Robert Reich: The Myth of the Rugged Individual

Robert Reich: The Myth of the Rugged Individual


The American dream promises that anyone can
make it if they work hard enough and play by the rules. Anyone can make it by pulling themselves up
by their “bootstraps.” Baloney. The truth is: In America today, your life
chances depend largely on how you started — where you grew up and how much your parents
earned. Everything else — whether you attend college,
your chances of landing a well-paying job, even your health — hinges on this start. So as inequality of income and wealth has
widened — especially along the lines of race and gender — American children born into
poverty have less chance of making it. While 90% of children born in 1940 grew up
to earn more than their parents, today only half of all American adults earn more than
their parents did. And children born to the top 10 percent of
earners are typically on track to make three times more income as adults than the children
of the bottom 10 percent. The phrase “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps”
itself is rubbish. Its origins date back to an 18th-century fairy
tale, and the phrase was originally intended as a metaphor for an impossible feat of strength. Other countries understand that the family
you’re born into as well as the social safety nets and social springboards you have access
to play large roles. Children born poor in Canada, Denmark, or
the United Kingdom — nations without America’s degree of inequality, nations which provide strong social safety nets and public investments — have a greater chance of economic success than children born poor in America. Individuals in those countries are blamed less for their personal failures and credited less for personal successes. So, why is America still perpetuating the fallacy of the self-made individual? Because those in power want you to believe
it. If everyone thinks they’re on their own,
it’s easier for the powerful to dismantle unions, unravel safety nets, and slash taxes
for the wealthy. It’s in their interest to keep the American
Dream deeply rooted in our psyche — the assumption that YOU determine your destiny alone. So we don’t demand reforms that are necessary
— paid family and medical leave, for example, or early childhood education, accessible childcare, and policies that lift every family out of poverty. So let’s stop perpetuating this myth of
the self-made individual. And let’s start rebuilding the American
dream by creating opportunities for all, not just those who are already wealthy, privileged,
and well-connected. What do you think? Is the American dream fading away? Let us know in the comments. If you found this video informative, please
also watch our video on the real American story. As always, thank you for watching and please
subscribe to this channel for more videos like this one. Thank you.

100 thoughts on “Robert Reich: The Myth of the Rugged Individual

  1. Thanks for watching. If you found this video informative, be sure to also watch our video on the real American story: https://youtu.be/TNvSg7TJBbs

  2. Robert, you are wrong. I am a product of pulling my self up. I started at minimum wage and went up from their. I started at the bottom and worked myself to a better life.

  3. What a well produced video, and obviously well liked by many, judging from the positive comments. Mr. Reich, could you and your team create a video on "confirmation bias" soon, too? You'd probably only need 1 statistic for that, maybe a more few snappy quips, a couple fun animations–the usual–should you choose to make it. Thanks!

  4. People that come from nothing and end up “making it” are outliers. Sure it happens, but it isn’t what tends to happen

  5. I (GenX) have never made as much as my father.

    This is particularly notable because he never went past elementary school and bounced between jobs and sectors too many times to count.

    I have two degrees and have worked in IT for most of my life.

  6. It’s becoming clear as day that the so-called “American Dream” is really just the Law of the Jungle.

    “When ye fight with a wolf of the pack ye must fight him alone and afar,
    Lest others take part in the quarrel and the pack is diminished by war.
    The lair of the wolf is his refuge, and where he has made him his home,
    Not even the head wolf may enter, not even the council may come.”
    -Law of the Wolves by Rudyard Kipling.

  7. I agree that no person can become successful on their own. Who pays for the roads that corporations use to transport their goods? We the tax payers, that's who!

  8. Absolutely crap. This is just the beginners version of socialism 101. Don't drink the kool-aid folks. This path leads you to more and more government control over your life, more power and corruption in government, and far less motivation to actually work hard to achieve your dreams. Don't fall for it.

  9. Sorry to say this Robert but for the most part it's pretty difficult for the millennial here in the UK as well.

  10. Capitalism is the myth they portray on everyone as being the way we are wealthy as a nation and they are willing to kill other people to prove it. The rich don't want everyone to get rich if we all were rich who's going to shine our shoes?

  11. No. It is NOT a "myth" Simply, the chances of being self made has been obliterated by power and corruption fueled by greed. Do not dismantle the virtues of being a "rugged individual" as this illustrates the reasons why the Right hates the Left so much. I agree with many liberal convictions but I don't have to be escorted into a fantasy land in order to see the point.

  12. Isn't that why capitalism was started in the first place? To even the playing field in Europe? Or has it circled back to what it was trying to get away from in the first place?

  13. Robert, You speak the truth! America has much wealth but only for a privledged few! It's to organize some peaceful protests to take back OUR government!

  14. This is GOP goal to dismantel the chances the working people to get ahead of the game the dream is almost gone an our politician from the president to congress take moscow mitch blocks everything that benifits the people

  15. What this doesn't explain is why the people who are affected by this greedy politics the most are the ones who are voting it into office (besides of course their cronies). We have all the good ideas to handle ALL the crises that we are facing but we don't have the willingness to help each other. I believe the traumatic impact of the "everybody is on its own" philosophy that has run the show much longer than the US even exists is bottled up in our individual and collective psyche and causes massive problems. And because the externalists who don't believe that the "inner" realm matters have kept us busy with their religions, their economic strategies, their "objective" science etc. we have a polluted collective interior that if not cleaned up will definitely send us further into destruction on all levels. We have to become sensitive to the suffering that is so massive now that depression is now more often diagnosed than heart disease and form a collective presence that allows and helps people to understand what's going on and help them through their pain. That pain is in the way of our evolution and any solution. That pain has elected Trump and all the other right-wing populous leaders around the world.

  16. “Fantasyland “ by Kurt Andersen, American culture/relationship to fantasy vs reality. How it developed into what it is today.

  17. At the end of the day there is only I to point a finger at or on occasion blow smoke up my a$$. But the gentleman is right. If your sent to a public school for your education or lack of. Yes I did learn to read, write and add up my paycheck. Yet at no time did anyone say open your book and turn to the page covering do’s and don’ts of credit cards or understanding tax’s and how to file your taxes and so on.
    Public schools are purposely designed to dumb down a new generation to replace the dumb a$$ generation that realize your receiving a reach around from Uncle Sam, your auto insurance to your employers make believe health insurance. I do live better than than those living in third world nations. Someone once said that America is not a country, it’s a business for the haves. Not the have not’s.

  18. In my 20s, I believed this "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" falsehood. Now, in my 40s, I realize you have to have "boots" 1st before you can do this. The "American Dream" isn't dead yet, but sadly, it's on life support.

  19. You are a propagator of hopelessness. "Less chance" is your anthem. You point out all the supposed inequalities and people believe it. Hence they stay in the gutters and trenches of life. You convince Black people that they have no chance of changing their condition. And your solution is communism: take from the rich and make the world fair. Go to hell. Quickly.

  20. Thanks for busting those conservative myths once again. If folks understand that we are all a paycheck or two from ending up on the street, maybe the support for Republican obstruction (cough…MITCH!) can be weakened and we can make progress strengthening the social safety net as promised by FDR (who, last time I checked, was definitely not a socialist commie)!!

  21. I'm an ex-pat American living in Austria. My parents managed college (BSc) for me before it got insanely expensive. US graduate school was out of the question – too expensive. Here my wife was able to go to university while working part-time while at the same time our son started university. The difference between Austrian Social Democracy and US predatory capitalism is stark.

  22. Yes I completely agree with this video. Read all about the myth of the rugged individual in Scott Peck's book A Road Less Traveled. This obsession with the rugged individual has gone to an extreme toxic level. Result narcissism and anti community which results in a loveless world. For example mass shooting and allowing psychopathic demagogues to rise to power one Donald J. Trump.

  23. True success comes through learning to accept the fact that life isn't fair or equal; and that's a rugged lesson that can't be bought.

  24. I can see where your message is coming from. "Rugged individualism" means extreme internalism. The gifted autistic author Lucien Bracquemont uses the terms "externalism" to mean blaming all injustices on external forces such as racism, discrimination & capitalism, and "internalism" to mean attributing success or failure on personal choices and attributes. He alleges that a BALANCE between internalism and externalism is necessary, and that to hold an extreme view of either one is dangerous and simplistic. However, there is SOME internalism, and internalism is more liberating and empowering than externalism. There is SOME "rugged individualism," but not as much as some would allege.

  25. It's never gonna be moderation between the two sides. FDR and the new deal, unions, went for 40 years. Then along came Reagan and trickle down economics. We're coming up on 40 years so hopefully we swing back the other way again.

  26. I accept Mr Reisch's assertions about where you come from determining how far you go. What is more complex is finding the answers to why this is so.

  27. A very short list of self made men, women, or millionaires or whatever you want to call them: J.D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Oprah Winfrey, Danny Trejo, Bill Gates, Michael Jordan, Kid Rock, Henry Ford, Paul Teutul ( founder of Orange County Choppers), Thomas Edison, Morgan Freeman, Sam Walton, etc., etc. All of these people and many more have two things in common, they started life with nothing, or next to nothing, and became pillars of industry and millionaires or even billionaires. None came from rich families, & none of them received social entitlements from the government. They literally pulled themselves up by the bootstraps, doing the impossible. USA has the most self-made millionaires in history. They also made others millionaires. The ‘rugged man’ is not only real, it’s almost commonplace. The way you deceive people with your lies and misinformation should be illegal. But we live in a free country. It’s ok to lie here. It’s up to the people if they protect themselves against con-artists like you.

  28. This is wrong because poor people can become rich. Rich people become poor. It is essentially propaganda for collectivism. It's a myth that the benevolent group knows best for everyone. Democide or death by government has killed more people than any individual.

  29. I agree with the sentiment, but I think it's important to be careful how this issue is framed. Otherwise the right will just say that you're being negative and telling a class of people that they're not good enough to succeed on their own merits. If you frame it as: anyone can be anything they want if they work hard enough and get extremely lucky along the way. Many people have to lose in order to have as much wealth inequality as we have here

  30. I love you Robert Reich, but surely you've been a fan of the late great George Carlin, and you should know that the American Dream is Indeed: "Dead"…I have a dream…mlk…bernie sanders One Last gasp, one last kick at the can…if we don't start making immediate changes with a Green New Deal, we are sunk…The Trumpsters will drag us down…Our only hope then would be the military would mutiny and join us. That would be a big deal cuz the gun owners of Amerikkka are of course, 90% on the wrong side of this issue…

  31. It's not so much WHAT you know today, as it is WHO you know. Or Mommy, Daddy, Uncle Bob knows. And if you have no connections? You're Screwed! Throw in a misdemeanor and you can "forget about it."

  32. Your story is also the story of the success of modern China! I teach my students here that the American (U.S.) dream is based on the idea that "money makes you happy," but most Chinese unintentionally understand that is a myth, that instead, it is "happy makes you money." Many young rural Chinese come here in Shenzhen, the Chinese land of opportunity, hoping to make lots of money. As a consequence, there are a lot of unhappy young people here in Shenzhen. Fortunately, most Chinese are still focused on adhering to their cultural life philosophy. How is it different from that of the West? Simply stated, the West believes in "rugged individualism": you take care of yourself first, and then, when you become strong enough, you have the option of helping others, but only if you want to. China and other East Asian countries, on the other hand, believe and practice in taking care of others first, for by so doing, you are also ensured of being taken care of. It is this concept that creates the great Divide between East and West; Westerners find it difficult to accept that entire nations could actually be this selfless, yet that is the very core of the belief system in China.
    China's poverty went from 85% in 1979 to less than 10% today, lower per capita than in the States. This is even after China several years ago voluntarily raised the threshold of poverty, which at the time moved several million more people into the poverty class. Western media and government representations notwithstanding, with all its problems China is actually a country that is providing the lift of the bootstraps for the people.

  33. Some people will inevitably make it out of poverty and become wealthy. They'll be paraded around and their books will be number one best sellers. This is on purpose. It's necessary for the status quo, the implication being, "Aha! See? It can be done." All the while they full well know the odds are tipped in favor of the rich. It's like following the strategy of someone who hit a jackpot at a slot machine. Overt wins with sounds and lights keep people in the casino playing the same game.

  34. I don't want a Dream I just want to be comfortable and afford a few nice thing,But it seems some crass ,Self indulgent ,Tasteless,Privileged Rich Boi simply must have that solid Gold toilet

  35. Much like religion, the American dream is a myth used to maintain control over us. Don't search for answers, believe what your told. You're what's wrong and need to fix yourself to achieve glory.

  36. The American dream died a long time ago. As long as you have a society where it's " every man for himself " that's exactly what you will get. A few at the top and all others who struggle. The level of inequality is staggering !

  37. Both my parents worked, I worked in automobile industry for more than 30 yrs (pd in 401k) the crash of 08 took most all. Hurt at at work, forced out early retirement. I’m a broke bitch now. I don’t believe in the American dream anymore. At least not mine

  38. Right on the mark, Robert !!!!!!……..Though it took me seventy years to learn what you are saying is true!!!!!!……

  39. Why are most millionaires in the US self made? Most don't have a college degree and come from working class families. They're either immigrants or the son or daughter of immigrants. This guy provided almost no facts because there aren't many to support his claims. Bill Gates, Steve jobs, Zuckerberg, Elon musk, Jeff bezos and Warren buffet all fit into one or multiple categories I mentioned.

  40. The name Reich though, lol. Great video.The pressure to be a self-made-individual when social mobility is low and people poor don't achieve the American dream, could this explain the rates in depression, anxiety and opioid addiction in millenials?

  41. Even China is closer to authoritarian oligarchy + fascist, and they called themselves communism which is totally bullshit. The labels don’t matter anymore. I rather have Western Europe model whatever you call that.

  42. This video is the biggest crock of crap I've ever seen. Correlation is not causation. I present the tale of two families. My Dad's family and my Ex wife's family. My Ex wife's family is poorer than my dad's family. Her dad worked a government job that paid less than my dad's job. So money is not the issue in this story. Attitudes are!! They had 5 kids my dad had 7. All of their kids have college degrees while my dad's only have two. What's the difference?? Attitude.

    My dad has done very well for himself. He's a millionaire. My dad's philosophy is grab that shovel and start digging. 12 hrs a day 6 days a week. Never stop until you're 75, and SHAZAM!! just like that you'll be a millionaire. Education was never talked about once the entire time I grew up. NOT ONCE! Why would you waste your time and money when all you need is a shovel and strong back. The hard was is the only way my dad knows. Deep down I believe he thinks its the only righteous way to earn a living. We butt heads every single day over the way dad wants to do everything . I come home from work and dad is digging out by hand, at age 78 mind you, a deeply embedded fence post. I say dad why are you digging that out with a shovel? I point out to him that not more than 60 feet from where he was digging with a shovel,. the tractor with a backhoe attachment was sitting ready to work?? The hard way is the only way in my dads eyes.

    Now let's look at my Ex's family. Doing well in school was a must. Poor grades were not tolerated. All were A or B students. All scored well on college entrance exams and all have degrees. Teaching, Criminal Justice, Nursing, Engineering. The youngest is a judge for goodness sake!! My ex in-laws set a standard and didn't except failure. They worked tirelessly with their kids to help them in school. Rewarded good grades and punished bad ones. It paid off in spades for them. My dad could care less what your report card looked like. Just don't flunk out was my dads motto.

    Robert Reich pretends to be a deep thinker. But he never looks below the surface to see the real reasons why people are where they are at in society. If certain sects of people tend to stay in one economic place for more that one generation it's more that likely attitude and the standard the parent instill into their children. Believe that there are no opportunities and you won't be looking for them. Reich is the best example of a pseudo intellectual. Use a few big words, play on peoples natural tendency for envy and you sound like you know what you're talking about.

    I'll take the freedom to fail over what other countries have. Freedom to fail gives you the ability to learn from past mistakes. Freedom to fails twin sister is Freedom to succeed. Freedom to succeed to the level you want. Want to make just enough to live in a tiny house at the end of the street. Or bust a move and become wealthy. The choice is yours. Not Robert Reich.

    Now I want to be clear. I'm not blaming my dad for my lack of a college education. I went to college on a football scholarship. . I didn't apply myself and flunked out. Opportunity squandered because of my laziness. Now I get to work with my back. My dad did give me a work ethic that has served me well. I've busted ass. Learned a trade. Went into business. Farm the small family farm. Invested my money. Do without all the crap you don't need. So even if you make a stupid decision you can still overcome in this country unlike anywhere else in the world.

  43. Like you said it is bologna.
    Most will never achieve this dream. Because it is after all a dream. We have to wake up!

  44. Hypocritical "Corporate Socialism like Government Subsidies and Bailout" for The Big Corporations, Banks, Wall Street, Military-Industiral Complex, Prison-Industrial Complex, The Rich and 1%, etc.
    Rugged Free Market Individualism and Capitalism for the Rest of Us, 99% and The Poor.

  45. It's about very unfair start and advantage in society.
    How "Enonomic Opportunity Ladder' works ?
    Some naive people pretend that "work ethic and attitude" cures all the worries, unfairness and systemic problems in society ?
    Yeah, Too many Americans are still living in their own selfish bubbles and fantasy lands.

  46. Most Americans have been well broken in by their corporate overlords.
    If you make the mistake of pointing out any of the numerous ways in
    which ordinary citizens and workers are being exploited and suppressed,
    from lack of holidays or childcare, to being over policed, to being underpaid, etc ,

    you get Americans parroting back their oppressors talking points at you;
    dragging yourself up by your bootstraps, paying your own way, nothing to
    fear from the police and legal system, your bosses deserving all their
    pay and bonuses while you get a pittance, insurance and pharmaceutical
    companies needing all their profits and on and on.
    You have all been well trained.
    The top 1% don't even have to make their own case, you all are happy to do it for them.

  47. 1930s to the 1970s. Strongest economy in this countries history,
    good paying Union jobs, reasonable minimum wage compared to cost of living,
    Taxes on the wealthiest were pretty high yet they did just fine,
    the "Good Ol' Days" I keep hearing about from republicans I know,
    all under Democratic Socialism from FDR, Truman, JFK, LBJ even Carter,
    we built the Interstate highway system and went to the moon, why is that a bad thing?
     It is not, Democrats need to start pounding this fact every chance they get.

  48. There are too many sheeples who are pretending that "work ethic and attitude" cures all the worries, unfairness and systemic problems in society.

  49. Hmmmmmm…..yes and no

    Buckle up the helmet straps lads….here comes an old guy with a war story

    I attended a Canadian Army leadership course…one of those 3 month ordeals where the directing staff considers it a personal failure if anyone survives…..much less graduates

    69 of us started….15 finished….12 graduated

    The vice-chief of the defence staff (poo-bah) came out to give us our scrolls…and the following speech;

    (Words to the effect)

    You've tested in the upper 20% in fitness, health, and inteligence

    (Some emperical truth to that…our SPO2's were in the range of professional athletes….about 40% of recruits did not meet the medical standards to even enroll in the CF….peanut allergies?…hay fever?…acne?…colour blind?….stutterer?….not in the Army those things get people killed….try the RCMP……and I think by "inteligence" he meant mechanical aptitude/spacial processing/procedural knowledge)

    But back to the story…

    Any society that lets it's strongest, fittests, most capable and resilient citizens "stick their grubby snouts in the trough and eat their fill first"

    (That is a direct quote)

    "Is a society that is not worth defending…..the very fact you're standing here proves you've already gotten far more than your fair share in life…..never forget…..Canada will always have better things to spend it's money on…..than you"

    Question….does that statement make him a facist…or a socialist?

    Either way…..he could have at least put on a philosophical-condom before fucking our 22 year-old minds like that

    About 20 years later I walked across a stage to get my MA….in a crowd of people few of whom would have survived that course

    But they were Canada's "best and brightest"….and no one bothered to tell them they didn't deserve everything they could wring out of the world

  50. Simple . America is a banana republic on steroids. Keep the poor uneducated &ignorant & the rich get richer ,while the ignorant poor keep "American dreaming " .

  51. After commo school with the Army I got selected to interview for the President's commo team, they called me out of formation for it, it was like they did it to rub it in I would never get anywhere with my background. The first and last question they asked me was "Do your parents have a criminal history?" and when I was honest that I grew up in foster homes because of my parents history they said that the media would drag all of that out if anything ever went wrong and so I was disqualified.

  52. Graduated in 1980 with a BFA from a public University with zero debt. I was able to work while in school and pay my debt down. In 2001, went back for teaching license at a private school and 15 years later I am half way to paying of this debt. This is fucked up!!!

  53. Sorry, Mr. Reich, but the opportunity to better your station in life has never been greater. Across all groups. But the further we wander away from the economic principles that lead people out of poverty, the more we rely on government programs, the more stagnant the class structure becomes. We've spent trillions trying to help the poor. Hasn't worked and never will. Your comparison to the European nations and their structure ignores the stagnant classes in their cultures and the completely different cultural mores that allow them to be reasonably successful with those structures. Trying to implement such ideas in America will not work because only those who do not produce want them and will quickly overwhelm those who produce.

  54. The notion of Rugged Individualism also polishes the ego of those already affluent and allow them to wear their privilege with arrogance.

  55. To @ Michael Hoyes. What do Iran Nuclear deal, AK-47s and climate change have anything to do with the video. Michael is only here to harrass and is reported.

  56. Income inequality in this country is unheard of in the rest of the developed world. You can’t hand a person some rice and a salt and pepper shaker and then shame him for not being a four star chef. Yes, there are kids who make it out of ghettos for example. But typically, when you look at those who do, you find things like a genius level IQ, someone who paid for them to go to a private school or they were bussed to a magnet school, they got free or subsidized tutoring, got to participate in gifted student programming, had more access to merit scholarships or other sources of funding, etc. And; just because there are a handful who make it against ridiculous odds doesn’t mean those who don’t are moral failures.

    Some survive a given cancer (for example), while others don’t. But there are a lot of factors to that, and we don’t shame those who don’t get cured. Why should it be different for life in general? And why should those ridiculous odds for some kids exist in the first place? Meanwhile, we act as if being born in America is some birthright that only we deserve. But yeah; it’s all about being self-made right? Well it is as long as we are talking about someone else. WE on the other hand deserve all OUR steps up, and how dare you suggest otherwise!

    It’s not the American Dream. It’s the American Delusion. And what was the Greatest Generation’s path to prosperity, which they supported in droves coming back from the European and Pacific theatres? FDR style socialism—which led to the most prosperous decades in American history and the creation of a middle class (quickly disappearing today in the swing back toward unbridled capitalism). But yeah, don’t you dare say that “s” word—or conservative simpletons (as well as those who DO know better but are hoping you do not) will think you are for Venezuelan communism and North Korean demagoguery…meanwhile, they supply Grade A lipstick for Trump to kiss Kim’s ass with! 🤦🏽‍♀️

  57. The most disturbing aspect of this might be the end of opportunity in America. If there are no longer opportunities here, why live here? Why invest here?

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