Capitalism has been vindicated -- yet again. A fascinating new memoir, Scratch Beginnings, tells the story of Adam Shepard who finished grad school and went to check if the American Dream could ever really come true.
He went to Charleston, South Carolina, with a sleeping bag, a change of clothes, $25, and a made-up tale of woe. He spent the first two months in a homeless shelter while he worked as a day laborer. He later found a permanent position with a moving company, which gave him a stable income. This allowed Shepard to buy a (very) used pickup truck, rent and furnish an apartment with a coworker, and start saving. During this time, he was on a strict budget, buying clothes at Goodwill and lunching on peanut butter crackers and Vienna sausages. In ten months, he had saved up over $5000.
Adam planned his experiment in college when he read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, which argued that only government intervention and aid could help alleviate poverty. It didnt make any sense to Shepard, and what better way to test it than a first hand experience. Seeing is believing, right.
Shepard had also met many people during those times whom he found relentlessly fascinating. He explained the differences between his approach and Ehrenreich’s in a recent interview -- “She wrote about how tough and depressing poverty is. Really? Tough and depressing? Of course it is! I wanted to believe that there were people living in these tumultuous circumstances who weren’t living the life of cyclical misery that Ehrenreich was writing about,” he said. “The economics side of Ehrenreich’s story didn’t make sense to me from the beginning and she never proved her point. To me, anyway. She lived in a hotel, ate out, didn’t look for ways to really save money.”
Although critics are quick to point out the fact that he could not have pulled it off without government help, they slip not on not just one, but on two counts. As Evan Sparks points out, that "everyone Shepard encountered at the shelter and in the bad neighborhood he later lived in was already using the same services. It wasn’t the public services that lifted Shepard out of destitution—it was his own initiative. Indeed, if spending money on government services were the best way to cure poverty, it would no longer be a problem." It makes sense -- tomorrow will be determined, not by any cosmic overseer, but by the actions one chooses to take today.
Secondly, the critics also take the liberty of assuming the fact that there will be no charitable organizations in a capitalist society. If one were ever in doubt the question, one only has to compare the plight of a beggar in Africa and in the streets of New York. Nothing more is necessary to make the point any clearer.
Although any social system cannot guarantee rationality, it can, reward rationality and punish irrationality. All that there is to realize is that a person works better when he takes the responsibility of his own life. No amount of "big" money or "big" government can change that. Not if A is A.