A sunny July day in Aspen, Colorado, with Dvorak’s Symphony Number 8, courtesy of the Aspen Music Festival, lilting in the background, is a pretty good definition of the American dream.

Yet one of the most interesting threads running through the conversation Tuesday, the first full day of the Aspen Ideas Festival (underwritten in part by Thomson Reuters, where I work) is the fear that America’s days as the land of opportunity, particularly for the middle class, may be numbered.

The first warning came at 7:45 am – a typical start for the wonkish crowd assembled here – from Michael Splinter, CEO of Applied Materials. Splinter was full of Silicon Valley enthusiasm for his company and its prospects: “it very much is the frontier … this really is rocket science.”

But he wasn’t nearly as cheery about the state of his nation. Asked by moderator David Bradley, chairman of Atlantic Media and one of the festival’s hosts, how many of his employees would be in America if he were starting with a blank slate, Splinter said just 20 per cent. “90 per cent of our sales will be outside the U.S.,” he said. “The pull is to be close to our customers. The challenge is how to get jobs in the U.S.”

Splinter said he was worried about America’s deficit and the tax increases he believes will inevitably be required to pay it off. He was tough on the Obama administration – even though he is among the favored CEOs who have been invited to the White House to offer advice.