The American Dream Is Not Dead - Templeton Press

The American Dream Is Not Dead - Templeton Press (PDF)

2022 • 20 Pages • 87.23 KB • English
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The American Dream Is Not Dead The American Dream Is Not Dead sS (But Populism Could Kill It) Michael R. Strain TEMPLETON PRESS Templeton Press 300 Conshohocken State Road, Suite 500 West Conshohocken, PA 19428 © 2020 by Michael R. Strain All rights reserved. This book may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, including illustrations, in any form (beyond that copying permitted by Sections 107 and 108 of the U.S. Copyright Law and except by reviewers for the public press), without written permission from the publishers. Set in Sabon LT Pro 9.9/14.4 by Gopa&Ted2, Inc. Library of Congress Control Number: 2020930637 ISBN: 978- 1- 59947- 557-8 (paperback: alk. paper) ISBN: 978- 1- 59947- 558- 5 (ebook) This paper meets the requirements of ANSI/NISO Z39.48- 1992 (Permanence of Paper). A catalogue record for this book is available from the Library of Congress. 20 21 22 23 24 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Printed in the United States of America. For William and Rose Contents sS Introduction 3 Part 1: The American Dream Is Not Dead 1. Defining the Dream 9 2. Today’s Message: The Dream Is Dead 11 3. We Have Real Challenges 15 4. The American Dream Is Not Dead 23 5. Today’s Economy Is Delivering 27 6. Incomes Are Growing 33 7. Quality of Life Has Clearly Improved 59 8. “Hollowing Out” Won’t Be the End of the Story 63 9. America Is an Upwardly Mobile Society 77 10. Advancing the Dream 101 Part 2: Dissenting Points of View 11. Populism Isn’t the Problem: It’s a Response to Inequality by E. J. Dionne 115 viii contents 12. Why Economic Trends Support Conservative Populism by Henry Olsen 125 13. A Response to E. J. Dionne and Henry Olsen 133 Acknowledgments 143 Notes 145 About the Contributors 151 About the Author 153 The American Dream Is Not Dead Introduction sS T he American Dream is not dead. It is surprising that such a sentence would be so contro- versial. But it is. If you’re looking for bipartisan consensus, start here. Leading politicians and presidential candidates from both parties have voiced agreement on these points: America is no longer an upwardly mobile society. Incomes are stagnant. Workers don’t enjoy the fruits of their labor. Typical households are no better off today than they were decades ago. The game is rigged for everyone but those at the top. It is always difficult to capture the reality of American life in short sentences. A country as large as ours, in which citizens have such varied experiences, makes generalizing difficult. But today’s prevailing narrative is so stark that the task of generalizing becomes much easier. The narrative is wrong. America is upwardly mobile, particularly for those nearer the bottom of the income distribution. Incomes aren’t stagnant. Workers do enjoy the fruits of their labor. The 4 the american dream is not dead argument that life hasn’t improved for typical households in decades borders on the absurd. The game is not rigged. The American Dream is not dead. And this short book will hopefully convince you of that. My goal here is not to be Panglossian. I believe that if a glass is one- tenth full, it’s better to describe it as nine- tenths empty. My argument is that if the American Dream were a glass, it’s much closer to full than to empty. My goal is also not to be contrarian. The United States faces serious economic challenges, including managing the effects of advancing technology, declining workforce par- ticipation rates, towns and communities that have been left behind by globalization, failing schools, tempered dynamism and energy, and relatively slow productivity growth. Amer- ica faces serious social challenges as well, including decay- ing social capital, increasing socioeconomic fragmentation, “deaths of despair,” the opioid crisis, and a very troubling increase in suicides. But despite these very real challenges, the national con- versation about the American Dream is so detached from the underlying reality that it has become incorrect. We are confusing pockets of real struggle in American life with the broader canvas of the American experience. This confusion matters because messages matter. What people believe about their ability to improve their economic lot affects their aspirations, motivation, and effort in the labor market, which in turn affects their economic outcomes. introduction 5 The message people receive today from politicians and opin- ion leaders is that hard work won’t pay off, incomes won’t grow, and they can’t climb up the ladder. That message is unfair to the people who are receiving it precisely because it is wrong. The message helps to create the very problems its advocates argue exist. This is not a call to complacency. The American Dream always needs to be renewed because every generation faces different social and economic challenges. In addition to the serious issues I mentioned above, the Dream is at immediate risk from populists on the left and the right—from their pol- icies, from their narratives of victimhood and grievance, and from their assaults on the value of personal responsibility and the idea that people can better their outcomes. The American people deserve better than a populist scream. They deserve policies that strengthen the Dream, advance economic opportunity, and increase economic mobility. That debate should take place in the afternoon sun, not in the darkness of midnight. It’s not midnight in America. But it could be brighter still. Part 1 sS The American Dream Is Not Dead

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