Change for the better will only start from the bottom

Nothing important “starts at the top.”

In the words of Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, “At every turn when there has been an imbalance of power, the truth questioned or our beliefs and values distorted, the change required to restore our nation has always come from the bottom up from our people.”

The author of “The ‘American Dream’ starts at the top,” however, does not appear to believe in “the change required to restore our nation.” And, although I respect the author’s insistence in this still being “the land of opportunity,” the lamentable truth is belief does not change reality. The U.S. has many, many problems — many of which become clear in an analysis of the author’s expressed points.

First is the author’s engagement in an either-or fallacy in maintaining that one can live in only one of two possible political systems: servitude under a totalitarian “communist” regime or servitude under a corporatist kleptocracy. The truth is this Manichean view of reality ignores the infinite diversity of human political systems.

Furthermore, aside from failing to grasp its immensity, the author seems to believe that because economic inequality exists everywhere, its enormity here is somehow justified. Myriad diseases, say tuberculosis, exist across the planet. This fact would not console me were I to live in a region where TB was a serious problem.

Thirdly, the author misunderstands the gravity of poverty in Haiti. Comparing “being poor” in the Haiti to “being poor” in U.S. is comparing apples to jet engines. Nonetheless, just because poverty in Haiti is much worse than poverty in the U.S. in absolutely no way justifies its persistence here. AIDS is also worse in Haiti. Does that mean that we Americans shouldn’t worry about it?

As for trickle-down economics (or “supply-side economics”), eminent economist John Kenneth Galbraith, Order of Canada, revealed that it had been implemented in the U.S. in the 1890s — to just as ineffectual results (Ever heard of the Panic of 1896?) — albeit under a much more appropriate name, the “horse and sparrow theory,” for, “If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.” Need I explicate further?

Just because an industry creates jobs is in no way alone justification for its continued existence. In many parts of the world, human trafficking, drug dealing, assassination and prostitution all create jobs, many of which are “higher paying” and even “more stable” than other alternatives. Does this mean these systems should continue? Furthermore, that big business creates many jobs is no justification for its continued manipulation and exploitation of our political and economic systems, and the lives and well-being of countless Americans.

The article then engages in another either-or fallacy, dictating that our only options are a hedonistic, consumption-induced haze of life, tightly controlled by corporate fascist overlords; or “an agrarian, subsistence society” without “[m]ost of the products we use every day.” Veering off of this rhetorical slippery slope, I ask, if “disbanding” big business were to lead to such a state, how did it arise in the first place? Surely at no point in history a transition occurred between the two extremes; surely at no point did abundant small, independent businesses replace these truculent oligopolies.­

Further, the author’s claim that “just because the poor are poor doesn’t mean they have been victimized” depends entirely on the employed definition of “victimized.” If one isn’t victimized by being born into a culture of poverty, in which generations of one’s family members, neighbors and peers have lived in poverty, in a neighborhood in which the sociocultural and economic capital and infrastructure necessary to earn a decent living do not exist and crime is one of the few, if not only, viable ways to find a way out, I don’t know what the author would consider “victimized.”

The author seems to misunderstand the reality of trying to live on the minimum wage. Undercover journalist Barbara Ehrenreich’s book “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America” recounts living on minimum wage for two years and reveals the truly arduous, almost impossible, lifestyle; the many “hidden costs” to the poor; the numerous forms of subtle discrimination; and the chronic pain and injuries resulting from her menial manual labor. She, and others, discovered that it is often, in fact, the impoverished off of whose generosity we live, not the reverse.

All of these are very real problems we — we all, as Americans, as human beings — face. For those of us who are enormously priviledged, it is our responsibility, our duty, to fight for the rights of those less fortunate than us. Study after study has shown that the most important factor in determining an individual’s wealth and livelihood has been the wealth of the individual’s parents. We must realize that the “hard work” we may believe we have put into life pales in sickly comparison to the backbreaking effort and the laborious physical and mental agony endured by those less fortunate than us.

And the truth is, if one were to assume, if only momentarily, that the American Dream were not indeed dead, it would absolutely never come from the top down. As U.S. denizens, as believers in democracy, it is our responsibility, and our responsibility alone, to resurrect it from the bottom up.