Like many former farmworkers, fragmented details from my past invade my memory now and then. They are memories comprised of the 18 years that my family lived traveling in long, worn-out, 4-door cars through small rural towns across the American West as we chased crop seasons.
My youth was marked by constant relocations, annual border crossings between Mexico and the United States, and punctuated by long lapses of grueling manual labor and too many missed days of school. We worked grapes in the San Joaquin Valley of California, hoed sugar beets in the Nebraskan panhandle, and picked fruit in the Yakima Valley of Washington State.
The homes we rented were always old and worn – varying from mobile trailers near noisy railroad tracks in Hemingford, NE; boxes with little insulation where we breathed the ice cold air of Toppenish, WA winters; apartments lacking air-conditioning making hot summer days muggier in Madera, CA; and homes with small, efficient kitchens, and rundown exterior walls. One rental unit in Alliance, Nebraska had no shower or bathtub, so we warmed buckets of water on the stove and then bathed with a cup.
Writing about these wandering years recall times of scarcity, hardship, and a resignation to unmet desires. I do not mention these experiences for sympathy, but to make the simple case that I know what it is to be poor because I lived it. I grew up with countless others who were also poor, yet good, noble, and decent people who came to America with nothing but courage and a dream to give their children a better life.
I watched those same people rise from poverty and become people of means, people of standing, and people who enjoy prosperity. This rise wouldn’t have been possible without America’s free-market system and hard work. After all, that is why so many uproot their families, leave their countries of origin, and move to America.
Now, their children join the children of families who have been here for generations and spend their idle time listening to Lost Prophets on their iPhones, drop $200 for a pair of jeans, and sip on java chip frappuccinos.
Within a generation, I witnessed everyone I grew up with go from living in poverty to living a life of prosperity. I saw a generation start with nothing and work, toil, and sweat to give the next generation the prosperous life they dreamed of. I’m quick to add that many of these second-generation Americans – children who never experienced scarcity – take pride in making the world a better place by volunteering for causes, being politically involved, and spending summers on mission trips evangelizing in remote parts of the world.
Put simply, America’s promise has always been about making millions of those individuals who were less well off, better off. American exceptionalism is grounded in the idea that anyone can improve their condition regardless of their circumstances and achieve it in a relatively short amount of time.
However, times are changing and poverty in the Hispanic community is climbing. For example, between 2007 and 2010 the poverty rates for Latino children increased by 6.4 percent – equaling out to 6.1 million Hispanic children living in poverty. That’s more than any other demographic. The overall Hispanic poverty rate has risen from 20.6% in 2006 to 26.6% in 2010.
Today, many pushing an “anti-poverty” agenda turn their back on ideas of hard work, saving, and self-reliance. Instead they call for massive spending and debt to fund redistribution policies – confiscatory taxation, unsustainable entitlements, and programs that lead to government dependency. By subsidizing non-work, we have generated more of it.
If America continues down this path it will lead to an economic ruin that
we will not be able to unwind for years to come.
Now, indignant voices tell us that “true fairness” can only come by making those who are well off, less well off. They advocate for government that punishes those who have successfully invested, saved, and accumulated capital. In order to realize their version of “fairness,” they would stop the growth of fruitful enterprises, confiscate more and more wealth from prosperous Americans who demonstrated fiscal discipline, and demonize those whose only “crime” was to achieve the proverbial American Dream.
This approach will destroy the America that we know. In the attempt to seize capital accumulation, punish wealth creation, and use a politically defined “fairness” as an economic approach, the economic fate of all Americans will shift to the “benevolence” of the government.
This reasoning is pushed by ideologues that presume outrage for anyone who deigns to advance free-market ideas; the likes of which are increasingly dismissed in the classrooms of prestigious universities. Ironically, those of us who escaped poverty through hard work, saving, and risk-taking are now labeled as part of the inequality.
The call to redistribute the earnings of “the rich” may win votes from certain imprudent citizens and excite left-leaning political talk show hosts, but those of us who rose from poverty know that the rich did not become rich at the expense of “nosotros los pobres” (we the poor).
The fact is that the majority of the wealthiest Americans made their fortunes by meeting the needs and wants of others – and by saving, investing, building, innovating or providing capital for job-creating businesses, in which goods and services also resulted in millions of economic opportunities and jobs for families just like mine.
Those who succeed at providing a service or product that serves the public’s interest and our budget will be individually rewarded by Americans, one at a time. That is what our founding fathers envisioned when they enshrined the importance of individual freedom and free enterprise in the Declaration of Independence as our catalyst to prosperity.
America’s free market system – when unrestrained by needless regulation, excessive taxation, and government cronyism - is the fairest and best economic system in the world because its ultimate beneficiary is every individual American who aspires, works hard, and desires freedom.
Only through the accumulation of capital and creation of wealth can one be truly free to pursue their own endeavors and not those of another. More importantly, it is only through the continued capital accumulation of wealth and incomes that we can strike a blow to poverty and make the poorest among us richer.