Capitalism, the freedom to dream big and climb high

One of the first questions I remember being asked as a child is “what do you want to be when you grow up?” My answer? An astronaut.

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I was forever looking up at the sky wondering what adventures lay beyond the horizon, and my parents never hesitated to remind me that with hard work I could be anything I wanted to be. Looking back, I realize it was my first encounter with the American Dream.

Unlike in socialist countries, where the “dream” is a collective venture you’re expected to embrace and follow without question, Americans are free to chart their own course and experience true independence. No matter your station in life, there is something you can reach for.

For me, it was the stars. For Amanda Raley, a young mom trying to escape multi-generational poverty, the American Dream was setting a better example for her daughters by breaking out of dependency and chasing her passion of massage therapy. For Jeff Offutt, a former prison inmate, the American Dream was avoiding the path of recidivism and becoming an entrepreneur.

That’s the beauty of it: the American Dream looks different for each of us. How is that possible, in a country of more than 300 million people? Capitalism. Freedom.

The free market creates an environment where hard work, determination and opportunity allow people to climb the economic ladder to success.

Robbed of dreaming big

Socialism accomplishes the opposite. It doesn’t inspire children to dream big—it convinces them that their dreams shouldn’t be bigger, bolder, or stronger than anyone else’s. It robs people of the benefits that come from experiencing the dignity of work and the joy of taking your hard-earned paycheck and turning it into a better life.

Empowering people to achieve their own success through hard work is what this country was built on. Americans believe in the power of work, and that’s why we hear more and more politicians on both sides of the aisle talking about the dignity of work.

The problem is that for many, it’s all talk—the policies they advance instead promote the idea that more government involvement is the answer to every problem from the environment to poverty to student loan debt. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

When Americans are given a wide path to opportunity, free from government-imposed barriers, and combine it with hard work, we know what happens. They lift themselves out of poverty. They build companies, employing hundreds of people. They create a better path for their children.

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It’s the same path that I hope will be clear for my son one day. Right now, he too wants to be an astronaut—or a professional basketball player, depending on the day of the week. His dream will likely change, but so long as we refuse the collective, so long as we foster a society with a wider path to opportunity than dependency, he—and millions of other Americans—will have the opportunity to pursue it.

Whitney Munro serves as vice president of communications at the Foundation for Government Accountability.