Friday, February 15, 2008

"American Dream"? Failed Journalistic experiment?

A guy decides to start his life over with nothing. After ten months he has moved from a homeless shelter into an apartment, bought a pickup truck, and had saved close to $5,000. Not surprisingly, he then wrote a book about his experiences which he holds up as "a testament to what ordinary Americans can achieve."

I find this a cute stunt but a reactionary premise. The credulous CS Monitor article states "He had a gym bag, $25, and little else." Here's something else: he was young, in excellent health, a native English speaker, male, white, good-looking, with a college education, good communication skills, no obvious psychological problems, no addictions, no criminal record, no family problems or obligations. In fact, he quits his little experiment when he learns of a family member's illness. Well guess what? Lots of the ordinary Americans struggling to get out of poverty have sick family members, too.

Adam Shepard, if you really want to show just how easy it is to get out of poverty with a little gumption, I suggest immigrating to a country where you don't speak the language. Then maybe the playing field would be a little more level.


redante said...

Hi Anya

I read up on the story further after hearing about it from your blog. Interesting story to say the least.

In a blog post I basically summed up what bothered me about Shephard's story in this way:

"Shephard’s opportunism has policy implications and has the potential to be used as political fodder by ideologues and politicians who would rather sweep the issues of poverty and inequality and the conditions of life for the working poor under the rug. If you’re poor, hey it must be your own fault. You either made the wrong choices in life, are lazy and are not willing to work hard, or just plain stupid. Either way, it’s not society’s obligation to help your sorry ass out. You won’t get a red cent of taxpayer help but here’s an inspiring book of the story of Adam Shephard - maybe it will inspire you to hustle your way out of your sorry situation."

More at my blog

vermittlung said...

Nah, die Aufgabe eines Konkurrents scheint dir als Glanzleistung. Durch die Aussicht der Ehrgeizige die Erfindung enines Goldklumpens is Glanzleistung! Warhrum beneidest du die Armeise um den Honigtau der Blattlause? Moge die helle Flamme deiner Begeisterung neimals erloscht werden!

Dave said...

I really enjoyed your article on yahoo finance about taking advantage of the economic situation being in 20s age group. I have tried asking for advice through other sites like Forbes and vanguard, but it is all so confusing to me. I have money to invest, I just dont know how to invest it. With all of the fees and gimicks, it is very frustrating. I know I need to get into stocks to get the max return, but I just can make the distinction between mutual funds and that sort. Any advice would be great. I am not savy when it comes to investing, but would love to learn how. There are just not many things out there that I have found that really talk about my specific intrest. Its mainly all about how to get out of debe and that sort. I have a house that I build a house almost 2 yrs ago for a great deal and I just bought a new eco car for a good deal, and that is all the debt my wife and I have at the moment. No credit card debt. All i have been doing is putting my money in CDs when the rates were high, but now they are sinking fast. I would rather not just keep up with inflation, I would like to be able to beat it and then some. I have no 401k or IRA at the moment. Stocks scare me to be honest. Plz email me if you wish to help. ty.

Fannie Wolfe said...


I agree. I can already see how conservatives will mis-use and this guy's experiment to promote the myth of the "American Dream." You suggest that he try it out in a different country. I would add that he should also do so while toting a along a kid or two. (And didn't Barbara Ehrenreich already do this experiment, and do it with the acknowledgment that she was bringing to the table certain societal privileges that many members of the "working class" don't have?)

Anyway, thank you for your writing in the area of student loan debt and predatory lending practices. I read Generation Debt and am completely with you on the need to mobilize the masses of those of us entrapped by massive amounts of student loan debt. Some people argue that "loans helped me go to college," as though taking out six-figure debt with high interest is some sort of gift. Enriching Sallie Mae is not something I will ever be "thankful" for, and we have to rid Americans of the idea that it's a privilege to take out debt to get an education that's necessary for survival.

Anya said...

Hi Dave,
OK if I quote some of your email in my next column? It is very relevant to your questions.

Anonymous said...

It seems that I have a profoundly different world view than Anya and others commenting here. I think that society/government will never eliminate the advantages that some humans have over others through the vagaries of birth (geographic and/or economic), natural ability (mental and/or physical), etc.

I simply view the Shepard story as one demonstration that there seems to be no structural impediment to social mobility. It would be perhaps more interesting if a black man of similar background and capacity were to write such a story, but I'm at optimistic that the outcome wouldn't be very different.

For a humorous literary treatment of a soceity that tries to establish rules to eliminate the advantages to which the posters here seem to object, see Vonnegut's "Welcome to the Monkey House". Such legislated equality is ridiculous even to a enlightened socialistic humanist like Kurt, may he rest in peace.

May God forbid that our care and concern for those in need be institutionalized in these ways.

Dave said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave said...


I just now read the article you wrote and I really enjoyed reading it. You have cleared up alot of questions and myths that I have read about or tried to get any information about, but I have a few questions for you if you dont mind.

1: You suggest mutual funds to deversify in with my IRA. Other than looking at the expense ratio, how should I go about picking diffrent funds that are safe and with a good return for my IRA?

2: Personally, what type of IRA would you recommend? At the moment, with me still in school, our combined annual income is around 45k before tax. Once I graduate at the end of the year, our annual income should double.

3: I was looking up the index stock you recommended in your article and I was hoping you might be able to explain some information for me.

YTD 3 year 5 year
Fund -9.03 5.70 10.62

The YTD is -9, yet the 5 yr is 10. If I invest in this for the long hall, should I only be looking at the 5yr estimate? And what exactly does it mean? Also, who would you recommend I go through to purchase this index? Does it have to be Fidelity?

I really appreciate your time and help. I know you have better things to do than answer my "noobish" questions, but I sincerely appreciate it and are putting your advice to good use for myself, my family, and our future.

Thank You,