A Contrarian column, as readers have come to know, is a relatively simple matter of refuting the latest foolishness from militant feminists and socialists, who are often the same people. In that cause, however, I have never attempted anything on the scale of Adam Shepard, author of Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream. So let me bring his story to your attention.
As a student at Merrimack College in Andover, Massachusetts, Mr. Shepard was force-fed books by pop-socialist author Barbara Ehrenreich. As he explains:
My story is a rebuttal to Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch, the books that spoke on the death of the American dream. With investigative projects of her own, Ehrenreich attempted to establish that working stiffs are doomed to live in the same disgraceful conditions forever. I reject that theory and my story is a search to evaluate if hard work and discipline provide any payoff whatsoever, or if they are, as Ehrenreich suggests, futile pursuits.”
To prove his point, Mr. Shepard started out literally from scratch, with a tarp, a sleeping bag, an empty gym bag, the clothes on his back, and a grand total of $25, which one could quickly spend at Starbucks. He set aside his previous contacts, his college education, and his credit history. For all practical purposes, his previous life did not exist, and he would not permit himself to beg. A train dropped him at a random place outside of his home state, where his goal was to become a regular member of society in 365 days.
That meant he would have a functioning automobile, live in a furnished apartment, save $2,500 in cash, and be in a position to improve his circumstances in school or business. In Charleston, South Carolina, where he first landed, the quest proved educational.
Mr. Shepard learned that, in addition to food and lodging, the homeless shelter run by Crisis Ministries deployed doctors, nurses, a legal team, social workers, and two psychiatrists. He also learned that “any work is better than no work,” and unlike many others accepted what he could find. For a time he worked hanging up baby clothes. One day he earned $24, only to find it whittled down to $14 from the various fees of the employment agency.
While others languished, Mr. Shepard learned how to pitch himself, and got hired by FastCompany, a moving outfit, doing brute physical work in which he had no experience, and for which he was not exactly suited. As a mover he endured injury, sickness, ridicule, and conflicts with colleagues. He also kept working and learned, as he put it, “to delay gratification” rather than reward himself with goodies. After only six months, Mr. Shepard was driving an automobile and had saved $2,514.36.
“That’s what kept me going,” he explains, “the idea that I had a better lifestyle in sight.” He did indeed. After one year, Adam Shepard was living in a furnished apartment and had put aside $5,300. He had met his goals, on time, and even had enough to help his mother financially. Better still, he kept looking ahead.
“Look what I’ve done with $25,” he told himself. “Imagine what I can do with $5,000 and the money I continue to earn as I complete my project.”
Along the way he learned that “everybody faces adversity,” but that “few of us take ownership of our own lives.” Too many, he said, are fond of blaming everybody else.
“I grew to appreciate, even more than before, that we live in the greatest country in the world,” Shepard wrote. “America is more fertile and full of more opportunity than any other country.” Further, “In spite of all the whining and complaining that goes on in our country, I’d say we’re doing all right.”
That is a rather different perspective from Barbara Ehrenreich and those doctrinaire feminists who see only gloom and oppression everywhere. Mr. Shepard proved that hard work and discipline still pay off in America. At the end of Scratch Beginnings, an entertaining read, Adam Shepard says we need more heroes, but he may be one himself. He proved that, when it comes to the refutation of economic nonsense, actions certainly speak louder than words.