Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Scratch Beginnings: Is the American Dream Possible?

shepardcov.jpgOur podcast guest today, Adam Shepard, author of Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream, says the American dream is alive and well. Shepard wrote his book as a response to Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America and Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream in which Ehrenreich says that the pursuit of the American Dream is basically hopeless. Shepard set out with 25 bucks and a back-pack and went to a new town (Charleston, South Carolina) to see if he could make it. His book is a testament to personal responsibility, positive action and how education can play a part in keeping people employed. Shepard shares his inspirational story of living in a homeless shelter, working at a moving company and finally, getting his own place, and saving $2500.00.

Listen to the podcast and find out what he learned from this experience. You can listen directly -- no downloads needed -- by going here and clicking on the gray Flash player. Or you can download the file and listen at your leisure by clicking right here.

Music is by Todd Steed and the Suns of Phere.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

First somebody needs to define The American Dream and the criteria to know whether one has achieved it. It's a phrase I associate with the post-WWII boom and Levittown. Maybe a concept Madison Avenue planted in our minds to make us think we need stuff.

10:32 AM, September 30, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't care how much stuff I have on an absolute basis, I just care whether I have more stuff than the people around me so that I can rub their face in it and make them envious.

11:54 AM, September 30, 2008  
Blogger Larry J said...

The American Dream is what you define it for yourself. For some people, it's owning their own home or business. For others, it can be other things. The Declaration of Independence listed as one inalienable right the "pursuit of happiness." It didn't define what happiness is or guarantee that anyone would achieve it, just that they had the right to pursue happiness as they define it.

If you want to see the American Dream in action, go to the places where legal immigrants gather and open businesses. They know that with hard work and perhaps a bit of luck, they can achieve success at a level not possible in their native countries. They don't take things for granted, either.

1:39 PM, September 30, 2008  
Blogger Cham said...

What is the American dream? I'm not so sure. If you watch television commercials they will tell you that it is a large flat screen TV, freedom from acid reflux, a reliable erection, expedient fast food, a restful restorative night's sleep, a clean floor, health, safety, airbags, investments, Internet connectivity, bright laundry and white teeth. We've all watch so much TV that I think the citizenry has been led to believe they need this stuff. If you weigh 400 pounds, have financial and health problems my guess is that whiter teeth shouldn't be your first priority. My concern is that the politicians think that our priorities lie with $45 dental whitening kits, and maybe they do.

1:55 PM, September 30, 2008  
Blogger Heather said...

I think the American dream is Hope. Not the false kind that you get when you scrach a lottery ticket, but the real kind. The faith that if you work hard life will be better tomorrow.

The peace that comes with the safey and knowning that your livelyhood, indeed your life and family is in your own own hands.

2:51 PM, September 30, 2008  
Blogger TMink said...

My American Dream is for the government to leave me alone so I can provide for my family, make my house payments, and buy a replacement bulb for my big screen tv.

Oh, and they better let me worship the way I want to as well.


3:24 PM, September 30, 2008  
Blogger Glenn Reynolds said...


That's my dream too, but people seem to be embracing big government solutions to every problem. I guess if parents can't provide everything, people just move on to government. For many of us who do not expect bailouts and handouts nor want them, this is painful to witness.

4:26 PM, September 30, 2008  
Blogger GawainsGhost said...

If the American Dream is owning your own home, then, yeah, sure it's still possible.

Back in 2006 my friend and I were taking the tour bus to Dallas to go to a Cowboys games. He told me that he wanted to buy a home. I told him that he needed to save 20% for a down payment and shop in the price range he was qualified for.

Well, this friend happens to be one of the contractors who cleans, repairs and does lawn maintenance for the repossessed homes we list. Early this year I sent him over to work on this new listing, and he fell in love with it. Not surprising, a two-story, 2400 sf, 4 bedroom, 2.5 bath house on a nice lot in a gated subdivision with a community golf course and pool. The original list price was $197,000. He wanted to make an offer on it, but I told him to wait.

The price came down and down and down, finally when it was listed for $164,000 I told him to make an offer. So he did.

He put $30,000 down and offered $150,000. And the seller accepted.

This goes to show that anyone who is fiscally responsible can get a deal in today's market.

My friend got the house he wanted at the price he was willing to pay. He also has equity moving in, no private mortgage insurance and a low interest rate. If that isn't the American Dream, then I don't know what is.

8:54 PM, September 30, 2008  
Blogger DADvocate said...

The core of the American dream is freedom. Freedom to pursue your own dreams whether it be owning a particular house, having a certain type of job or lifestyle, etc.

As Trey says, a big part of freedom is "for the government to leave me alone." The trend if for the government to intrude more and more into personal lives. Obama's plan of "voluntary" community service is a good example.

As for hope, I guess I've never felt utterly hopeless. Thus never having a shortage of hope, for that matter never thinking about it much, I see it as a minor part of the American dream. Most people I've known who talk about needing hope take too passive of an approach to life.

9:06 PM, September 30, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

I've restarted my life on several occasions and again recently. Each time I started from scratch. Well, sometimes I had leftovers, but sometimes not a dime. Each time I've been able to head the directions I've wanted and do the things I chose to do.

Each time, I received little to no help and encountered little to no resistance. No one got in my way insisting I should be doing something else or that that I didn't have the proper papers or that I was doing and saying the wrong things. No one except individuals, whom I can mostly ignore.

I too think gov could be smaller, but I have international friends with whom I communicate and comparing what they outlay for what they get back and get imposed, I'd still rather have ours than theirs.

That's my dream, to pursue what I want regardless if it fits the mold and to be left basically alone to succeed or fail, having only myself to point to in either event.

10:30 AM, October 01, 2008  
Blogger I R A Darth Aggie said...

I too think gov could be smaller, but I have international friends with whom I communicate and comparing what they outlay for what they get back and get imposed, I'd still rather have ours than theirs.

Be thankful, be very thankful that you don't get all the government you pay for.

2:21 PM, October 01, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am simple and naive. My American dream is for all of us to be rowing in the same direction as far as our country is concerned. And for all of us to have come to that of our own individual volition.

The closest I wish to come to socialism is an old fashioned "barn raising" if a friend or neighbor needs a hand.

Talk about a dreamer!

5:57 AM, October 02, 2008  
Blogger Cas said...

"My American dream is for all of us to be rowing in the same direction as far as our country is concerned."
Not sure I understand that, br. Doesn't seem much chance that the whole country will agree on anything, much less "all...rowing in the same direction" (unless I misunderstand your metaphor)
We haven't ever agreed on everything; look back to the founding of the original colonies, and you'll see that the reason there were boundries between them had to do with more than just different land grants by the king; it had to do with real differences between the settlers, religion just being the one most cited.
Thanks very much, but if you don't like the direction my canoe is going, get out and row your own canoe!

6:19 AM, October 02, 2008  
Blogger Derve Swanson said...


"Love Many
Trust Few
Always Paddle Your Own Canoe"

I think my American Dream is that of freedom, much like olig mentioned above. Let me alone to either succeed or fail on my own merits.

Sadly, the more "safety nets" we erect, the more we turn to an "insurance" society that provides safety for those who risk and lose, the less freedom we all seem to have.

I reject the NYT columnist views (Friedman, is it?) that "we're all in this together". To some extent, yes. But if you piss in your water supply, and expect me to share your pain, no thanks -- I'm more free where I can escape some of your "conveniences", but free to decide what is of value to me and free to pursue it.

Sadly, this "we're all in it together so everyone must sacrifice this, or play down to this level" is prominent in the liberal democrat attitude. No thanks.

12:46 PM, October 02, 2008  
Blogger DK said...

I have read both Scratch Beginnings and Nickel and Dimed. I just listened to the podcast and I laughed out loud when Dr. Helen said that Ehrenreich "looked down her nose at her co-workers". I was thinking exactly that when I read the book. It seemed as if she was making fun of the people she was around the whole time. I guess it's hard to believe people can make it when you're looking down on them.

In the Rick Warren interview a while back, Obama said that one of America's greatest moral failures is the lack of ladders into the middle class. That really ticked me off because we have a huge government sponsored ladder. It's called education.

I work with the poor and the homeless on a weekly basis. The problem is that many of these people come from a culture that simply doesn't value hard work and education. We don't need more handouts, we need to teach people and help them to break the bad habits they've grown up with.

I guess we have this misguided mindset that poverty can be fixed. Poverty isn't the problem, it's the result of an attitude and beliefs that end up limiting people who could otherwise be successful.

2:36 PM, October 02, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

cas, you did misunderstand what I was saying, and then took off on your tangent with it. But that's OK.

5:44 PM, October 02, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I agree with paragraphs three and four of your post 100%.

3:40 PM, October 03, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We Americans are trained "consumers". It has driven our post WW II economy. If we don't consume, it comes to a grinding halt.

I know people with permanent car payments. They buy a car, and trade it back in before paying it off to get the later model. And now, many do it with homes. I think that's nuts, myself. Until you are able burn the mortgage, it ain't yours. Even then it ain't yours. Don't pay property taxes on it, and see how long you keep it.

I buy good quality used cars with low miles and pay cash for them.(Of course that means an automobile NOT designed, engineered, and made in the USA). They are purchased from the owner, not from a dealership. I take care of them, and keep them until they turn upside down; being it costs too much, or too many repairs begin to happen, and get rid of them. Then I buy another one. A car is a tool, an extension of my arms and legs. It's not so hard to keep that in perspective.

A home is the only thing to purchase on credit. And I would not do that either were it possible for me. Paying cash for things made me realize true worth and understand need.

Credit cards are for emergency need and convenience. In some instances, and for reasons not always expressed, you have to use them because some places don't take cash. But they should always be paid off at the end of the month. Am Ex cards are good to have, for that very reason. You have to pay them off. So, one is careful what they are used for.

The future of our nation, as well as our own financial future as individuals, are based on some sort of faith we will have health, and have jobs. Understandable. The variables are incredible. And if one looks toward Washington, one realizes that those idiots are the ones we have this faith in. At the end of the day, they are just trying to keep their jobs. No matter what it ends up costing me.

Outside of the three branches of government, water and waste water, paved roads, military and police, the government has no business putting their hands in anyone's pockets. Outside of the above, no citizen of this nation should count on the government to provide anything. If things were indeed that way, and people would "re-train" themselves to fall in love as much with saving as consuming, and not living beyond their means, perhaps we would not be in this mess.

Of course, we'd all probably still be subsistence farmers. So really, maybe it's only a question of balance.

Naaaaa, even that won't work. It's futile. Never mind.

7:23 AM, October 05, 2008  
Blogger Michael Crosby said...

Just stayed up all last night to read Adam's book. It needs to be made into a movie.

My wife's father was imprisoned by Batista right before the Cuban revolution. He supported Castro just as many supported Hitler opposing the democratic Weimar Republic.

But after Castro took over, he had the good sense to come to America (with nothing). His daughter (my wife) took advantage of this great country, schooled herself and became a successful attorney and her brother a respected doctor.

This book needs to be made into a movie. We live in some interesting times, and if we as a society look to government to solve our problems, we're in deep trouble.

10:38 AM, November 21, 2008  
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