Tag: politics economics

The American Dream: Time to Wake Up

An interesting article over at Alternet asks what happened to the American dream, and provides some evidence that it is exactly that: a dream. Essentially Americans are not increasing their social and economic mobility even as they believe they still can. I would argue that the persistent and pervasive belief in the American dream is what undercuts both serious talk about class and it acts as a safety valve to protect our current system against peaceful but radical change. Indeed any social/political movements that have been moderately successful ( and certainly I think we all have opinions about whether the goals have been achieved and not for lack of trying) in the post WWII era in the phase of American capitalism have been largely about gaining some acceptance, respect, and equality within the dominant culture not an attempt to dismantle it. Capitalism in the United States has survived to some degree by allowing moderate critique and limited rights for those who were previously denied them. Inevitably, once moderate gains were made those very groups have been forced to defend themselves against cultural reactionaries which might explain why some of the more radical notions that emerged from the activism of black, gay, the transgendered community and feminists that did challenge the structures of consumer capitalism were silenced. People are still fighting on the inclusionary front. It is ironic that issues like gay marriage, partnership, and parenting rights are very much about joining the American dream, the myth of harmony, not trying to disrupt or replace. Many on the cultural reactionary right are pushing back not against radicals who want to attack capitalism and American myths but those who to varying degrees might actually  embrace some of them. At least the myths that say we are a family oriented society.

Joshua Holland argues that free wheeling mobility does not exist noting that the greatest predictor of how much an American will make is what their parents make. Add to that one other factor Holland does not mention but is worth considering: fixed pensions are disappearing. Both of my parents have fixed pensions ( retired teacher and retired nursing college instructor), so while my income approximately matches theirs at comparable times in life even with adequate savings for retirement I might be lucky to equal them. I am not crying the blues, many Americans in my age group cannot set aside money in a 403B or something similar, nor will they have fixed company pensions.