My American Dream

Listening to the talk about Occupy Wall Street, I think back to my childhood, living the typical American dream. Because of a civil service job, acquired during WW II, my mom was able to support us at a low level and with family help working as a secretary. I believe with my dad’s (her ex) help, we were able to buy a house on a mortgage in 1951 in AZ, something unthinkable back in Ohio.
Due to costs for tuition like $56 dollars for an 18 hour semester at the local university (ASU), I was able to put myself through school with my mom’s help working as a busboy. My wife-to-be cleaned houses and waitressed at a BBQ joint to put herself through. By the time I graduated she was already teaching near the segregated school where she graduated 8th grade. That was one good thing about those days: a Black person getting a teaching certificate could find work in the Black schools. Only one White teacher was working at her school.
We combined incomes for the next 47 years and raised two children, always owned a home, and now have 3 grandchildren. We have been able to help our own children during the recession when they lost jobs and we always helped my wife’s very poor family. I’m still working at 70 but able to b/c we had good medical care, access to good food and exercise facilities.
THAT was the American dream I grew up with. About the 70s it became Zig Ziegler’s Meet You At The Top. The goal was to get rich by whatever slimey scheme you could come up with. It is an unending game, trying to figure out what happened. It may have been a reaction to the idealism of the 60s; perhaps the growth of complex marketing opened up nefarious ways of cheating people to take their money; maybe so many people getting a college education led to a frantic scramble to outdo one’s parents and everyone else. I really don’t know. But the stakes sure went up.
It used to be that if an average person wanted something like a nice boat or a vacation home or to travel, he or even a she as time went on, could focus his energies on that goal. You could travel to the lake a hundred miles or so away, launch your boat, and possibly have a small vacation home, something a little more than a lean-to. That all changed.
Of course, most Americans still live like that; it’s just that now that’s almost looked down on. If you are not living like a prince, then it means you have become a loser in the Great American Scheme of Things. You didn’t make a killing in real estate or in the market or in some professional rip-off field of medicine or financial advice. That, in turn, made it OK to exploit you, to rip you off. You just didn’t count; only friends making similar high salaries or, better, high incomes really mattered.
Within that world, there are plenty of generous, honest people. Look at what happened among Wall Street firms on 9/11. Nevertheless, the ethics of the whole thing changed. Would anyone care to comment on why that was/is?

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