Is the American Dream Still Viable?

David Kamp thinks we need to rethink the meaning of the “American Dream.” In a great article in the recent Vanity Fair, he traces the history of this idea from Puritans to the Declaration of Independence to the settlement of the West to Woodrow Wilson to FDR to Norman Rockwell to Levittown to television families of the 1950s to Laguna Beach and The Hills. The piece also reproduces some great photographs.

Kamp concludes:

The American Dream should require hard work, but it should not require 80-hour workweeks and parents who never see their kids from across the dinner table. The American Dream should entail a first-rate education for every child, but not an education that leaves no extra time for the actual enjoyment of childhood. The American Dream should accommodate the goal of home ownership, but without imposing a lifelong burden of unmeetable debt. Above all, the American Dream should be embraced as the unique sense of possibility that this country gives its citizens—the decent chance, as Moss Hart would say, to scale the walls and achieve what you wish.

Well put.

4 thoughts on “Is the American Dream Still Viable?

  1. David Kamp makes the perhaps instinctive, but wrong, conclusion that the middle class did itself in by consuming beyond its means. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If anyone wants to understand what has really happened they just need to read Elizabeth Warren’s work on bankruptcy and the American middle class- or you can watch her lectures on youtube. Also check out Jacob Hacker’s book “The Great Risk Shift”. Parents have to work so much, as compared to the early 1970’s because wages are stagnant at the same time housing and health care costs have dramatically risen. It is the FIXED costs of middle class life, not the expensive sneakers and granite counter tops (clothing has actually decreased as a household expense), that have eroded the American Dream. The broad mid-century American middle class is the result of risk sharing and workers ability to share in productivity growth. Over the last 30 years these gains have gone to the wealthiest Americans making them richer than they have been at any time the 20th century. The American Dream is not suffering from a lack of thrift.


  2. What about the idea of building New Towns in the Country in which parents can work part-time (18-to-24 hours a week) and in their free time build their own houses, cultivate gardens, and pursue other leisure-time activities?I am trying to start a movement!


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