The American Dream: Stop Calling it Capitalism
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The American Dream: Stop Calling it Capitalism

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Originally published on Medium — June 14th, 2016

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I want to make sure I offer this disclaimer, the things talked about in the conference were off the record and I’m just sharing some interesting thoughts that I had without any specific details from the conference.

Over the past few days, I had the opportunity to attend Mitt Romney’s E2 Summit in Park City, Utah. I’d like to say that I rubbed shoulders with politicians, journalists, and millionaires. But a more appropriate description is I stood nearby. Awkwardly. Smiling.

Because I have an interest in entrepreneurship, there were several things that were said that I looked at from a business perspective; one of the most significant was that, instead of describing the economy of the United States as “capitalism,” we should focus on it as an “opportunity economy.” So many people feel like capitalism has become this dirty word, something that represents Wall Street and the financial crisis.

James Truslow Adams coined the phrase “The American Dream” in his book, “Epic of America.” This came up over the course of the conference and I stumbled upon this fantastic (though lengthy) quote.

The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

THAT is opportunity. The belief that anyone can “attain to the fullest stature” with the opportunities they create and seek out. Sometimes it feels like the only thing the world cares about is grades and test scores. The world gets caught thinking that the most qualified people are the ones with the magna cum laude degrees. Bob Woodson, President of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, when he was talking about the work they do to help ex-convicts return into society, he made a comment about colleges that is interesting. “A+ students come back and teach. C+ students come back and endow. And the reason for that is because sometimes the smartest people take so long to think about something that by the time they act, the opportunity has passed.” It’s often the kids who don’t always do great in school that go on to build the next billion-dollar business.

This is NOT to say that college isn’t important, but that the focus should be on opportunities! In my last post I talked about taking advantage of opportunities. Everyone should look at their life as a startup, their education, their grades and test scores, their internships, jobs, volunteer hours — all of these things are traction. Capitalism is about creating opportunity for everyone. One of the biggest issues that people have has come from the lack of opportunities. Millenials especially recognize that they were promised if they worked hard and went to college they would get a job, a house and have a good life. In many cases, instead, what they have is a mountain of debt and no job.

In a startup, you can often experience much the same thing. Sometimes you focus on vanity metrics and they don’t get you where you want to be. The way that we think about America should be focused on opportunity. There are so many problems in the world and none of them will be fixed with one solution. But if we teach our children to constantly seek out opportunity, if we live our lives focused on the opportunities available to us, that can create a sense of control. America was built on the backs of small businesses and the freedom to build things and create value.

If there is one thing that I took away from this past week, it was to understand why freedom is important. We can choose to build our own lives. Or we can choose to live the life we’re given. But we choose.