The benefits of working for the man

The idea that owning will make you happy and fulfilled is part of the self-determinism ideal of the American Dream. Benjamin C. Waterhouse, associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, joins host Krys Boyd to discuss myths about being your own boss and why you might actually be happier working a regular 9-5 job. His book is “One Day I’ll Work for Myself: The Dream and Delusion That Conquered America.”


The birth of ‘the American Dream

By Shaunessy Renker, Think Intern

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 391,400 students graduated in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in business in the U.S. One in three hope to one day work for themselves, according to a survey conducted by Business Insider. The American Dream of leaving the corporate world and finding success in the creation of one’s own business is alive and well. Benjamin C. Waterhouse, author of “One Day I’ll Work for Myself,” has an explanation for why the entrepreneurial world is now alluring for so many.

“[The American Dream] is not just inherently baked into a permanent national culture, but is something that has developed over time,” says Waterhouse. “It really does affect not just individual people’s decisions, but also our collective economic well-being.”

Today, we often lament over the fact that employees no longer stay with the same company for the entirety of their careers. In the twentieth century, this was not the case.

It was common for people to remain loyal to their corporation and work their way from the mailroom up to an executive office. They also benefited from job perks such as inflation-adjusted salaries.

“These are the things that people were clamoring for,” says Waterhouse. “It wasn’t a clamor for economic independence and the ability to run one’s own small shop, it was a clamor for joining the ranks of the corporate workforce.”

By the 1970s, the U.S. began to experience a shift from a manufacturing-dominant economy to a service-dominant economy. With global competition threatening the prominence of American manufacturing, the sector saw loss in profit and productivity.

At the same time, the number of employees working in the service sector was skyrocketing, a sector that lacked labor unions and stable income. Given the collective frustration resulting from a lack of government investment in this new service-dominant economy, the idea of working for oneself began to look more attractive.

“Organizations like the Chamber of Commerce started to rethink the politics of their position,” says Waterhouse. “They started to devote more resources to small business issues, small business lobbying, and to preaching the virtues of small businesses more broadly.”