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Evolution of the American Dream: What does it Cost?

In today’s political climate in the US, where divisions are so wide that one can often get confuse whether the two camps are citizens of the same country or representatives of two enemy countries!  USofA has been known as the beacon of hope and opportunity the world over for better part of 19th, 20th and the 21st century.  This meant that one could migrate to this country and then be accepted by this country and assimilated in its larger milieu.

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And, what fired the imagination of millions of immigrants was the concept of “American Dream”.

What is American Dream?

The popular U.S. writer and popular historian James Truslow Adams coined this phrase in 1931 in his work – “Epic of America“.

This is what he said:

[The American Dream is] that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position. [Emphasis added]

At the most basic level, this concept stems from the vision in the Declaration of Independence, where we have – “all men are created equal” with the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Adams went onto clarify the central ethos of the American Dream further.

The American dream, that has lured tens of millions of all nations to our shores in the past century has not been a dream of merely material plenty, though that has doubtlessly counted heavily. It has been much more than that. It has been a dream of being able to grow to fullest development as man and woman, unhampered by the barriers which had slowly been erected in the older civilizations, unrepressed by social orders which had developed for the benefit of classes rather than for the simple human being of any and every class.

So, it is bigger than just the material comforts, but a way to live untethered from the age-old restraints that the powerful and the mighty have erected and held humans back with!

Cost of American Dream: the Materialist dream ONLY?

USA Today came up with an interesting way to look at the Aerican Dream – by asking the Americans what it really meant to them now!  Based on numerous surveys and interviews, the defintion that emerged was:

“economic security, finding and pursuing a rewarding career, leading a healthy and personally fulfilling life, being able to retire in comfort, and opportunity for their children to live a better life.”

An economic manifestation of the “dream” that earlier idealists had talked about.  Rather its economic component only is now left within the psyche of the Americans as the American Dream!

Given that as it may, what is the cost of this dream now?  Well the price tag for possibly one of the greatest vision for freedom in modern world for last two centuries – the Cost of American Dream – now stands at a whopping $130,000!

Cost of the American Dream
Cost of the American Dream

This dream is based on how America has come to be defined as – a consumer society!  Everything in this society is now about consumption.  Now about contribution but consumption.  So now an American dream involves a scenario where a family of four must own a $275K home, drive an SUV, spend $5K on summer vacation, and eat $315 worth of food every week!

Is that crazy or what?  Just pause for a moment and think – if the rest of the world lives whatthe Americans are now calling the “American Dream”, would this planet even exist?

A vision of human liberty and opportunity has now become reduced to unabashed consumerism that is capable of destroying the very planet where we all live.

Given where American mindset finds itself with respect to the American Dream, it is probably in fitness of things that someone like Donald Trump – an unabashed and shameless consumerist character has become the role model for so many!

A version of this post was first published on Oct 26, 2005 @ 18:15

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