Menanteau Serfontein – 29 October 2021
- What is the so-called American Dream?
- Does the American Dream still exist and if so, how effective is it?
- Can the concept of the American Dream be applied in other countries?
What Is the American Dream?
The American Dream is the belief that anyone, regardless of where they were born or what class they were born into, has the opportunity to attain their highest aspirations and goals in a society in which upward mobility is possible for everyone. It is the freedom and ability to write your own future. Whether that’s improving your education, finding a job to support your family or starting your own business, you ultimately have control on the path you choose.”
The American dream is believed to be achievable through sacrifice, risk-taking, hard work, achievement and perseverance, rather than by chance, birth or heritage.
Understanding the American Dream
The term “American Dream” was coined by writer and historian James Truslow Adams in his best-selling 1931 book “Epic of America”. He described it 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.”
Adams went on to explain, “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 merely a dream of motorcars and high wages, but a dream of social order in which each man and 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.”
The idea of the American Dream can be found in the Declaration of Independence, which states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
In a society based on these principles, an individual can live life to its fullest as they define it. America also grew mostly as a nation of immigrants who created a nation where becoming an American—and passing that citizenship to your children—didn’t require being the child of an American.
Advantages and Disadvantages of the American Dream
Achieving the American Dream requires political and economic freedom, as well as the rule of law and private property rights. Without them, individuals cannot make the choices that will permit them to attain success, nor can they have confidence that their achievements will not be taken away from them through arbitrary force.
The American Dream promises freedom and equality and the ideals of the American dream are motivating, including the freedom and duty to take responsibility for your own life. (Read Linked Article on the site entitled “Taking Personal Responsibility“)
It offers the freedom to make both the large and small decisions that affect your life, the freedom to aspire to bigger and better things and the possibility of achieving them, the freedom to accumulate wealth, the opportunity to lead a dignified life, and the freedom to live in accordance with your values—even if those values are not widely held or accepted.
Terming it a “dream” also carries with it the notion that these ideals aren’t necessarily what has played out in the lives of many actual Americans and those who hope to become Americans. The criticism that reality falls short of the American Dream is at least as old as the idea itself. The spread of settlers into Native American lands, slavery, the limitation of the vote (originally) to white male landowners, and a long list of other injustices and challenges have undermined the realization of the dream for many who live in the United States.
As income inequality has increased substantially since the 1970s, the American dream has begun to seem less attainable for those who aren’t already affluent or born into affluence. According to US Census family income data, real family income began to grow much more among the top income group than among other segments of American society.
These realities, however, do not diminish the lustre of the American dream as an ideal and a beacon to all nations.
The reality of the American dream often falls short of the idea itself
As income inequality has increased, many Americans regard the American dream to be much less attainable than before, with some even seeing it as unattainable in their case.
How to Measure the American Dream
Today, homeownership is frequently cited as an example of attaining the American dream. It is a symbol of financial success and independence, and it means the ability to control your own dwelling place instead of being subject to the whims of a landlord. The homeownership rate at the end of 2020 was 65.8%.
Entrepreneurship has always been important to the US economy. Owning a business and being your own boss represents the American dream fulfilment. In addition, access to education and healthcare have been cited as key elements of the Dream.
There is evidence that some sections of American Society have not enjoyed the same measure of freedom, justice and opportunity as others.
Does the American Dream still exist and if so, how effective is it?
Even though the definition of the American Dream has changed to mean different things to different generations, it undoubtedly remains part of the American ethos, however it is estimated that approximately 37% of the American population believe that the American Dream is less attainable than it used to be.
In addition, there are some sections of American Society, particularly amongst African Americans, who claim that as a result of prejudice and discrimination, they do not enjoy the same measure of freedom, justice and opportunity as others and feel that the American Dream remains largely unattainable for them.
A vivid example of this view, are the sentiments of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his famous “I have a Dream” speech when he said the following:
“Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.
So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Despite the concerns of some sectors of American society, the motivating force inherent in the American Dream continues to influence the economy with entrepreneurship and individual ambition, infusing a romantic notion to anyone trying to be successful in the United States.
Can the Concept of the American Dream be applied in other Countries?
I believe that it is indeed possible for the core aspects of the concept/ideal of the American Dream to be applied in other countries in some form or another, but it will require extreme political will, coupled with large scale interventions to create acceptance of and belief in the concept. Simultaneously, a level playing field will have to be created for true equal opportunity to exist, coupled with a realisation that the American dream can potentially be achieved through sacrifice, risk-taking, hard work, perseverance and achievement, rather than by chance. (Read Linked Article on the site entitled “Sacrifice Today for Something Better Tomorrow – Delayed Gratification” as well as the one entitled “Courage, Willpower, Perseverance and Follow-Through”)
In addition to genuine equal opportunity, the following will, in my opinion, have to be in place:
- A democratic political dispensation coupled with the rule of law and private property rights.
- A free-market system.
- Access to adequate quality education.
- All legislation to meet the letter and the spirit of the American Dream.
- Everyone to have access to the basic necessities of life such as adequate shelter, clean water, electricity and sewage systems.
- An environment to be created which facilitates the relative ease of doing business in the country.
- The removal of any impediments that hinder the practical application of the American Dream, from for example policies, processes, red tape and legislative requirements, that cause unfair discrimination and favouritism which mitigate against the principle of merit.
- Removal or amendment of all legislation and practices that have unintended consequences, such as the unfair allocation of contracts that create an artificial increase in costs and other unintended consequences.
- A realisation and acceptance that in the real world, the creation of wealth usually takes a lifetime to attain and that the free-market system is not a “get rich quickly” scheme characterised by favouritism, discrimination, certain racial groups enjoying unfair advantages, bribery and corruption through for example, the corrupt allotment of contracts. Such practices create a false impression and understanding of how the free-market system and equal opportunity are supposed to function. (Read Linked Article on the site entitled “Integrity and Honesty”)
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every child grows up with the knowledge and confidence that you have the freedom and genuine opportunity to attain your highest aspirations and goals and that it is all up to you!
A large part of the content of this Article was derived from an Article entitled “American Dream” By Adam Barone and Reviewed by Somer Anderson – 21 July 2021
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