The American Dream has become an inspiration and a beacon of hope not only for America, but for the entire world. As an entrepreneur who has benefited greatly from the American Dream, I am personally disheartened to see how political expedience, greed, and an exaggerated sense of entitlement have eroded this Dream and endangered America’s preeminence in the world.
In particular, I am troubled to see the tenets of this dream – owning a home, getting an education, having a job or owning a business, and achieving financial self-sufficiency – being crushed by regulations that are killing small businesses and the community-based financial institutions that support them. The American Dream depends on jobs and opportunities and it’s well known that small businesses create the majority of new jobs, while community-based institutions disproportionately finance small business growth.
This is one of the reasons I felt compelled to write Saving the American Dream: Main Street’s Last Stand. I believe readers need to understand the role that policies play in shaping the American Dream and how modern-day policies are gradually destroying it. I also hope to inspire readers to take up the cause of rebuilding the economy by reconnecting to the fundamental principles of the American Dream, because it is still not too late to change course.
In my book, I discuss how misguided policy decisions that purported to support the American Dream led to excesses in the housing and credit markets that culminated in the worldwide financial crisis. I also discuss how the financial reform polices enacted in the wake of the crisis only made matters worse by widening the disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street, putting our Main Street banks and small businesses at risk.
The importance of Main Street financial institutions, which drive the national economy one community at a time, cannot be underestimated. By financing the small businesses that create 65% of new jobs, they drive consumer spending, which represents about 70% of the U.S. economy. Today, however, “Big Bank” policies are limiting the ways that Main Street banks and credit unions can generate income and lend to small businesses, while subjecting them to onerous compliance burdens. These and other policies are also harming small businesses by limiting their access to capital and burying them under regulations that consume valuable resources and increase operational costs.
Fixing these inequities is the starting point for saving the American Dream. But more must be done. Our national policies must recognize the emergence of an increasingly competitive global marketplace and renew our commitment to science and technology education, innovation, entrepreneurship and the value of hard work. At the same time, community-based financial institutions can help themselves by collaborating with each other, upgrading their technology infrastructure and creating greater awareness of their role in the national economy. Throughout my book, several leaders of community-based financial institutions explain exactly how their institutions make a difference to small businesses and job growth.
For instance, Bruce Ingraham, President of Beacon Credit Union in Wabash, Ind., recalls how the organization gave a fresh start to a mom-and-pop office supply shop bankrupted by the recession, allowing them to continue playing an important role in its community. Harley Jacobs, President of Capital Community Bank of Provo, Utah, recounts how the bank helped three passionate technologists launch a data security start-up…then watched it grow to a global scale, creating 400 local jobs. Both bankers are proud their institutions were able to consider the character and potential of these entrepreneurs and ultimately help them to succeed in their ambitions when larger banks would probably not have. Today, however, pressures from regulations are making it harder for these types of success stories to continue.
The time has come to create new standards for ourselves and our institutions. We must reconnect with Main Street, global realities and the fundamental principles of the American Dream. I have started a movement to Save the American Dream that challenges our policy makers to repeal or revise regulations that have undermined our Main Street businesses and community-based financial institutions, and stifled and derailed our economic growth. I ask everyone who shares my concerns to join this movement and sign the petition at SavingtheAmericanDream.org so that we can deliver this important message to the President and Congress after the November elections.
This opinion column was written by Louis Hernandez, Jr., the author of Saving the American Dream: Main Street’s Last Stand. He is also chairman and CEO of Open Solutions Inc.®, a leading provider of enterprise technologies for financial institutions, as well as author of Too Small to Fail: How the Financial Industry Crisis Changed the World’s Perceptions. Learn more at SavingtheAmericanDream.org.