Tags: Asbury | entrepreneur | American | Dream

Skewed Visions of the American Dream

By Neal Asbury
Thursday, 13 Sep 2012 08:03 AM Current | Bio | Archive

As I watched the speeches at the Democratic and Republican conventions, the idea of the American Dream was inserted into many of the presentations. Yet, the visions of the American Dream were inherently different.

Democratic speakers all discussed how government entitlements formed the foundation of their American Dream. Numerous grants and subsidies all played a key role in the pursuit of their future vocation.

Contrast this to the Republican vision. Speaker after speaker talked about how their ancestors came to the United States with one thought: to work hard in a country where the opportunity to succeed defined the promise of America.

Fathers, mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers took menial jobs to gain a foothold in what they perceived as the greatest country on earth. There was no discussion of asking for government help. It was unthinkable. The American Dream for them rested with a country where your ambition could take you as far as your hard work and ideas would propel you.

The path to the American Dream often led to starting a small business. Maybe it was a restaurant, a garage, sewing clothes, building products or any other thing you can imagine. It wasn’t meant to be easy and at its core was the work ethic that is part of the DNA of all Americans.

If they were willing to risk it all by coming to America, then they were willing to risk it all by starting their own business.

They would probably have looked at you strangely if you called them an “entrepreneur.” But they were.

By some accounts, the word entrepreneur comes from the 13th Century French verb entreprendre, meaning “to do something” or “to undertake.” By the 16th Century, the noun entrepreneur had emerged to refer to someone who undertakes a business venture. The first academic usage of the term was by economist Richard Cantillon in 1730, who characterized it as “engaging in business without an assurance of the profits that will be derived.”

That really defines entrepreneurship. There is no safety net. It’s a high-wire act where success walks on a razor’s edge.

As an entrepreneur myself, even after 30 years, I embrace the fact that I have built a successful business. And like many of the speakers at the Republican National Convention, I started with nothing. I got used to waking up every morning unemployed. There was no time to waste and every resource needed to build my business was in short supply, except for my passion. There were many times when I didn’t know where my next dollar was coming from, but I persevered.

Despite the problems that incessantly filled my head, I could sleep well at night knowing if it all came crashing down, I would hold my head high and try again. There is a comfort gained believing in one’s self. Perhaps this is the most understated benefit in being an entrepreneur.

There are those that believe in a citizenry that cannot succeed without the guiding hand of government. But this social engineering manifests itself in determining who succeeds and who fails. This robs the people of more than just their dreams — it destroys their dignity, self-respect and will to take risk.

Even today, there are challenges that seem insurmountable, as I wonder if I can continue to grow my business while uncertainty over taxes, runaway healthcare costs and mountains of regulations weigh on my ability to make ends meet.

My American Dream intersects with the American Dream of my employees. They simply seek the opportunity to grow professionally and provide for their families. This is not too much to expect.

Yet, President Barack Obama’s policies might not allow us to get there together. America has sustained almost four years of trillion-dollar-plus deficits. Who is on the hook for these deficits? You and me. A growing and unsustainable proportion of our economy is devoted to repaying debt.

According to an NPR story: “The nearly 80 different welfare programs the federal government operates also need substantial reform. Instead of addressing the causes of poverty, Washington’s approach has been to pour more taxpayer dollars — close to $1 trillion annually — into an increasing number of programs that tend to trap the poor in poverty. None of these programs includes functional provisions to promote personal responsibility, such as work requirements and time limits. And the government has made it much easier for people to get on welfare.”

According to most accounts, by 2020 entitlements will account for about 15 percent of gross domestic product.

The NPR story uses three key words: “promote personal responsibility.”

That’s the American Dream that founded this country: taking personal responsibility for our shared future. Working hard, being innovative and seeking opportunity.

This American Dream is alive and well, but needs to be awakened with a renewed commitment to entrepreneurship. We need to remember the generations before us that shared in the promise of America. Standing alone, standing brave and secure in the knowledge that this country rewards those who work hard and are willing to take the chance to succeed.

But the American Dream is being undermined by an administration that has repeatedly shown disdain for entrepreneurship and the incredible power it contains.

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