Define Rich, part II: Rat Race and the American Dream
I have had this re-posted today because I believe it is as relevant today as when I wrote it in May, 2009. My hope is that this event we are living moves enough new people to realize the society we built is not sustainable. My hope is that one of the basic questions I was trying to answer in a more completely when I started blogging at AB is answered in a manner such that the nation and ultimately humanity becomes more inclusive: Why do we have an economy? I will not accept the answer: To make money.
I believe today, people are discovering the rat race they have voted themselves into. I hope enough people will come to understand that just making money is not life sustaining.
My concern is that the use of the “war” analogy will lead us to policy which implies an end point…a win. We are not at war. You can not have a war with nature. Nature has no ideology to fight against. Nature just is. It’s just doing. It has no persona. It has no intent. It just reacts based on what has come in the past. It’s not logical, it’s not irrational. There is no end. There is no win. There will be another virus. If we are lucky, only 1 virus at a time. Yes, as we saw the past 2 days, weather events still exist. Nature can do more than one thing at a time.
We are in the first nationwide crisis since the Depression. WW2 was not a crisis in this nation. The biggest difference between the Depression and now is that man created the Depression which had a natural event imposed on top of it (the Dust Bowl). That natural event only effected a part of the nation. Today we have a depression being imposed on us by nature. The entire nation. The Depression could and was undone by its creator. This current developing one can not be undone by the creator: nature. It can be argued that our policies pushed nature (pollution, climate change) and thus we created the disaster leading one to believe we can undo it. Not really. Not in the sense of simply undoing the policies that set up the environment such that nature has brought us to this point. Nature only reacts. It just does. There is no simple solution as with the Depression. It only required some policy changes addressing only the economy.
We can’t win. We can only live. Hopefully with a more inclusive thought process and thus society.
Rat Race and the American Dream
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 Dream.org 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.
“Or, could this article be getting at just how expensive it is to have the American Dream? ”
I am retired. I have no pension. I do have a well-funded 401k. I funded my 401k with money I earned working at a good job (one I enjoyed and paid well). But now I am in the class of people who are making money on money.
For those of us who can do the math, figuring out how to be able to do the things we want in retirement (my current simple definition of the American Dream) means figuring out how to become wealthy. One of the reasons rich is so hard to define is that too many people are not able to do the math.
Arne, I’m happy for you that you have been able to retire in a means that sounds comfortable.
However, you may be earning your money from money currently, but by your own words, you accumulated that with your own labor working in a good job. That, I will assume was the majority of your life to date.
Not all who are not so fortunate are unfortunate because they can’t do math. They need a “good job” too. Hopefully one that they enjoy and pays well.
If only living life were as simple as you have suggested.
Ah, the American Dream line was just another propaganda line. It really only “existed” from one period in history(the post-war era’s bubble) yet, people still think it was a “thing”????
While I admit to believing that being able to do math helps in figuring out how to achieve a comfortable life, that was not my point. My point was that if you do not know what it takes to live a comfortable life, your definitions of “rich” and maybe of “living the American Dream” are probably not very useful. I have what it takes, so I feel I must admit to being lucky enough to have become wealthy.
“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%).”
For me, there is no meaningful difference between retiring comfortably and “being wealthy”.
Of course, whether being “wealthy” and being “rich” are the same probably depends on context. From discussions about money with my daughter, I observe the idea that for some people, money is not just a medium of exchange. It is used to keep score.
In that context, if you use money to keep score, you are rich.
[I would like to say that I hate to quibble, but that would be a lie.]
“…My hope is that one of the basic questions I was trying to answer in a more completely when I started blogging at AB is answered in a manor…”
[I fear all our questions are answered in a manor or someplace very much like a manor.]
“…Nature just is. It’s just doing. It has no persona. It has no intent. It just reacts based on what has come in the past. It’s not logical, it’s not irrational. There is no end. There is no win…”
[Au contraire, mon capitaine! Nature is totally logical. Nature faithfully observes cause and effect without a whimper of objection. It is mankind that is irrational, perhaps due to an excess of intent and a perversion of persona.]
[Otherwise then I am with you. At 71 years old then when I was a tween all of the adults knew what the rat race was. There were movies about the unscrupulous demands of corporate America to which people must submit in order tor reach for their morsel of the American Dream. In earlier times then the American Dream was the Homestead Act and before that the American Dream was just being freed from jail to take your chances in a New World or escaping there to avoid religious or ethnic persecution, but the American Dream was never forty acres and a mule – not that forty acres and mule was anything to sneeze at – just did not happen for many. Of course slavery had been the American Nightmare unless one were actually an American in which case then the American Nightmare began on the Trail of Tears.]
Let us not forget who destroyed the American Dream.
More than 50 years of the Southern Strategy has enabled the GOP to lead us to this:
“Facing South, the essential blog from the Institute for Southern Studies in Durham, N.C., has put together a study of the impact of the pandemic on that region. It is a comprehensive report that demonstrates first and foremost how many different aspects of American life are affected by the current public-health emergency, especially in the South, which is particularly vulnerable.
‘Moreover, a new analysis from the Southern Economic Advancement Project indicates that the Southern region is vulnerable to the pandemic in ways that other regions are not. Approximately 30 percent of all wages and salaries in the South — more than $577 billion — are earned in seven industries that rely on sustained levels of household spending and so are easily disrupted. The South also has a higher proportion of elderly residents and people with disabilities, lower rates of paid sick leave, weak levels of public benefits, fewer overall resources, and nine of the 14 states in the nation that have failed to expand Medicaid. Indeed, between 2005 and 2019, 162 rural hospitals were closed, and 60 percent of those were in Southern states that rejected Medicaid expansion.’….
As you can imagine, these problems are even more acute in the South, especially the pre-existing societal conditions whereby general economic inequality has bled into a form of medical discrimination. In addition, even economic development has proven discriminatory. From the Facing South report:
‘The Southeast Crescent Regional Commission (SCRC), created in 2008 to provide economic development assistance to seven Black Belt states, has been authorized to receive $30 million to $33 million annually but was never appropriated more than $250,000 in a year. In contrast, the same 2008 legislation also launched the Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC) for similar rural development assistance in the primarily white states of Maine, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont; it has received steady funding — growing to $25 million in 2019 — despite being a much smaller region than that covered by the SCRC.
The resources that the SCRC should have received for the past 12 years were sorely needed before, and there is palpable desperation now. The South contains approximately 84 percent of the nation’s persistently poor counties — that is, counties that have had at least 20 percent of the population in poverty over 30 years. The region faces everything from raw sewage due to inadequate infrastructure, to health care deserts, to no broadband access, to a lack of living wage jobs. The SCRC was created to provide funding for job training, health care services, transportation, infrastructure, and more. SCRC investments in health care facilities and a more diversified economy — so fewer people would now be dependent on low-wage and currently high-risk work — could be making a difference right now as Southerners confront this public health crisis.’
The pandemic is teaching important lessons every day, object lessons in all the problems this country has been ignoring, or dealing with fitfully, over the last 100 years. If we’re not smart enough as a self-governing republic to take this opportunity to learn from it, we’re not smart enough to be a self-governing republic, and maybe never have been.”
And resulted in people like this.
“McConnell Became Trump’s Enabler-in-Chief
The Senate Majority Leader’s refusal to rein in the President is looking riskier than ever.
On Thursday, March 12th, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, could have insisted that he and his colleagues work through the weekend to hammer out an emergency aid package addressing the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, he recessed the Senate for a long weekend, and returned home to Louisville, Kentucky. McConnell, a seventy-eight-year-old Republican who is about to complete his sixth term as a senator, planned to attend a celebration for a protégé, Justin Walker, a federal judge who was once his Senate intern. McConnell has helped install nearly two hundred conservatives as judges; stocking the judiciary has been his legacy project.
Soon after he left the Capitol, Democrats in the House of Representatives settled on a preliminary rescue package, working out the details with the Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin. The Senate was urgently needed for the next steps in the process. McConnell, though, was onstage in a Louisville auditorium, joking that his opponents “occasionally compare me to Darth Vader.”
The gathering had the feel of a reunion. Don McGahn, Donald Trump’s former White House counsel, whom McConnell has referred to as his “buddy and co-collaborator” in confirming conservative judges, flew down for the occasion. So did Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, whose Senate confirmation McConnell had fought fiercely to secure. Walker, the event’s honoree, had clerked for Kavanaugh, and became one of his lead defenders after Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault. McConnell is now championing Walker for an opening on the powerful D.C. Court of Appeals, even though Walker has received a “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association, in part because, at the age of thirty-eight, he has never tried a case.
Another former Senate aide of McConnell’s, a U.S. district judge for the Eastern District of Kentucky, Gregory Van Tatenhove, also attended the Louisville event. His wife, Christine, is a former undergraduate scholar at the McConnell Center—an academic program at the University of Louisville which, among other things, hosts an exhibit honoring the Senator’s career. Recently, she donated a quarter of a million dollars to the center……
In a forthcoming book, “Let Them Eat Tweets,” the political scientists Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson challenge the notion that the Republican Party is riven between global corporate élites and downscale white social conservatives. Rather, they argue, an “expedient pact” lies at the heart of today’s Party—and McConnell and Trump embody it. Polls show that there is little voter support for wealthy donors’ agenda of tax cuts for themselves at the expense of social-safety-net cuts for others. The Republicans’ 2017 tax bill was a case in point: it rewarded the Party’s biggest donors by bestowing more than eighty per cent of its largesse on the wealthiest one per cent, by cutting corporate tax rates, and by preserving the carried-interest loophole, which is exploited by private-equity firms and hedge funds. The legislation was unpopular with Democratic and Republican voters alike. In order to win elections, Hacker and Pierson explain, the Republican Party has had to form a coalition between corporatists and white cultural conservatives who are galvanized by Trump’s anti-élitist and racist rhetoric. The authors call this hybrid strategy Plutocratic Populism. Hacker told me that the relationship between McConnell and Trump offers “a clear illustration of how the Party has evolved,” adding, “They may detest each other, but they need each other.”………
Steinem’s comment echoed a common belief about McConnell: that he began his career as an idealistic, liberal Republican in the mold of Nelson Rockefeller. Certainly, McConnell’s current positions on several key issues, including campaign spending and organized labor, are far more conservative than they once were. But when I asked John Yarmuth, the Democratic congressman from Louisville, who has known McConnell for fifty years, if McConnell had once been idealistic, he said, “Nah. I never saw any evidence of that. He was just driven to be powerful.”
Yarmuth, who began as a Republican and worked in a statewide campaign alongside McConnell in 1968, said that McConnell had readily adapted to the Republican Party’s rightward march: “He never had any core principles. He just wants to be something. He doesn’t want to do anything.”
For months, I searched for the larger principles or sense of purpose that animates McConnell. I travelled twice to Kentucky, observed him at a Trump rally in Lexington, and watched him preside over the impeachment trial in Washington. I interviewed dozens of people, some of whom love him and some of whom despise him. I read his autobiography, his speeches, and what others have written about him. Finally, someone who knows him very well told me, “Give up. You can look and look for something more in him, but it isn’t there. I wish I could tell you that there is some secret thing that he really believes in, but he doesn’t.”
I remember when I first started working (in rhe research department of the Reserve Bank of Australia) a book came out called “Land of tbe Long Weekend” criticising the work ethic of Australians. I know my then boss, said a lot if Australuans just want to lie on the beach. I didn’t respond by ny thoughts were – in other countries people pay a lot of money to lie on the beach. Australuans get to do it for free. Maybe Australuans are being smart.