Reading the newspaper is confusing these days. Which headlines are we
supposed to believe? The one that says
incomes are up? ("Household
Incomes Rise" -- CNN/Money)
Or the one that says poverty rates are up? ("Record
Numbers Plunged Into Poverty" -- USA Today) Can the human mind contain
such contradictory information and not collapse like a bridge in Minnesota?
Well, in the America of 2008
(or 2007, or 2006, or even, we hazard to guess, 2009), BOTH can be true! Like a
giant Petri dish of social experimentation gone wrong, America is both the land
of opportunity AND the land of desperation.
As the rewards for the
winners have gone up (income, real estate, helicopters to vacation homes,
etc.), so too have the consequences for the losers (debt, foreclosure,
ambulance rides to skid row, etc.). America has always seemed to offer enough
prosperity for everyone; but like a jar of sticky, greenback-filled peanut
butter, our nation’s riches can only be spread so far. In greedily smearing
the first few
slices with the most gooey goodness, by the time the end of the loaf is reached
it ends up with only the barest whisper of covering, as the blade presses
harder, shredding those unfortunate last slices.
Is that fair? No, but it is human
nature: who among us, having to make multiple
sandwiches, hasn't liberally slathered up the first few slices
only to discover that by sandwich number five, that seemingly bottomless jar of
peanut butter is nearly empty, with more yet to make?
Now, some people, some countries,
might measure all the peanut butter first, divide that by the number of
sandwiches to be made, and then proceed to distribute the peanut butter over
the sandwiches equally.
But that bit of socialist
lunch-making won’t fly here in America.
You want your share of peanut butter, go out and get it. There’s no free
lunch here in the land
of the free. That’s why we are the
most successful nation in the history of the world, because we have never
put people before opportunity.
And as the land of
opportunity, we have acted like a giant magnet, drawing people to our
shores from all over the globe, pulled here against their weak-minded wills in
their search for a better life – a life that assures three
inalienable rights: "life,
liberty and the pursuit of happiness." But you’ll notice only two of
those are promised; “happiness” requires “pursuit.” Because before America even existed, its founders understood
that the most important thing a nation could offer was incentive. It was
a brilliant and innovative motivational strategy: a contented populace
was a lazy populace! How were we to expand as a nation and continue stealing
land from the natives if we were satisfied with what we had?
And that’s how we get back
to the current headlines of 2008, with all the false hope and doomed promises
an election year can offer. What is another article about the growing
inequality of the rich and the poor, the CEO and his employees, but another
form of incentive? There’s
a choice to be made! The rich and powerful, the Trumps and Buffetts and
Gateses of America, got there and so can you!
But will you, even with hard
work, luck, and opportunity? Probably not! Because being
successful isn't easy, and if you don’t succeed, there will be
consequences: back to the end of
the loaf, and the last scrapings of peanut butter. Because that's the way
our nation’s founders would have wanted it.