Monday, March 15, 2010

The State of the American Dream

Xavier University--already steeling itself for the shellacking the Golden Gophers will put on it this Friday--has an Institute for Politics and the American Dream has just released their first American Dream Study(TM)*. The study is a survey of Americans and as the executive summary notes, The Dream is in trouble. Of course, The Dream has been in trouble for decades. Here is how Hunter S. Thompson explained the state of The Dream in the early 1970s:
There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda. . . . You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . .

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.


Nevermind the cyclical nature of economic concerns. A larger problem from an analytical standpoint is that the American Dream is problematic as a cohesive concept. Preferences and cultures are too varied to be coherent as a policy-relevant "dream." The Institute is largely concerned with immigration and reinvention, so surveying in a recession will paint a particularly bad picture. As these surveys continue they will likely become valuable barometers of various social concerns, but individual years will be skewed by exogenous economic and political factors.

*I think it's funny that The American Dream Project features a prominent trademark on the Institute's website. Nothing promotes community mindedness and shared goals like trademarks, copyrights and use restrictions!
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