The American Dream—Why it’s Actually Just a Dream

A couple of months ago, a friend and I did a presentation in French class about poverty.  In it, we discussed whether poverty was a violation of human rights.  While the initial answer may be ‘no’ as many see poverty as an inevitable result of capitalism, after reading that the top 100 richest own roughly 30x more than all of the world’s 3.5 billion poorest combined, we were convinced.  Unfortunately, America touts the American Dream without many policies in place to help the impoverished achieve that dream.  When corporations receive tax cuts and the highest earners have to pay less taxes then their poorer counterparts, it becomes clear that wealth distribution isn’t a natural result of capitalism—it’s a natural result of a nation that thinks “Citizens United” is a good idea.

This video, discusses wealth distribution in America.  It distinguishes our ideal, what we think is reality, and what actually is reality.  The statistics are starting.  The top 1% sits pretty while the bottom 40% can barely scrape by.  Tom, Gatsby, Nick, and Daisy in The Great Gatsby evidently represent the top wealth cohort. In their empty world of careless apathy, they’re so secure in their status and existence, that they can pretty much do whatever they want.  Despite the fact that this novel takes place in the 1920s, the themes still hold true, there is no way that these people are working 380x harder than the average worker.  The contrast between them and the workers in the Valley of Ashes highlights this fact.  While the men in soot- covered rags toil from dawn until dusk, the residents of East and West Egg throw parties and drive nice cars all day.  We’re supposed to grasp the unfairness of this disparity in reading the novel.  This video, which contextualizes the issue in the modern day, only serves to remind us that this issue has still yet to be resolved.

On the other end of the wealth graphic lays the Joads.  In the story The Grapes of Wrath,  the Joads are a victim of the same ruthless capitalism that led to so much economic growth in the 20s.  In the 1930s, however, extreme poverty was the clear consequence.  While the Joads are pushed from they’re farms by tractors that destroy everything in their path, they’re also ostracized and placed on the fringes of society by the citizens of California.  In essence, not only were people unwilling to help those on the bottom achieve the American Dream, corporations were single-handedly responsible for destroying the manifestation of the American Dream back in Oklahoma.  For the American Dream isn’t just about having wealth, it’s also about feeling a sense of pride and accomplishment.  Unfortunately, poor people are barred from this potential by the overwhelming power of the wealthy.

The video is mainly rooted in logos, showing statistics and charts that lead us to the conclusion that wealth distribution has major, major issues.  Furthermore, the video brings up celebrities and CEOs as the major earners in our society.  However, this video sort of debunks the whole idea that they are the hardest working citizens.  How could they possibly be working 380x harder than the average 9-to-5 employee?  The argument is so effective it almost makes one want to run for political office just to change the current reality.  The contrast between reality and idealism and perception really emphasizes the problem.

So now that I feel nice and cynical, it’s time to talk about why we actually have the potential to solve this issue.  The video articulates that 9/10 people want the ideal.  That is republicans and democrats, independents and libertarians, all agree that reform is necessary.  So what do we do now?  We change it.  We advocate for tax reform, raise minimum wage, and believe that the poor are mostly hard-working, not lazy.


5 thoughts on “The American Dream—Why it’s Actually Just a Dream

  1. MarMar:

    You know me, so, pretty much, you know that I agree pretty wholeheartedly.

    This is reminiscent of that other post you made (well, several), and your Cross of Gold essay.

    I feel like another important aspect of this is also how oppressed groups, not only the economically disadvantaged. While I know you realize this, many do not realize how much harder it can be for these oppressed groups on the bottom of the curve to advance forward. According to the New York Times, the top 1% is 82% white, while only 63% of Americans are.

    I also thought your assessment of how much of the world is placed at a disadvantage and are in poverty was very welcome, and begs the question: If poverty truly is unavoidable in capitalism, what must we do?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In policy debate, we make a bunch of pretty ridiculous arguments, and I sometimes think that the people who write the evidence we present are just off their rockers crazy people with a computer and a blog. However, your statement about how we tout the supposed “American Dream” while passing laws that in reality make it increasingly hard to achieve really resonated. In our society,we tend to be hypocrites of the first order. We live lives of privilege and proclaim our virtues of “hard work” when in reality the adversity we face is nothing compared to how some people live.

    Liked by 1 person

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  4. Your interpretation of the American Dream is impressively original, and, interestingly, I believe that it can be applied to The Great Gatsby. Readers are led to believe that Gatsby has achieved the American Dream – he is rich, extravagant, and well-liked for the most part – however, it is clear that he has not achieved the happiness that is so commonly linked automatically with reaching Gatsby’s social and financial standing. This seems to me to be because he has no sense of pride that you point to be so important in his work; he hasn’t actually realized his ultimate dream of taking back Daisy and probably never will.

    On another note, I appreciated that you made mention (however brief) of things that can be done to reverse the effects of socioeconomic disadvantage. These are big problems, and a lot of people will have to get on board before any progress can be made, but every voice counts.


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