The American Dream

The American Dream: How it Affects the Economy

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, can achieve their own version of success in a society in which upward mobility is possible for everyone. 

The concept was first introduced in the best-selling book Epic of America in 1931 by historian James Truslow Adams. He described it as “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement…regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.” 

The American Dream centers on the individual emphasizing that hard work, perseverance, and sacrifice can lead to success, fulfillment, and happiness.

The American Dream is a powerful idea that has motivated many generations. However, it is important to remember that the American Dream is not as straightforward as it seems. There are many obstacles and systemic issues –  like discrimination, poverty, and lack of opportunity – that can stand in the way of success.

Despite these obstacles, the American Dream remains a powerful force in American culture. It is a reminder that anything is possible if you are willing to work hard and never give up on your dreams.

How the American Dream has been associated with wealth

In the early 20th century, the American Dream was often associated with wealth and material possessions. This was partly due to the rise of consumerism and the advertising industry, which promoted the idea that owning a home, a car, and other material goods was essential to happiness and success.

Historian Sarah Churchwell says that the phrase became more about consumerism after the Cold War when the US was competing with the Soviet Union. The US used the American Dream to promote itself as a land of opportunity and prosperity. Success was then associated with markers of upward mobility, like being able to buy a house and car.

Today, homeownership and a steady incremental income to accommodate the evolving economy are two main symbols of achieving the American Dream. A sizable income means access to anything from healthcare and education to a home or vacation. In this sense, money is seen as a tool for independence and self-reliance. In recent years the American Dream is increasingly seen as a more holistic concept that includes concepts like happiness, fulfillment, and a sense of belonging.

Criticisms of the American Dream

Some experts argue that the American Dream is unrealistic since it does not take into consideration systems of exclusion and discrimination like racism, sexism, and classism. 

To say that simply with hard work and grit, an individual can overcome what can be insurmountable systemic barriers simply by focussing on bettering their lives is out of touch with reality. 

The income gap has continued to increase over the years with the rich getting richer and the poor poorer. Achieving a lot of these ideals is an expensive affair which in fact has led to Americans going into significant debt. In the 1990s, the mortgage company Fannie Mae began encouraging people to buy homes through mortgage loans by advertising it as essential to achieving the American Dream. This led to a brief housing boom after which America saw the recession of 2008-09. The idea that anything can be achieved solely through individual ambition can also be mentally distressing for individuals. Failure is attributed to the lack of individual ability highlighting the idea that success or failure is something one can always control. 

How the American Dream can be good for us

Despite its critics, the American Dream can be a powerful force for good. It can motivate people to work hard and achieve their goals. It can also help to create a more just and equitable society.

Considering the larger economy, the American Dream has been associated with having faith in a free market, supporting free trade agreements, foreign direct investment, and the transnational exchange of information and culture. 

One way to make the American Dream work is to think about how the ideals expressed in them can apply to your life. Concepts such as freedom and independence which are at the core of the American Dream can have various meanings. If freedom for some is buying a car, for others, it could simply be being able to live in a neighborhood where they can leisurely walk in the park with their dog. 

Another way to make the American Dream work is to get involved in your community. Volunteering, voting, and advocating for change are all ways to help create a society where everyone has the opportunity to succeed.

The American Dream is a complex and evolving concept, but it is still a powerful force in American culture. It is up to each of us to decide what the American Dream means to us and how we can work to make it a reality for all.

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