Seeking the American Dream: An Interview with Thomas Peterffy

By Kimberly Fletcher (Original article published in The Blaze)

As we prepare to celebrate America’s Independence I wanted to take a moment and highlight just what it is that makes America so great and why it is worth celebrating.  There is no better place to start than with the stories of those whose greatest dream was to come America and sacrificed everything to make that dream a reality.  They were seeking the American Dream.

The term “American Dream” was first used in 1931 by James Truslow Adams, in his book “The Epic of America.”  He defined the America Dream as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.” (p.214-215)

That was the dream so many people from around the world came to America for and why so many still seek to.  Thomas Peterffy is just one the many who made their dream a reality.

Thomas Peterffy grew up in socialist Hungary and grew up dreaming of coming to America and make a better life for himself.  In 1965, through many challenges and sacrifices, he finally attached his dream.  Five years later, at the age of 26, Thomas Peterffy raised his hand and became a full citizen of the United States.  He said he felt an enormous sense of pride, a strong sense of belonging, and the start of a new life.

When Thomas arrived in the United States he spoke no English and had no job.  But he learned the language, worked hard, put himself through school and used his talents, skills and knowledge to seek achieve his dream. He began his career as an architect working on highway projects for an engineering firm.  In the 1970’s he bought a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.  Soon after joining the exchange, he began integrating his knowledge of computers with trading and completely changed the market, playing a key role in developing the electronic trading of securities.  In 1993 Thomas started his own company, Interactive Brokers, growing it to become the largest U.S. electronic brokerage firm in daily average revenue trades, employing thousands.  He has been called the “father of digital trading” and his hard work and dedication has made him one of the wealthiest people in America–a long way from a little boy with dream in socialist Hungary.

And that is why people come to America.  That is what is so great about her.  It is the dream of being who you want to be and the freedom to pursue it, the freedom to succeed, the freedom to fail, and the freedom to keep the fruits of your labors–the dream of a better life for you and your family.

In 2012, out of concern for the direction our nation is heading, Thomas Peterffy released a video sharing his story.  I was incredibly inspired by his video and especially his courage to share it and even spend his own money to get it in the media so Americans all over the country could see it.

Inspired by his story, I reached out to Mr. Peterffy and had the opportunity to interview him.  The full interview is below.  This first part was an introductory message Thomas included.  The definitions and explanation were so well articulated I decided to include those comments as well.  My questions are in bold.  Mr. Peteffy’s responses are in blue.

Interview with Mr. Thomas Peterffy– June 2016

Before I get into these questions I need to explain to your readers what Socialism is.

Capitalism is well understood as a free market economy where people are free to acquire, own, transact and accumulate property including land and operate businesses.

In Communism only the Government owns property and runs businesses. For individuals it is strictly forbidden to own any property other than personal property the nature of which is very limited and clearly defined.

Socialism is any state between the two. It was originally defined as the way to transfer society from
Capitalism to Communism in a controlled and gradual fashion.

Initially Socialism is soft, aside of some regulations and some limits on businesses people are mostly free. Then it slowly hardens, there are more and more regulations, tighter limits on the size of businesses, higher taxes, large firms and farms are nationalized.

As it hardens further, the sizes of houses and apartments any family may occupy is strictly limited in square feet, income tax rises to close to 100% above certain income levels, no private business may have more than x employees, all larger businesses and lands are owned by the government. This progression can be observed over the past 15 years in Venezuela.

Relatively small differences in living standards suddenly loom very large. Can you afford a car?
Buy new shoes? Can you afford to eat meat twice a week or only once a month?
Society separates into two classes, the enforcers and their spies and the people. The enforcers who work for the government, police or state defense forces get the cars, shoes and the meat.

What was it that led to your decision to come to America and why were you so committed and passionate about that decision? 

I grew up in hard Socialist Hungary.

People lacked incentive to do productive or creative work because it was illegal to reap a reward.
Society vegetated on a substandard level, travel to the West was illegal, and people were prisoners of the State. I would read whatever I could about the West and America. The insanity of our self-imposed suffering for so called social justice did not make any sense to me.

What did you feel America could offer you?  Do you feel America still offers those same things today for others coming to the United States and/or those born in the United States?

The freedom to create a better life, to get a job and excel by thinking smart and working hard, to learn a trade, to learn how to run a business and to become part of it or to start my own.

Yes, it is still possible for a new immigrant to become successful in America but it is harder and takes longer. With the possible exception of the software business there are many more regulations a new entrepreneur must comply with and potential success is less rewarding because it is socially frowned upon by many onlookers.

When did you become an American citizen and how did you feel when you received citizenship?

Five years after I came I became a citizen and felt an enormous sense of pride, a strong sense of belonging, the start of a new life at 26.

What are your concerns for the direction America is heading today? 

I refer you back to my discussion on Socialism.

67% of Americans under 40 think positively about Socialism. Academia, Hollywood, the media and many politicians teach and reinforce that belief.

With many new laws and regulations we have started on the road of Socialist transformation and the path of least resistance is to continue.

It is difficult to get young people to think about this rationally.

They do not seem to realize that in a free economy people can spend their money on whatever they choose and the people who satisfy their needs end up with the money.  As long as everybody strives to create goods and services we are a rich and happy nation.

Introduce regulation and free stuff and people will stop striving, less and less will be produced to distribute. Welcome to hardening Socialism.

What influence did your mother and father have on your life?

In school I was taught all about equality and social justice and at home they pointed out the inevitable disastrous consequences. This daily experience after many years formed a strong conviction in me and I hope to be able to convince others to fight to avoid it.

What do you feel is the American Dream and do you feel it can still be attained today?

Young people dream about the kind of life they would like to lead but their potential to achieve that is usually limited in most countries by laws and regulations or social or religious barriers.

These barriers, still today, exist only to a much lesser extent in America. There is comparatively a great deal of individual and economic freedom to achieve those dreams by those who are really determined.

As an immigrant from a socialist country, what counsel or advice would you give Americans today?

Elect politicians who will appoint federal judges who’ll uphold the Constitution and defend individual and economic freedom.

What do you think makes the United States unique from other countries around the world?

The Constitution of the United States with the Amendments and the Bill of Rights.

What is your greatest concern for the future of our country?

Meddling with the above.

What do you think is the most important thing Americans should know and understand today?

That while technology and scientific knowledge advance all the time, human nature has evolved over tens of thousands of years and for all practical purposes remains stable over many life times.

Let’s look back into the past and repeat what has worked and keep away from what hasn’t.



Kimberly Fletcher is the author of WOMEN: America’s Last Best Hope , radio host, columnist, and the president and founder of HomeMakers for America Inc. The views in this article are solely of the author and not representative of HomeMakers for America Inc. Follow Kimberly on Facebook, Twitter @proudhomemaker and on her Blog


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