Opinion

The Edgy Optimist

A new American dream for a new American century

By Zachary Karabell
July 26, 2013

In a major speech this week on the economy, President Obama emphasized that while the United States has recovered substantial ground since the crisis of 2008-2009, wide swaths of the middle class still confront a challenging environment. Above all, the past years have eroded the 20th century dream of hard work translating into a better life.

As Obama explained, it used to be that “a growing middle class was the engine of our prosperity. Whether you owned a company, or swept its floors, or worked anywhere in between, this country offered you a basic bargain — a sense that your hard work would be rewarded with fair wages and decent benefits, the chance to buy a home, to save for retirement, and most of all, a chance to hand down a better life for your kids. But over time, that engine began to stall.” What we are left with today is increased inequality, in wages and in opportunity.

The assumption is that this is unequivocally a bad thing. There have been countless stories about the “death of the American dream,” and Detroit’s bankruptcy last week was taken as one more proof. Yet lately the unquestioned assumption of a better future based on hard work has not served America well. If anything, today’s version of that dream has been the source of complacency rather than strength, and its passing may be necessary in order to pave the way for a constructive future.

But you wouldn’t know that from the president’s speech and from continued news stories and academic studies. The inequalities of opportunity were underscored by a recent study that was brought to national attention by the New York Times this week that showed wide variations in income mobility depending on what part of the United States you live in. Those who live in metropolitan areas, as well as those with more higher education and wealthier parents, have significantly more upward mobility than many in rural areas.

The wage stagnation for tens of millions of working Americans over the past decades combined with the financial crisis has been painful and even calamitous for millions. In truth, however, the middle class security that has now disappeared only existed for a very brief period after World War Two, when the United States accounted for half of global industrial output and achieved a level of relative prosperity and growth that was substantially higher than in any other country. Before the Great Depression and World War Two, there was no assumption in the 17th, 18th or 19th centuries that the future would be inherently better for one’s children.

As for income inequality, that is hardly a new issue. The presence of inequality in the past did not impede economic growth. After the American Revolution, income inequality began rising sharply along with economic growth. And it continued to rise well into the early 20th century, when more people became rich and even more people became mired in a level of poverty that does not exist today. Inequality then wasn’t a barrier to mobility. If anything, it might have been a spur. Seeing how the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age lived provoked both the reforms of the Progressive Era and the ambitions of millions of immigrants and citizens who wanted a better life and saw that one was possible

Before the mid-20th century, the American dream was that if you worked hard you had the potential to craft a good life. You could be free from repressive government, and you could be able to watch your children do better via education and their own hard work. That potential was absent in other societies, and its presence — along with tens of millions of acres of unclaimed land — was what drew so many millions of immigrants.

In short, the equation of American economic success until the mid-20th century was not that if you worked hard you would have a stable material life. It was that if you worked hard, you could create such a life. The difference is not semantic; it is fundamental, and for Obama and many, many others, it has become blurred. The equation articulated by Obama and likely shared by a significant majority of Americans is that if you work hard, you should receive economic security and see the same for your children. The flip side of that theory is that if you don’t gain economic security, something is wrong with the system, and government has a responsibility to provide when that system fails.

The belief that something is a given simply by birthright is never a formula for long-term strength. Yet at some point in the last half of the 20th century, the American dream morphed from the promise that you could realize a comfortable life, to a promise that being American meant you would and should realize that. Hence the feeling, held by so many, that promises have been betrayed and the system is broken.

In truth, the passing of that false certainty is a positive. Urgency and uncertainty are not negatives, at least not inherently. They can provide the necessary fuel for ambition and for creativity and work. Urgency and uncertainty were the norm in the late 19th century and look what those produced in America: the very power and prosperity that catapulted the country to the center of the globe.

The United States, like many affluent nations, has reached a juncture where the model that succeeded is not likely to be the model that will succeed going forward. 19th century agricultural societies gave way to 20th century industrial ones, and 20th century industrial ones are giving way to 21st century service and idea economies. None of that happened without significant pain and disruption. Nor is our transition today without substantial pain for many.

Government can and should be active in providing basic security for those disrupted by these changes. But the contract that has now been broken did not actually serve America well. It served the post-war generation and their children, but it does not serve a United States now embedded in a world where other societies are providing the same potential that the United States did two centuries ago when that was extremely rare.

What’s needed is a sense the United States is a place where dreams can be made manifest, not that it is a place where everyone will be safe and secure. America remains a place where hard work and ambition and creativity can translate into a good life. It is not a place where hard work and ambition are guaranteed to yield results. And if we want a vibrant, pulsing society in the 21st century, the passing of that version of the American dream is not something to be mourned. We’ve reached the end of complacency, and not a moment too soon.

PHOTO: U.S. President Barack Obama waves as he arrives to speak about the economy during a visit to Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois July 24, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Comments
42 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Truth is education has long become the gateway to the American dream and the education has not kept pace with the changes in demand with the changes in the economy.

What needs to be reformed is the American education system so that anyone who wishes to obtain an advanced education or skills have the opportunity… not simply those who have the top 10 GPA’s

Posted by BuddyGC | Report as abusive
 

“What’s needed is a sense the United States is a place where dreams can be made manifest, not that it is a place where everyone will be safe and secure.”

Mr. Karabell. Bravo! Well done! You have provided the impetus for an informed conversation of how we need to adapt to a world dramatically different than that of the “American Century”.

This can be done, but it will require we re-think everything versus “layering on” the existing infrastructures of government, industry and education. Some philosophies will need to die (painfully?) in order for the required changes to flourish–the priority being the role of government and how government is delivered. The private sector has the ability to respond much more quickly than government as it does not have to deal with the entrenched interests.

The greatest opportunity will be implementing the necessary changes first at the state level–the incubator for responsive government–which is already in play in many flyover states. Should state governments adapt quickly, the landscape will dramatically change for the better. If the federal government continues to impede as it does now, then opportunities will be suppressed and the required change will take much longer.

Posted by COindependent | Report as abusive
 

I thought the Presidential campaign was over and somebody had been elected. But I keep hearing campaign speeches. Who won?

Posted by my2sons | Report as abusive
 

“The private sector has the ability to respond much more quickly than government as it does not have to deal with the entrenched interests.” True that! Private citizens need to wake up and see what they are creating by supporting all the toxic industries. Stop shopping at Wal-Mart, use as little oil based energy as possible, recycle, stop using plastic bottled water, stop buying crap food in cans, and stop buying crap food that has any Monsanto poison in it. If fact, grow your own food, plant fruit trees, plant grape vines on the sunny parts of buildings, shop – mom and pop and pay the extra buck, STOP BUYING CHINA PRODUCTS, instead buy MADE IN THE USA OR USED, stay away from all those pills being pushed by pharma (Example of a True Diagnosis: “Restless Leg Syndrome” = too much caffeine, stop the caffeine, instead of taking a pill so you can drink caffeine,) buy hemp products, vote to stop the drug war on Americans, shop thrift stores and yard sales for what you need, trade stuff with your friends and invest in clean energy.

Posted by 2Borknot2B | Report as abusive
 

So, the old American Dream is dead, now recognized as a false dream. (What percentage of the population actually owned their homes, not mortgage payments subsidized by the federal government and greatly benefiting the bankers? (Don’t pay your mortgage and we’ll see who actually owns what.) What do you suggest should replace it? Are we to accept a One Percenters Plutocracy supported by the 99% of Pee-Ons, back to the feudal system of the Middle Ages? “Let them eat cake.”?

Posted by ptiffany | Report as abusive
 

Well, Mr. Karabell, I hope you edgy opitmism persists. If or when you are out-placed, despite how well or much you write, and cycle through having to adapt by re-inventing yourself several times and have little retirement left, let us all know how that works for you. Write something about that then. Good luck.

Posted by Cirrhus | Report as abusive
 

@2Borknot2B
God, I’m glad I don’t know you! You sound REALLY scary!

Posted by JRTerrance | Report as abusive
 

A major part of the “American Dream” as it used to be was that foreigners could come here and become as one with the rest of the population. This presumes assimilation.

Assimilation was abandoned when the Greatest Generation came to dominate, led by their first President, John Kennedy. Since that time we have increasingly had a country of race and other discriminatory laws and regulations at the Federal level. This has promoted division among people who had always struggled to become one — E Pluribus Unum. Now we are more deeply divided, and certainly not just by race, into competing and increasingly hostile communities. But we “pretend” we are not and that our race and sex laws will make us one. They will most certainly will, and have, not.

Those who have the most left to lose in all this are the rich, for there will be no country left for them to dominate. Everyone else lost a half century ago. The real myth is of 1960 – 2007 being a “golden age”.

Posted by usagadfly | Report as abusive
 

I used to watch CNBC and think of Karabell as one of the few exceptions to the wing-nut coterie, along with Liesman and Harwood. Now I see that evaluation was possible only in comparison to the Santelli crowd.

Obama and the majority of Americans who think that if you work hard and still cannot achieve economic security have every right to fault a system dominated by a plutocracy willing to foster corporate subsidies, while calling regulation and the social safety net pampering the unworthy. Yes, there is something wrong with that system.

No doubt, capitalism and democracy are “best in class,” but “worst except for all the rest” can also be faint praise.

Posted by snaildarter | Report as abusive
 

Excellent piece, food for the mind. We return to equality of opportunity from the illusion of equality of result.

Now how do we convince our government to “lead, follow or get out of the way”?

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive
 

My first reaction to this piece is revulsion. It’s simply a rationale for selfishness. On second thought, by expressing his anti-egalitarian (and I would say anti-democratic) views openly, the writer has made plain why the extreme (I would say crackpot) individualism he favors cannot form the basis of a decent society, i.e., one where everyone has access to decent employment, health care, education and housing.

Posted by rectangular | Report as abusive
 

The sort of society the writer wants is one that would have great internal weaknesses, making it ripe for takeover by some other, more internally cohesive, nation or group of nations.

Posted by rectangular | Report as abusive
 

“What we are left with today is increased inequality, in wages and in opportunity.”

“What we are left with today is EXTREME inequality, in wages and in opportunity.” There, fixed it for you!

Posted by Susiefromphilly | Report as abusive
 

I wish the goverment would shrink to manageable size……the goverment alone is like the 3rd or 4th largest economy….of course it can’t build levies in New Orleans or man ATC in regional airports….we are being schamed….

Posted by c2183rdcav | Report as abusive
 

The “new American Dream” is just a really bad nightmare you cannot wake up from.

Posted by Aver | Report as abusive
 

My first response to this column was revulsion. Then I realized that the writer’s brazen defense of “single selfishness and compulsive greed” (in Thomas Wolfe’s words) could serve a useful purpose if it helps to show why Social Darwinism can never form the basis of a decent society.

Posted by rectangular | Report as abusive
 

We are well into the 21st century and globalization has taken hold, never to let go. We should begin a new dream, but one without borders. A dream for all humanity, not just Americans. OOTS, America itself needs to Lead, Follow, or get out of the way.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive
 

Pravda 11/19/2012

“Recently, Obama has been re-elected for a 2nd term
by an illiterate society and he is ready to continue
his lies of less taxes while he raises them. He gives speeches of peace and love in the world while he promotes wars as he did in Egypt, Libya and Syria.
He plans his next war is with Iran as he fires or demotes his generals who get in the way.”

“He is a Communist without question promoting the Communist Manifesto without calling it so. How
shrewd he is in America. His cult of personality mesmerizes those who cannot go beyond their ignorance. They will continue to follow him like those
fools who still praise Lenin and Stalin in Russia. Obama’s fools and Stalin’s fools share the same
drink of illusion.”

By Xavier Lerma

This is what you get when Welfare Queens pick the president.

Posted by geno47 | Report as abusive
 

Spoken like a true winner in the brave new world of winner-take-all. The rich need incentives, the poor need fear, yadda yadda, heard it all before.

Posted by JBookly | Report as abusive
 

this is the president who talks of entrepreneurial accomplishment: ” you didn’t build that”

this is the president who thinks social justice is economic equality even if economically inefficient, the purpose of the tax code is equalization not revenue

this is the president whose health care system is strangling employment and recovery

yup

end obama rule and we will try again, with those who come out of the rubble and bunker still ambulatory

this is the president who advocates ‘people who look like me while pretending to revere ‘color of skin not content of character’

this is the president whose economic policies are sustained ‘takings’ of private enterprise

this is the president who thiks health care is improved by 15,000 new is agents, the rest of us prefer 15,000 new doctors

yup

as for compulsive american optimism, yup, along with american exceptionalism,

like Gloria Gaynor said’ i will survive’ even obama and psychophants, glo-war racketeering and racial cronyism and class warfare in lieu of economic liberation

Detroit first, the Fed next

Posted by pw3pw3 | Report as abusive
 

@tmc,

America is the richest nation in the world, but even America does not have the economic power NOR THE RESPONSIBILITY to lift “all humanity”, particularly when there is substantial continuing doubt as to whether it can fulfill it’s long standing commitments to it’s own citizens on Social Security and Medicare.

Be careful what you wish for! If America is not at the wheel, who would be, and what would be their course? I don’t know, and neither do YOU.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive
 

Obama is a Marxist – he believes in stealing from Peter to buy Paul’s vote.

No country on earth has survived long with that stupid goal…..

Posted by MauiSunset | Report as abusive
 

That’s exactly it: the evolution from “COULD” to “WOULD.”
“COULD” doesn’t need any change. With the inequality rate as is “COULD” doesn’t make any sense. The probability is too low.
“WOULD” is a long path. But it faces the future.

Posted by OUTPOST2012.NET | Report as abusive
 

American government schools HUGELY under-perform home schools and private/parochial schools, almost EVERYWHERE!
American government has given us MORE people on Food Stamps than people who have a full-time job, because American government makes it HUGELY more expensive to run a business here than simply moving it off-shore! And NOW, much of American government wants to FLOOD the American marketplace with AMNESTY for ILLEGALS, tens of MILLIONS of them, in order to make it MORE difficult on the existing American worker! Do you see a pattern here??

Posted by NoMoreRINOs | Report as abusive
 

The “winners” shouldn’t take too much satisfaction in as much as they may forget the country would be carpeted with a very thick layer of “losers” because it would be living in a great depression with no end in sight. The currency could well be garbage. Many more municipalities than San Bernardino and Detroit could be in bankruptcy and there would have been violence in the streets without government intervention during the past four years. Even a mass mobilization of “losers” to fight foreign wars could backfire and cause a violent revolution in the “homeland” either during the campaigns or soon afterward when the losers found they may have lived but reaped no tangible rewards for their “service and devotion”.

“Tough love” doesn’t have to be “love” at all and the fact that it would easily accept the deaths of the losers and the elimination of the burden they might represent doesn’t look any different than a state of war actually.

It is very easy to think of OBL and the quagmire of Afghanistan as some kind of devilish joke that OBL knew would bring major change to this country the way it did to the USSR. And if this country can’t sell itself to even the losers the winers won’t much like the results either.

OOTs never mentions that those in positions of power and control don’t like too many rivals and tend to make sure no one can challenge their authority or position and, especially, their incomes, whether or not they deserve that authority or position because of their inherent merits.

For the current administration to consider getting involved in the violence of Syria because of the purported dominance of a power elite should send shivers down the spine of all power elites.

Maybe it;s time to stop dreaming?

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive
 

Welcome to the “new normal” – a service economy based on minimum-wage jobs, part-time jobs, no-benefits jobs, little-future jobs.

Posted by AZreb | Report as abusive
 

Well @OOTS, I think we should try to lead by example in this world. The Chinese are and they are doing very well at it. We are losing influence and they are gaining it. And you are correct, we don’t have the responsibility to do anything for anyone but ourselves. But I think most of us feel the moral obligation to help those that need it. The American Dream is dead, right along with that version or time period of America. It will never return no matter what anyone does or says. Globalization is here to stay and new generations are looking at the future quite differently than the last few. I hope America will still be at the wheel, leading by example, not by [market] force.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive
 

What destroyed the American Dream and is still in the process of destroying it is corporate greed. For years Corporate America has been in the process of shipping every job out of the country that they possibly can to be done by cheap foreign labor. They are now on a campaign to turn the jobs that are left here over to foreigners who will work cheap. That’s why the immigration laws haven’t been enforced for years and that’s why the current immigration bill is a bill of Corporate America, by Corporate America and for Corporate America. Our politicians are aiding in this effort because they get their campaign war chests filled by Corporate America. All legislation passed in this country is for the benefit of Corporate America and the One Percenters. We are watching the transfer of wealth out of the pockets of the poor and middle class and into the pockets of Corporate America and the One Percenters and they won’t be happy until there are only two classes in this country – the working poor and the rich. Corporate money has corrupted our government and we will not even begin to recover until we get their money out of our political system with a new 28th amendment to the Constitution. Check out movetoamend dot org.

Posted by Des3Maisons | Report as abusive
 

@Des3Maisons says it right.

Posted by AdamSmith | Report as abusive
 

@paintcan,

“OOTs never mentions that those in positions of power and control don’t like too many rivals and tend to make sure no one can challenge their authority or position and, especially, their incomes, whether or not they deserve that authority or position because of their inherent merits.”

Why would I mention something that has always been true and will always be true? What’s was the point of above comment?

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive
 

@tmc,

“Well @OOTS, I think we should try to lead by example in this world.” And I think we have tried, and continue to do so.

“The Chinese are and they are doing very well at it. We are losing influence and they are gaining it.” I respectfully disagree. They are doing an exemplary job of bringing an incredibly backward nation into the community of modern nations, and improving the standard of living of their population.

But the thrust of your point was that of improving the lot of peoples of other countries. Yes, China is investing heavily in a number of them, but essentially just to acquire raw materials or access to same that they need. Any sociological improvement in those other societies is no different than what the United States has long done, and we get accused of “exploitation” when American companies contract with third world societies to develop natural resources they can’t reach or otherwise make practical use of. What do you propose the U.S. should do differently?

“…you are correct, we don’t have the responsibility to do anything for anyone but ourselves. But I think most of us feel the moral obligation to help those that need it.”

If that’s true “most of us” are fools. If the tangable assets of the world were suddenly, by agreement, redisitibuted such that all had an equal portion of such assets, the only result would be universal poverty. All existing systems that produce food efficiently in surplus and distribute it would instantly cease to exist.

Most “in charge” would still have their education, skills, connections and so would rapidly climb back up to high position even as countless millions would starve because of crops not planted, grown, harvested or distributed in the absence of the profit motive and the employment of machinery to do much necessary work.

With few exceptions the elderly would soon starve, there being no mechanism to go back and earn again the means for food, shelter, transportation and health care for their “golden years” following their successful service in their society for the expected period to be lived in dignity and not as beggars for alms from the productive.

“The American Dream is dead, right along with that version or time period of America. It will never return no matter what anyone does or says. Globalization is here to stay and new generations are looking at the future quite differently than the last few.”

Were that dream as simple and inflexible as you believe I would agree. I don’t. Man and his societies remain a “work in progress”. Our dreams must be more attuned to that which is possible, unlike fantasies that do not.

“I hope America will still be at the wheel, leading by example, not by [market] force.” Hope springs eternal, but your point is unclear. America has always led by example, but that leadership is by showing others how we do things profitably and how those profits have improved the American standard of living so they can apply these lessons to their own challenges. i.e. we teach them to fish rather than give them fish.

Specifically what would you have America change?

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive
 

more corporate fascist pr.
Sort of same old same old, just worse.
Anybody read A Peoples History of the US by Zinn?

Posted by dogville | Report as abusive
 

Examples of the jobs that we do not have anymore are middle management and assembly jobs in manufacturing industries. We frequently hear that these jobs were lost to overseas production, but that is not completely correct. Those jobs were lost to the computer revolution of the late 20th century.

Middle management jobs are about people who serve as collectors of information in an industrial organization. Middle managers monitor subordinate, compile reports, and pass those reports along to superiors. They answer telephone calls from superiors and respond to specific requests for information. For middle managers who fit that description, their jobs have been made obsolete by information systems that make it possible for senior managers to obtain information in real time without going through intermediate levels of management.

Assembly jobs are about doing repetitive things the same way every time. Those jobs have been lost to computers in the form of robots. Until recently, there was a need for human workers to make sure the assembly robots were loaded with parts. Today, however, they have robots that do that. It is not the factory of the future, but the factory of the present, where the employees are a crew of IT workers and the actual assembly is done by automation.

Thus, it used to be, in a town like Detroit, that a person could aspire to a middle class life by finding employment in a manufacturing company and working reliably for the rest of his or her life, either as an assembly worker or as a somewhat higher-paid middle manager. That was the American Dream of 1950s-era automobile advertising. Those opportunities are fewer and farther between today, but the reason is not that someone has done something wrong. The reason is that we have experienced progress, and those opportunities have been eliminated by advances in technology. We should check our Luddite instinct to declaim technological change, because the utopia of the 1950s-era American Dream was itself technology based. The history of the 19th and 20th century was a history of replacing the work of skilled artisans with the work of unskilled and semi-skilled workers using machine tools where the skill was built into the tool, rather than brought to the work by the craftsmen. Surely, those craftsmen lamented the loss of their livelihoods as their wares were replaced by mass-produced goods costing at one-tenth the price. But it is that loss of the way of life of the skilled craftsman that the classic American Dream was based on. We accepted it, even rejoiced in it, because the country as a whole was better off even though there where many who lost their livelihoods as a result.

Posted by Bob9999 | Report as abusive
 

Thanks for your response @OOTS. I would like to reply and continue the discussion, so please keep a link to this opinion. I’m afraid it will cycle off Reuters shortly. I’ll get a reply together in a bit. Busy right now with billable hours…

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive
 

Karabell says: “there was no assumption in the 17th, 18th or 19th centuries that the future would be inherently better for one’s children.” this shows he is not talking about the ideals of the U.S., in particular the concepts of equality of opportunity and fairness.

Posted by bcrawf | Report as abusive
 

The desire to leave the world better off than you found it is not an American dream. It is a naturally occurring thought by those who think of things other than themselves.

Posted by VinnieTheSnake | Report as abusive
 

Like all dreams one must eventually awake to discover the harsh reality that you have been robbed.

Posted by BidnisMan | Report as abusive
 

@OOTS, I hope you get to see this…
I think only part of our country leads by example now. Unfortunately not the important ones. The Government and global Corporate America do not. The government is completely two faced on many/most topics; environment, tax’s, foreign policy, and often just plain lies. Most of the world realizes this now. Global corporate America does the same thing. They are constantly being caught lying, cheating, and bribing other countries and their officials, both corporate, military, and government. Yes, many countries are very corrupt and that’s “how its done”. But that is not setting an example. Our current incarnation of capitalism is failing “the people” and since the crash of 2008 the rest of the world knows it. They have watched as our middle class shrinks, poor grow, and rich get richer. Of financial giants are completely above the law. They have also watched the Chinese bring five hundred million people out of poverty, grow their middle class, and generally improve the live of “the people”. The rest of the world does not here the propaganda spewed by our mainstream media. They see the facts. I’m not saying that the world wants to be socialist of communist. But when it comes to following the lead of another nation, we don’t look so good anymore, unless your worth a billion of course. Does it surprise you that the Chinese are NOT accused of exploitation of other nations to any where near the extent that we are? Of course our media says different, but luckily we haven’t blocked out foreign news site (yet). All nations need resources from others, so let’s set the example and reduce the need, and behave when we do contract with others.
Regarding moral obligations, I don’t think that most of us are fools. I think there is a huge difference in the American generations. I am younger than you, Gen X (the little generation), my children, nieces and nephews are all millennial generation. Several graduated ivy league too (I’m proud of that). They have far more feelings of “moral obligation” than your generation and would take great offence at your reply to me above. You may call them fools, but they are not. All generations decry the next, so try and remember what your grandparents thought when you were 20. I disagree that dreams should be attuned to what is possible. That makes a plan or goal, not a dream. The dream should be to attain more than we are today, to do what we know needs to be done, not what we currently do.
I think America used to lead by example, up until the ’80s at most (
1987 Gordon Gekko “Greed is Good”), then we began to falter. We turned into the United States of Corporate America (USCA) and lead not by example, but with market forces. Your statement ”
but that leadership is by showing others how we do things profitably and how those profits have improved the American standard of living” is dead wrong. Our standard of living is rapidly declining compared to the rest of the world as they not only catch up, but surpass us. Again, read foreign news statistics, not the propaganda of ours. We are not “teaching them how to fish” any longer, but how to rape the fisherman.
What would I have America do? Regain its moral compass. Fix our government (term limits and campaign finance reform), so we can fix our form of capitalism to help society, not destroy it in the name of winner take all.
I think that would be a great American dream.

I hope you get the point as I’m not near as good as articulation as you. I’d love to keep this conversation going… but it is a comment, not a chat room.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive
 

@tmc,

“The government is completely two faced on many/most topics; environment, tax’s, foreign policy, and often just plain lies. Most of the world realizes this now. Global corporate America does the same thing.” From 1940 and likely before this has been the case, so I do not see the “change for the worse” you do.

“Our current incarnation of capitalism is failing “the people” and since the crash of 2008 the rest of the world knows it. They have watched as our middle class shrinks, poor grow, and rich get richer.” It is NOT capitalism that is failing “the people”, but their government.

It is the responsibility of government to forever tailor the “harness” society must put on capitalism in the form of tax incentives and disincentives which define, achieve and support the society we want. Many similarly blamed the “greed” of capitalism for the changes brought about by the industrial revolution, but where would our standard of living be today without it?

Today’s economic “sea change” most ignore is the ongoing effect and efficiencies that have emerged from the unprecedented availability of inexpensive computers and software. Today one person with a computer interacting with other people with computers have made the work of millions no longer necessary in the work force. Do you blame your car if it does not take you where you need to go?

“Of [our?] financial giants are completely above the law.” I agree completely, but, again, this isn’t the fault of capitalism, but of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats that are also functionally unaccountable to anyone.

“They have also watched the Chinese bring five hundred million people out of poverty, grow their middle class, and generally improve the live of “the people”.” This was possible only as an act by a “benevolent dictatorship” in imposing their “one child” policy, otherwise China would be as India is today. It could not have been done in a democracy, and no other massively overpopulated nation has had the sense to follow China’s “lead” here to make hope for a better future possible.

“Does it surprise you that the Chinese are NOT accused of exploitation of other nations to any where near the extent that we are?” No. Envy and ingratitude are everywhere such that those less fortunate do not perceive or appreciate just how better their lives are today SOLELY because of the existence and leadership of the United States since 1940. We have not done this by being isolationists and “reducing our needs”, but by partnering with other nations to the benefit of each.

Ivy league graduates undoubtedly have a different “world view” than I do, and I could care less if they might take offense at my perspective of “moral obligation”. If they wish to offer their sweat and assets to further liberal nonsense, that is their right. It is NOT their right to stir up “the people” to vote themselves benefits the present productivity of this great nation can neither afford nor sustain from the “extra income” those who work harder (more hours) or smarter (intellectual innovation) have earned under the “understood rules” of American capitalism.

“I disagree that dreams should be attuned to what is possible. That makes a plan or goal, not a dream. The dream should be to attain more than we are today, to do what we know needs to be done, not what we currently do.” Meh. I would agree that our reach should exceed our grasp, but only a fool expects to grasp all that they reach for. The distinction is of essential importance, for it is the difference between being satisfied with one’s comforts rather than dissatisfied because they are not all that we wish for.

“Your statement ‘…but that leadership is by showing others how we do things profitably and how those profits have improved the American standard of living’ is dead wrong.” I respectfully disagree. No two people can agree when ambition and preparation (such as studying, getting good grades, entering college and internship to become a doctor) become greed (as by charging enough to pay off one’s college loans and compensate for all those years of overwork and marginal living). The modern doctor brings far, far more “to the table” in terms of skills that the ones who once cut hair and used leeches to bleed their victims/patients.

“What would I have America do? Regain its moral compass.” I see. So we should return to the “morals” of our founders, who accommodated the devil of slavery, or of the south of the forties, of repression and social/financial exclusion?

America remains a “work in progress” and has improved morally at greater pace than historically. Unfortunately, succeeding generations of our “problem minorities”, blacks and hispanics, seem unable to leave behind ethnic violence such as was once displayed by Irish hooliganism and Italian gangsterism.

In the broad brush, though, I would agree we need to “Fix our government (term limits and campaign finance reform), so we can fix our form of capitalism to help society…”. If you see a quick way to do that, I’m all ears.

And you articulate just fine!

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive
 

Thanks @OOTS Always a pleasure. I think the most moral and ethical times of America were the 50′s. Yes, winning the war and gaining the spoils allowed that to be and I understand that will not likely happen again. Though our forefathers had some social habits we don’t agree with now, like slavery, marrying a 14 year old, etc.., they did seem to have more ethics in business than later years. he industrial revolution changed business ethics when we traded in the workshops for factories.
Also, I blame the government less than you as I believe corporate America IS the government; we lost it to them when Ronny reined I think.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive
 

OneOfTheSheep,

I do hope that America can lead by giving us a moral example as well, not just a business example as you pointed out. We need to live morally for the avoidance of conflicts.

Posted by Kailim | Report as abusive
 

Hi Kailim,

I believe you already know America’s past leadership has, in the overall, been positive for the world. We remain a “work on progress”, no better than our worst “in power” at any given time; but I believe Americans as a whole are fundamentally straightforward in their efforts and expectations. There’s a lot to be said for predictability.

Every day each of us chooses anew how we will live that day. Man’s hope is those who generally try to leave this earth a little better for our having existed. These values are practiced in business as well as personally by those who believe “win-win” the best possible outcome of any negotiation.

Morality is not just from/for churchgoers. I believe those who live “morally” because it’s the right thing to do (do unto others as you would have them do unto you) to be more reliable than those whose actions are guided by fear of some deity they believe omnipotent.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive
 

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