What do I hope to accomplish within my lifetime?
Keeping the American Dream in Perspective
The American Dream is an incredibly alluring concept. It resonates with me because my parents came from England to work and start a family back in the 60’s, and have done well for themselves. They were not leaving a horrible situation in England, but I imagine they smelled opportunity.
This whiff of opportunity inspires new generations to come to the US, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned just how many obstacles to progress there still are here. The civil rights movement was a brief generation or two ago, I have to keep reminding myself. Cosmopolitanism and multiethnic communities are still not feasible for most, and views on immigration are muddled and confused.
The idea that you can come to the US with nothing except the clothes on your back and then build a life for yourself is still more true here than anywhere else. But the pursuit of the Dream comes now at greater cost: the protection of the ideal of a middle class is being chipped away, while the desire for unfettered capitalism is powerful. In other words, you have to want to get rich or die tryin’. The safety net underneath taking risks and undertaking entrepreneurship is no longer so safe.
I love capitalism. I love open, competitive markets. I would love to duke it out as a business fighting competitors. I love maximizing profit. However, I also know that not everyone is an entrepreneur, not everyone can or wants to slug it out every day.
And it’s not enough to just get rich and then retire off to buy big boats and go to the best parties.
The idea of the American Dream is not complete until it includes the responsibility to plow philanthropic projects back into the country. The biggest robber-barons, capitalists, and monopolists of our history, like the Kennedys, Morgans, Rockefellers, Carnegies, Gateses, Vanderbilts, Waltons, and Buffetts turned their money into philanthropic juggernauts.
No one does private philanthropy like the US has. We look beyond ourselves, towards ideals and virtues, using wealth to create what would be impossible without that wealth. We take on human-changing projects and change the course of history…for the better. Who else can claim to have this in their genes?
Combine this with a theory of mine: there’s plenty of money and food and resources in the world. Those are not issues. What are the central issues now are power, injustice, corruption, and tribal affiliation. These factors restrict which people have access to all that money and food, in order to get and maintain influence.
The underlying sense of my beliefs is becoming more strongly linked to building human capital. Some of my fellow Georgetown MSFS grads who studied international development met up to discuss Sheryl WuDunn’s and Nick Kristof’s “Half the Sky”, a book about female empowerment and girls’ education.
In my studies I never really thought much of most development projects, which seem like dei ex machina, disregarding lifetimes of habits and traditions for the sake of Western scientific rationalism (which is not always correct and certainly isn’t embraced universally). But bottom-up microfinance and whatnot also seemed to be like pushing a Sisyphean rock up a hill.
What I’ve come to believe is that children’s education should be viewed as a force multiplier. Universal human rights should be viewed as a force multiplier. Look at it this way: if you were to spend all your money solely on 5 girls to go from birth to graduating college, making sure they received proper diets, health screenings, and education, then they may not choose to go on and use their educations. They may even choose to just get married and have kids. But that education is impossible to ignore: they will raise their children better, and will probably send them on to school. They might be so compelled by their educations that they seek to better their situations through social entrepreneurship. At the least, it won’t just be them that’s affected. At best, they will steer their children, demand more suitable conditions for a husband and community, and undertake more community roles.
Everyone is unique, surely, and they must be allowed to go off in the directions that they were given the talent and interest for. Shoehorning women into jobs isn’t sustainable, but having them go to school will allow them to make more informed decisions.
With that, here’s what I intend to do with the rest of my life.
1) Found Galapag.us. This is of course the key, since it will be subsidizing everything else. Add in tricky twists like my needing to maintain another job until Galapag.us takes off, and my not wanting to cash out on my personal baby project. But I do think Galapag.us as a new measurement and identity/reputation system has the potential to disrupt a lot of different sectors, while bringing back human traditions. So that should be bank…if not directly then indirectly through building a public good!
2) Get Married, Have Kids. I mean, otherwise, what’s the point? I believe in the security and strength of having an equal companion to rely on, and raising kids has to be the greatest educational lesson one could ever receive.
3) Build a New School. I was watching Andre Agassi’s interview on 60 Minutes. He reveals that his father thought his education was a waste of time, and he preferred that Andre would go practice tennis instead. Andre was a meal ticket, and he loathed tennis for it. Later he would bottom out, CHOOSE to play tennis, and become a great player because he found the love. What really made the story, though, was hearing that Andre had created a school in Las Vegas to give selected students the education he never had, as long as they and their parents swore to go to college afterwards. Andre just had his first graduating class, and ALL the kids were going on to college.
How can you measure the social good of that?
4) Subsidize Co-Working Locations and Up-and-Comers. For me, raising capital isn’t the main barrier to starting a project. It’s finding enough incentive to not just get a normal job that provides stability. So provide consummate hard-workers and creative types with a competitive salary ($70k-ish) so they can work on their projects without the stigma of not actually having any income. As for the social environment that work provides, a co-working area with other alpha-dog social entrepreneurs with common, open offices that allow for collaboration, sharing, and resources to build businesses or work on “20%” ideas. Certain people will always work hard and try to create things; they just need security and stability in order to feel safe enough to reach higher. Web folks championed this idea; see Citizen Space in San Francisco.
5) Philanthropic Contribution to American Education, Health. I’ve long had a dream of giving away money to developmental projects. Studied the damn subject in grad school. And nothing seems to be more of a force multiplier than education, particularly girls’ education. And nothing seems more measurable in developmental work than disease vaccinations, hygiene, and nutrition. Final point: I don’t know any country as well as I know my own, and there is a LOT of poverty, illiteracy, and other scarcities of human capital to address. So my developmental work would focus on the United States. Similar to what Bill Gates is doing up in Seattle for their schools.
6) Open a Digitized Restaurant. I would like to build a ChurchKey-like dark-woodish comfort food bar that is built from the ground up around digital technology. Touchscreens at every table and at the bar for ordering, having seamless order processing and check-out ease for large groups. A strong, embracing neighborhood presence with approachable comfort food items. Suggested: a damn good burger, gourmet PB&J, smoothies.
7) Own an NBA Basketball Team with My Buddy Chris. Surely the most selfish thing on the list. It’s an idea we’ve been throwing around for a while. I guess my angle is that basketball is full of some pretty insipid business people who seem to run franchises into the ground, so why not give it a shot? Hell, there’s so many things I’ve always wanted at a game that you’ll NEVER see because owners are all pretty conservative… Read Bill Simmons’s “Welcome to the No Benjamins Association”.
8) Contribute Legal Fees for Key Cases. It seems true that the scales of justice are easily tipped by enough money and lawyers. For a mega millionaire, throwing a million dollars’ worth in legal fees towards a significant intellectual property or civil rights case seems justified, and keeps your dogs in the fight, instead of letting justice fail just because a sole voice of dissent can’t afford the financial bullying cost (i.e. SourceWatch, “Goliath and David: Monsanto’s Legal Battles Against Farmers”).
So yeah, there you have it. That’s what I’ll be up to. Of course, it won’t turn out this way — you can’t predict anything — but these are my dreams.