The American illusion: pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is impossible


Sean Anthony

It is becoming increasingly more difficult to rise through the social classes in the United States. Credit: Lucy Knowles/ The Foothill Dragon Press

Peer into the pulsing heart of American values and inside you will see a thousand circulating stories of prideful men and women who fought their way from rags to riches, who picked themselves up from the bootstraps and arose on top, victorious.

 These stories are the triumphs of capitalism, these stories are the fulfillments of the American Dream, these stories are the results of pure, hard work.

 The only problem is, they’re stories.

 We’d all like to believe we live in a society where the most hardworking, the most talented, and the most deserving individuals are the ones who sit on top, that the only thing stopping us from being one of those people is ourselves, that those who live in poverty are simply lazy.

 Unfortunately for the majority of us that’s completely untrue.

 This social darwinist belief that through the natural selection of capitalism the “fittest” individuals are those who hold wealth and power, presupposes that all people are born on a level playing field.

 What about the kids who are born into poverty, whose parents dropped out of high school and see neither the value of education nor have the money to send their child to college?  What about the kids whose potential is limited by the psychological and physical damage of child abuse?  What about the unskilled immigrants who are forced to scrap for menial labor jobs which pay minimum wage for backbreaking labor?

 By no means is every person born with the same access to education, support, connections, money, and luck.  As enchanting as it is to hear the stories of people picking themselves up by the bootstraps, millions of Americans don’t own boots.

 This is the reason why social welfare is a necessity in any functional nation.  Unregulated, rugged individualism breeds chaos and selfishness and under no circumstances can a country hold together without all its citizens pitching in.

 Taxation.  It’s a dirty word.  No one wants to give it but everyone needs it.

 People need food, health care, and shelter, period, and when the only jobs people can get don’t provide a high enough income to afford all of those basic necessities, it is the government’s responsibility to provide them with assistance.

 Social welfare is an imperative remedy to the victims of class warfare.

 The Affordable Care Act, in spite of its many flaws, has made health care more of a possibility to a broader scope of Americans.  Soup kitchens and homeless shelters have long provided those without shelter to have a place to eat and drink at night.  As of July of this year more than 47 million Americans are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)/ Food Stamps Program.

Numerous students at Foothill surely have families who rely on food stamps to stay afloat in the tumultuous economy.  It’s easy to call people you don’t know leeches for taking food stamps, but what about when your friends and peers are those people?  What about when you realize that just like you these students are trying to learn and expand their minds and that the only difference is the home they return to after school?

 The March on Wall Street movement may have come and gone but the root of the issue grows ever deeper.  A recent study in September 2013 reveals that 95% of wealth goes to the top 1% of Americans.  These are the very individuals and corporations who are allowed tax breaks.

 This 1% of Americans did not get where they are because they are the cream of the crop, because they started at the bottom and worked their way up to the top, just as the poor didn’t get to where they are because they lack a hard work ethic.

 Claiming that poor people are lazy is incredibly foolish and infuriating.  Countless people falsely believe that poor people are poor because they don’t want to work hard and social welfare is the government’s teat from which they all steal and suckle from.

 Impoverished citizens are often times the most hardworking of them all.  They comprise the foundation of this country, they are not just a rug to be stepped on.  They are the producers of goods the wealthy benefit from.  For every lethargic poor man there is an even lazier, privileged rich one.

 Now sure many may still argue that there should not be disincentives to being wealthy by being taxed more, but as of now the middle class are the largest beasts of tax burdens.

 In any case, disregarding taxation inequality and the belief that America is the land of opportunity is a widely held misconception.  Instead of living in fear that other people are taking our money, we must consider that those people need help to survive.

 Most working class Americans work tiresome labor jobs not because they choose to, but because they have no other choice.  

Promises of a new life have brought millions of immigrants to the United States only to trick them into the shackles of financial debt and servitude.  Hence the American Illusion, perpetuated by nationalism, ignorance, and false hope. 

What do you think?