Because we’re Americans, we like things boiled down, straightforward. Here is one of my primary formulas for the American Dream.

Hard Work + Good Decisions + Honesty = Success.

Hard work because we should know the value of what we achieve, and without work there is simply entitlement.Good decisions because you need to be smart and aware of what’s around you. Considered, measured. Conservative in the best sense of the word.

Honesty because no one likes a cheat. Honesty because that’s the only way the system works. That’s why we talk about level playing fields (yay!) and welfare cheats (boo!).

Success isn’t money alone, but money is part of success. It doesn’t even have to be a lot of money – can I pay my mortgage, provide for my kids, get those prescriptions I need. The Successful American is diligent, wise, and admirable. Except that it turns out you can be all those things and still fail – which is not the American Dream.

The same voices that scream that the occupiers need to get a job are the same voices that in other contexts rail about unemployment being too high. Many occupiers do work. Many of us add our occupation (of parks) to our occupation (of work). It’s not that we don’t want to work, but that all of our hard work hasn’t been enough to save us.

Fifteen years ago we were foolish not to buy a house, not to use its equity, not to leverage, and even Alan Greenspan said we were in a new economy. As of three years ago, we are all foolish because we bought a house we couldn’t afford, used too much of its equity, leveraged too far. We made the best decisions we knew how to make based on what the specialists, the people we trusted, told us.

We made mistakes in good faith precisely because we trusted: we bought the house; we invested; this is how you will retire and provide for your kids. We thought that the system works when everyone plays fairly. But it turns out that when ninety-nine people play fair, it’s really easy for one more person to game the system.

Which makes us wonder if that formula is the right one after all. Maybe it should include some parts that aren’t there. What if success is a community where we want to live and not resent our neighbors for being too conservative or liberal or gay or playing acoustic guitar on their porch at ten thirty on a work night?

Hard Work + Good Decisions + Honesty + X = Success.

If X is that thing that makes a community a good place to live, then the American Dream is bigger than one person. It’s the dream of a nation in which we have to work and live together, not the dream of one person whose success comes at my failure.

What if the occupations aren’t about policy, never were, and never will be? What if they’re about the American Dream?

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