A nation’s ability to rise is dependent upon harnessing the potential of its individual citizens. The distribution of this potential doesn’t respect class or racial lines; rather it is distributed throughout the society as a whole. Potential leads to dissatisfaction, causing people to imagine a future better than the present. Dissatisfaction is the driving force in any successful nation, the source of its vitality. Those nations that have risen have done so because they possessed a high degree of fluidity that allowed dissatisfied people, regardless of their situation at birth, to rise according to their skills and determination. The United States rose because our very fluid class structure allowed so many talented, dissatisfied people to improve their positions in life.
What I mean by Fluidity
The easiest measure of fluidity in a nation is economic, the ability of individuals to change their economic situation. Big changes are the most dramatic, a poor person becoming rich or a rich person going broke, however changes in economic situation come in many forms: a working poor person joining the middle class, or the child of a middle class couple becoming a doctor and joining the upper middle class. Or even within an economic class – that a working poor person is able to save enough to buy their own home is a form of fluidity. Fluidity also extends beyond the measure of income and assets. In a fluid country people are able to change their jobs or occupations, whether moving from one company to another for the same job, or change what they do for a living. Even if this change in employer or occupation doesn’t necessarily result in a change in wages, it is still a form of fluidity.
What I mean by Rising
By “rising” I mean improving one’s position in life. As with fluidity economic change is the easiest measure of a person rising – a poor person becoming middle class, or even rich. Or a renter becoming a home-owner. But rising can take many forms as well. The philosopher Adam Smith talked about a bundle of rewards, not all of which are economic. A person who hates their boss improves their position in life by moving to a new employer he or she finds more tolerable. A person who hates farming improves their position in life by leaving the farm to join the military. Economically the change might be nominal, however that person changing their profession has risen, has improved his or her position in life. While these might not be as dramatic as Famous Amos starting a cookie company and becoming rich, they are still examples of people rising, people improving their position in life.
What I mean by Potential
It’s almost trite to talk about potential in our empowered world, but in my definition a person has potential if they have within them what it takes to change their economic situation. “What it takes” can include a surprisingly wide range and combination of possible ingredients. Intelligence certainly helps, but by no means is it enough nor is it even required; there are plenty of not very bright people who have managed to lead very successful lives. In some ways being a little less clever is an advantage – it allows a person to focus on one thing a little more intently. Wisdom, innately knowing the right path is certainly another advantage, as is having some kind of born talent or skill for a particular activity. But the one ingredient that has to be there, regardless of anything else, is determination. And sometimes determination alone is enough – there are certainly many successful people whose only real advantage was that they wouldn’t quit.
The Role of Dissatisfaction
Generally speaking satisfied people aren’t as driven to change and improve their position in life. For most people dissatisfaction in its different forms drives their actions. Maybe a person hates their job or their boss or hates their landlord. It could be that a person is dissatisfied with their company’s performance, how it serves customers or the products it provides, believing there were better ways to do things. Dissatisfaction without the possibility of improvement leads to despair. But fluidity can turn it into determination – if people think they can address the dissatisfaction, change what bothers them, it becomes a motivator for improving their position in life. This might be switching careers, buying your own home, finding a new company to work for, or starting a company to do it right. It’s the aggregate impact of individuals motivated by their dissatisfactions to improve their position in life that makes a nation great.
And this is part of why the United States became a great nation. Beyond the natural blessings of resources and no class structure, almost everybody that immigrated here was dissatisfied with where they were. The satisfied people stayed in Europe. We were blessed to fill our country with people that were so dissatisfied with their current situation in life that they would travel half way around the world to find a better life. Could there be a better starting point for a dynamic nation?