Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Willingness to Try

Betterment is possible. It does not take a genius. It takes diligence. It takes moral clarity. It takes ingenuity. And above all, it takes a willingness to try. - Atul Gawande

When I first saw that image, I had to laugh. What a clever business idea! It reminded me of the ingenuity of countless immigrants who came to America penniless but determined to make it. Many would try their luck in business. Some would peddle snake oil, others would try to sell you the Brooklyn bridge. There were many crooks and the mafia, but also many decent people who would come up with business ideas so unique that the whole world would sigh in admiration and then quickly set out to copy the example. Fortunes would be made and lost like nowhere else. This was the America in the making, always striving for the superlative.

The unique desire to succeed shaped the face of America from the very beginning of its existence. Capitalism in its most aggressive form was responsible for unsurpassed economic growth. But America did not exist in vacuum. Just like any other country it was touched by the globally occurring events. World War I, the Great Depression and World War II brought hardship and poverty to many, but at the same time, mobilized others to utmost creativity and diligence. In only few decades American economy recovered. American  Dream was the new motivating force. Prosperity was attainable once again.

People worked hard to achieve high living standard that was propagated by the cheerful Hollywood productions of the era. As always, some people made it, others were left behind. But one could always start all over. Americans were well known for their resilience. They were industrious and willing to take risks. And no one was blamed if things did not turn out well. There was no vicious envy for those who succeeded. Instead, people admired those who made it and wanted to emulate their success. This is how things always were in America. Until the Vietnam war, that is. 

The Vietnam war incited violent social and racial unrest. The suburban ideal crumbled when youth rebelled against everything that was sacred to their parents and grandparents. Things were never to be the same again. The conservative values of the previous generations were replaced by so called progressive thinking and a desire to create a new society which was to be modeled after the collectivist totalitarian societies of China and the Soviet Union. The acid-laced (LSD) vision of the American "revolutionaries" comfortably omitted the atrocities perpetrated by the communist regimes. They ignored the plight of the people living the communist hell on Earth behind the Iron Curtain.

America needed change but thankfully, the "red" rebellion did not succeed and things returned to normal. More or less. The disenchanted students went back to school and graduated. Some of them went to teach in schools and universities, others went into politics. Some, however, decided to embrace capitalism and became successful entrepreneurs. 

The late 70s brought the energy crisis, stagflation and the escalation of the Cold War. In 1981 Ronald Reagan became the president of the United States and once again America gradually recovered from the economic crisis. People prospered as the country experienced new wave of upward mobility. Everyone had the same chance to succeed, although Black and women still experience some discrimination.

Now, four decades later, the Vietnam era protest movement experienced its revival as the wave of protests spread across America. Once again, students took to the streets with demands for change. Ironically, many of them were indoctrinated by their own teachers - the very people whose rebellion died without success in the sixties - the Flower Power and the pot smoking hippies. This were the many "colorful" grown ups you could see among the Occupy Wall Street protesters. 

The protesting crowds were by no means homogeneous. Most of the protesters were young. Many of them were college graduates who could not find jobs with their degrees. But there were of course others. There were the union thugs, the agitators, the neglected veterans, the homeless, the long-term unemployed, but also others who claimed that they quit their jobs in order to participate in the protests. 

And just like in the sixties, the demands for change were made, most importantly, the demand to abolish capitalism and create a just society were the wealth would be redistributed and marijuana legalized. Once again America witnessed the revival of the Maoist and Stalinist thought. And this only twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union!

Their demand for equality is irrational and perilous! We all need an equal opportunities, but some of us are more talented than others. Some of us are more diligent or more determined. Some of us decide to work hard while others prefer to waste their lives away. And yet, demands are being made to share the wealth equally. These demands are reinforced by President Obama who believes that the rich are not paying their fair share.

The Wall Street protesters are backed, among others, by President Obama, by the Unions, by the American Communist Party, by the American Nazi Party, by the Vatican, and by Soros and his movement. There is no valid statistics, it appears that most of the demonstrating students have degrees in humanities. Very few of them understand how the economy works. They do not understand capitalism. And something is wrong with their math. They claim that they represent the 99%. They don't! 

Many of the the demonstrators do not really want to take responsibility for their own lives. Instead, they demand that things be given to them. Meritocracy is gradually being replaced by mediocrity, complacency and laziness. They abhor capitalism, but are comfortable with its products. Could they imagine a world without iPhones, Lewis jeans and Starbucks lattes? Probably not. And if you asked them whether they would agree to "redistribute" their good grades so that those who did not work hard could also graduate, you would hear an uproar. Grades are different! Grades cannot be compared to money and wealth! Why not?

There is no doubt that things must change in America. Cronyism and corruption must be eradicated. Entitlement programs must be reformed. Some oversight of financial institutions must be introduced, but the ridiculous business-stifling regulations must go. Conditions must be created for businesses to invest in America again. School system has to be reformed, infrastructure modernized. Tax code has to be simplified. It is scandalous that those who make money with money pay so much less taxes than those who create jobs and work hard to keep their family businesses afloat. And when a corporation pays less taxes than a teacher, something is fundamentally wrong.

Economy is in a downturn again and many people have very few reasons to feel optimistic. And yet, there still is much talent and much ingenuity in America. Some people give up too quickly, but others are always willing to try. 

By Dominique Allmon ©2011

Post Scriptum

Do not get me wrong! I do not suggest in this article that you have to senselessly toil for the rest of your life to amass a fortune that you wouldn't be able to spend in five lifetimes. This article is not that much about making money, as it is about dignity, self-realization, creativity, and ingenuity. 

Great fortunes were made by greedy sociopaths and much too many people suffered and died in poverty never being able to realize their own humanity. But our beliefs and values evolved over time and today we understand that some people are simply unable to fend for themselves. This is why social programs were created in many capitalist countries. Unfortunately, these systems are prone to fraud and abuse. Some are nothing but cleverly designed Ponzi schemes. They create dependence and lethargy. And they definitely buy votes. 

Just think. It is not about "justice". It is about motivation, self-reliance, self-determination and self-worth. It is about the individual mindset because people who resign themselves to handouts not only give up their independence, they also  forfeit a chance of genuine fulfillment. 

Image source unknown but greatly appreciated


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A Willingness to Try by Dominique Allmon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.