A couple of weeks ago, Yahoo Finance circulated some disturbing results from a survey it conducted of 1,500 Americans between the ages of 18 and 64. While a majority of those surveyed—53 percent—said they still viewed America as the land of opportunity, a full 41 percent said they felt the American Dream was out of reach.
The American Dream—that idea that through hard work and innovation anyone can prosper in the U.S.—is a critical component of our national fabric. But the concept appears to be under threat on multiple fronts.
I have a hunch that these results are partially skewed by the undercurrent of negativity running through current events. Indeed, the Yahoo Finance survey found that 63 percent of respondents believe the economy is getting worse (including 72 percent of respondents over 55).
Occupy Wall Street protestors march in New York's Zuccotti Park. Source: David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons.
The U.S. economy has been sluggish at best for going on four years now, and unemployment remains stubbornly high. As a nation we have been running huge budget deficits, adding to a an already staggering national debt, and we keep hearing that there is going to be a reckoning. To make matters worse, rather than working together to address the issues, our national elected officials have completely failed to provide leadership, choosing instead to use their positions to advance their political ideologies and prepare for the next election. The Yahoo Finance survey found that only about one-quarter of the public is confident that President Obama and Congress can fix the financial crisis.
Not exactly a rosy picture, is it? Indeed, we have been hearing for years that the economic situation in the U.S. is as bad or worse than it has been since the Great Depression. Against this backdrop, it's a wonder that the Yahoo Finance survey did not reflect even greater pessimism about the state of the American Dream.
But the U.S. has basically been hit by recessions of varying degrees near the beginning of every decade since the 1860s. While the Great Recession that began in 2008 was admittedly more severe than most (hence the name), I have a hunch that if the Yahoo Finance survey were conducted during any of these periods it would find similar levels of pessimism. Were the Yahoo Finance surveyors to go back in time and conduct the survey in, for example, early 1982, with unemployment in the neighborhood of 10 percent, my guess is it would find just as much despair about the state of the American Dream as exists today.
Flash forward to late to 2000, just before the dot com bubble deflated in earnest, when President Clinton told Congress and the American people that the state of the union was "the strongest it has ever been," and I'd venture to say you'd find a lot more people feeling pretty upbeat about the American Dream.
I knew, I knew that my sardonic notion wasn't unique... I just couldn't remember from whom or where I had seen it. But you reminded me perfectly.
The issue is, of course, that if we are willing to trust our fellow citizens to make the grave decision as to who shall govern, then why couldn't they be trusted to do the governing. Hence Buckley's notion, and in derivation, mine.
It would be an interested experiment, no? ;-)
I'd love to try your experiment Bob. I believe that we would see an immediate improvement in the quality of Congressional activity. The current group of clowns is too entrenched in the Washington environment to do anything useful.
And you are in good company. To quote William F. Buckley Jr., “I'd rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University."
"If something cannot go on forever, it will stop. Think what will happen if productivity increases went on in the long term, while wages were stagnant."
I think you will find, most modern economists agree that if we don't maintain a reasonable growth in productivity, and that means on the order of more than 2 percent per year, inflation will rise, real incomes will decline, and the economy will stagnate.
It's not "a moderate inflation" that these economists are calling for, as much as "moderate productivity increase."
The idea that wage increase by itself would lead to greater wealth, in a macroeconomic sense, is simply not supported by fact. Productivity has been increasing, in terms of long term trend, with plenty of hiccups along the way, ever since the Industrial Revolution. There's no reason why this long term trend can't be maintained.
If something cannot go on forever, it will stop. Think what will happen if productivity increases went on in the long term, while wages were stagnant. Even if prices remained constant, the wage earners would end up becoming smaller and smaller part of the economy, because
the GDP would be geometrically increasing.
A moderate inflation is the only stable solution, and it's not even a controversial view in contemporary economics. In fact, that's what American Dream is all about---that the population of the country as a whole benefits from the economic progress.
There's plenty of blame to be spread around.
Don't forget what precipitated the crisis, and when it happened. What got the avalanche started was defaults on home loans, ca. 2008, following a totally insane housing bubble. Meaning, the problems started at the very end of the last administration, and they were precipitated by overly generous home loans, approved by overly aggressive loaning institutions, which was made possible by politicaslly-motivated government guarantees for questionable home loans. It didn't take many of these ridiculous loans to bring down the house of cards. A minority of loans, something like 16 percent, but enough to create a landslide, given how tightly that industry is leveraged.
Is the last administration to be blamed for pushing for these government guarantees? I doubt it!
And yes, greedy bankers who lied about the viability of their subprime mortgages.
This is how the problem started. Now that the housing market has returned to a somewhat more credible footing, it is taking a long time to recover. Because a lot of (supposed) wealth was tied up in real estate.
But unfortunately, we are made to believe that it will take a "leader" from the government to single handedly pilot the economy back to health, even though it was government policies that created the mess to begin with.
Nothing to see here folks…move along…move along. Incredulity swells as history is re-written. Would you have us believe that we lost jobs at an 800K/month clip for the entire eight years of Bush, the last two of which were shared by a Democrat controlled congress BTW? Is that decade such ancient history that we've forget that the numbers were enviously good for seven of those eight years? Including the early ones, when together we worked our way out of the tech-bubble recession and watched two icons of American greatness blown up. No, the wheels fell off at the tail end after the housing bubble burst. And if you call what we have now "stable" - 16% unemployment (U6 number, the 9% U3 number being reported is "kludged" to use our language) and generations of debt - then you'll certainly never be accused of being perceptive. But put the numbers aside, have you stopped to ask yourself why this discussion persists? Would we be carrying on about the lack of opportunity and the poor outlook of the American Dream if things were good? Hey, if you feel "stable" then God bless you but I bet most don't share that view.
As for my earlier posts I just wanted to posit that Duane was TOO quick to dismiss Obama as being PART of the problem; that he absolutely IS and that we can do something about it by having the courage to dispatch him next November, all fast and furious like.
But why take my word for it fellow wingnuts and wingnut-haters alike? Just read his words from his speech in Kansas a few days ago. He made clear what HE thinks of America Dream: that it has never worked; and then he vocalized his socialist designs on this country with class envy language that would make Kim Jong blush. So, by virtue of his own re-election campaign we are now no longer faced with asking ourselves what happened to the American Dream or to what degree Obama is the problem. We will now be forced to ask ourselves: Is socialism a problem? And do we want it?
I would not worry about C VanDome. He is raging against a fantasy where President Obama is singularly responsible for all the worlds ills. These days there seems to be a poster like that in every forum.
Considering the US was losing 800K jobs per month and the financial system was near total collapse when Republicans handed over the White House, and now we have stabilized and are adding jobs, it takes willful blindness to claim Obama wants to destroy the "American Dream".
Nikto, I am puzzled. You make unsupported assertions and follow them to odd destinations. You praise the innovation, business practices and call the US a land of opportunity, but in the same paragraph claim that the US is one of least developed social systems in the world. I can understand the claim that the US is innovative and presents opportunity: Mexicans are not struggling to get into Venezuela. No one breaks down the doors to get into Russia or Turkey. But to what do you negatively compare the social climate in the US? Surely, the US has social problems, but it tends to beat living in Somalia, Iran, China, ... oh, any number of places that are not all that healthy. Is there somewhere that you hold up as a model of social enlightenment? I'd like to know what that place is.
daveb, you are not all that far off base. There are at least three types of people in the country: producers, consumers and one other type. Most of us play both roles, producing something of value, receiving compensation, and then expending the compensation in the role of consumer. Unfortunately, there are an increasing number of parasites joining the party. They do not work, they tax. They will eventually consume their hosts, if allowed. However, parasites are rewarded in many ways.
Just a thought experijent: imagine a USA in which Congress was elected by random selection. Could this be any worse than the circus we see today? Lobbyists, who depend on long association with the same old crooks, would lose that mechanism. Crony capitalism would decay, as cronies didn't exist. Every two years, a new set of people would be in the hot seat to make sensible decisions. Perhaps, if you did a good job in office, you could remain one more term if the voters wanted it that way. Conservative areas of the country would be governed by conservatives, Berkeley CA could have all the socialists/marxists/loons that it could possibly want. Too bad that "political science" is an oxymoron, or we could try the experiment.
You can watch George Carlin weigh in on this topic on Youtube: "The owners of this country know the truth: It's called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acLW1vFO-2Q