Posted by Bob Lord
It seems that progressives have fully conceded the conservative definition of the American Dream — a chance at winning the wealth lottery with the right combination of sweat, luck, and natural born talent.
In a Salon post widely viewed on Reddit, American Dream Deferred Indefinitely, Stewart Lansley does a good job of explaining the incrasing inequality in the U.S., how it's at its worst since the Great Depression, and how the middle class has been hollowed out. But he fundamentally botches the case he's trying to make regarding the American Dream, when he defines it as "the ability of citizens to go from rags to riches, and one of the country’s most enduring values."
Is that "value" to which Lansley refers a part of the American Dream? Perhaps, but it never was at the core of the American Dream. The essence of the American Dream was the ability of ordinary people — cops, firegighters, steelworkers — to work hard and enjoy good lives. The rags to riches part of the American Dream was just a byproduct of that core principle. If you worked hard and also were blessed with exceptional talent, you could become rich.
By buying into the conservative concept of the American Dream, Lansley seemingly is saying that the glaring problem with inequality is that it's reduced the likelihood one can go from rags to riches. Really? Is it that important that what used to be a one in twenty proposition is now a one in a hundred proposiiton? Why? Either way, the vast majority of us, even those who work hard, will never achieve riches.
Ironically, Lansley makes the case that the real American Dream — a vibrant middle class with membership open to anyone willing to work — has been shattered. He just screws up the definitional part of his piece to a fare thee well.
Returning to the traditional concept of the American Dream would be okay, but I submit we should redefine it entirely. America is unbelievably wealthy. Spread our national income evenly, and each family of four enjoys a $200,000 annual income. That's not middle class, that's well off.
The new American Dream? How about: "A society where anyone who contributes shares in our affluence, and even the poorest in our society enjoy a decent life?" Am I advocating communism? No, but I am advocating that we replace a definition that focuses on individual excess with one that focuses on societal well being instead. In a country as wealthy as ours, we shouldn't be referring to anyone as "working poor", or have a minimum wage that places a full-time worker at or below the poverty line, or have a median family income that places a family one or two missed paychecks from poverty and doesn't allow enough discretionary income for even the simplest of life's pleasures. It's shameful, and it's about time the many let the few know that it no longer will be tolerated.