"A Poor Ending" by Bill Longworth. A solution to poverty in the United States

Essay by BILLMAN March 2006

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"One cannot raise the bottom of society without benefiting everyone above."--Michael Harrington, The Other America.

"Work keeps us from the three great evils: boredom, vice and want."--Voltaire, Candide, 1759.

"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those that have little."--FDR, Inaugural address, 1937.

Once there was an American dream. With self-discipline, education, and persistence a child could become and do whatever he/she desired. The mythical formula found in the Horatio Alger novels delighted so many millions of Americans not simply because they were delightful stories, but because they actually could come true. And did. In this free country poverty was no bar to a persons success. The term "Horatio Alger success story" was used to describe the careers of men like Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller and Kennedy. The formula was like an ABC's for success: A for abilities, B for breaks, and C for courage.

He believed in trying harder, wanting more, and contributing to the community chest from one's success.

Doing so was not always easy, certainly. Demands on the individual were rigorous and much was expected of them. Ben Franklin, the greatest American spokesman said, "the way to wealth...depends chiefly on two words, industry and frugality..." However, the mere accumulation wealth was not the sole measure of success. Part of the gospel of American success was the idea of stewardship and social responsibility. Andrew Carnegie was one of America's most successful men and he spent millions to establish libraries and give back to society. He believed that the community was a partner in the creation of wealth, and that wealth should be returned to it.

Horatio Alger's stories simply repeated themes that Americans already believed were true.