilemma? Talk about putting your capital to work! Just as there is a campaign to not define rich, there has been a campaign to make the American Dream synonymous with the goal of making money. For instance, the purpose of business was not always defined as making money, however that is the pat answer returned today. (I’m going to write about this too some day.)

Just read that MSN article again. Nothing in there gives the reader permission to simply down size, to get off the rat race. No, you have to make sure you have enough money. They even suggest doubt about your being able to be happy with less. And, in the end you may already be rich. There closing sentence:

On the other hand, you may not be as poor as you think. Check out GlobalRichList to get a different take on how you compare with others.

The goal is to make money we are told. You know, the rhetoric about the lazy people, those wanting more of the American Dream than they are willing to work hard enough for? You don’t want to be like them! Yet, the pursuit of this goal is the incarnation of the concept “Rat Race”.

We have had our ideas about our purpose in and of life reduced to the concept of “rat race”, while having the concept removed from our daily lexicon so that we can’t even voice what we are experiencing. Our American dream has been reduced to “an endless, self-defeating or pointless pursuit” while we have been losing the words to voice the experience. Did you know, that the reason we can not remember our very early years is because as infants, we do not have use of language and thus can not form memories. You need words and their understanding in order to structure and reason your life out.

Defining “rich” is part of understanding the American Dream. The Dream is a life style within the framing of equality of power. The American Dream is the goal. The goal has always had a dollar amount tied to it. Because the Dream cost money, it is vulnerable to manipulation by those of unequal power: the rich.

To be continued.

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