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The American Dream 2.0

As an idea that encapsulated the principles of equitable, broadly shared growth and meritocracy, the American Dream allowed the United States to become the world's premier economy. But in recent decades, the dream has ceased to be a reality, and more and more workers have fallen behind – possibly for good.

JACKSON, WYOMING – It is time to admit that the American Dream is dead. Its underlying conditions – strong, consistent economic growth and a meritocracy structured to keep the rich from gaming the system – no longer hold true.

Nonetheless, an American Dream 2.0 is still possible, and it will be up to those now contending for the White House to offer a blueprint for making it a reality. For starters, America’s leaders need to explain the problem clearly. The Declaration of Independence proclaimed the “pursuit of happiness” a central feature of American life. Since 1776, each generation has sought upward social mobility; and for a long time, many – though not all – met with prosperity.

For over a century after the Civil War, breakthroughs in energy, medicine, telecommunications, and transportation reshaped America (and the world). Economic productivity grew dramatically, as did the average life span. And for most of this period, a rising tide really did lift most boats. Politicians from both parties embraced the national ethos that anyone could get ahead through hard work and gradually, if imperfectly, made it accessible to immigrants, nonwhites, women, the disabled, and others who had historically been excluded from the promise of American life.

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