Skip to main content

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated Cookie policy, Privacy policy and Terms & Conditions

afriedman16_JOHANNEsEISELEAFPGettyImages_statueoflibertypurplemoon Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

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.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.

Subscribe

Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.

https://prosyn.org/cMAJdNh;
  1. op_campanella7_Aurelien MeunierGetty Images_billgatesrichardbransonthumbsup Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images

    Abolish the Billionaires?

    Edoardo Campanella

    Even many of the wealthiest Americans would agree that the United States needs to overhaul its tax policies to restore a sense of social justice. But, notes Edoardo Campanella, Future of the World Fellow at IE University's Center for the Governance of Change, such reforms would not be enough to restart the engines of social mobility and promote greater equality of opportunity.

    7
  2. oneill69_Malte Mueller Getty Images_handholdingdollarsign Malte Mueller/Getty Images

    A Living Wage for Capitalism

    Jim O'Neill

    Higher nominal wages for low-paid workers can boost real earnings, increase consumer spending, and help make housing more affordable. And insofar as raising the minimum would increase companies’ wage bill, it would create a stronger incentive to replace labor with capital, which could lay the foundation for renewed productivity growth.

    0