What is The American Dream?

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What is The American Dream?

The American Dream is a subjective term with a usually larger connotation of the living a meaningful, successful and satisfying life. This term usually, but not always, implies financial security and materialism, but can also imply a dream of fame, exceeding social, ethnic, or class boundaries, or the ability to lead a fulfilling life. The American dream is largely built on personal freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, and the success of capitalism in America.

The term is not easily defined and is a rather vague concept, however, as each American has his own definition of how he would like to live.

The American dream traditionally stems from immigration, in which immigrants came to America seeking a better life; making a decent living and experiencing religious and social freedoms. In modern America, the term is used by many to signify success in life as a result of hard work (as in, "I am living the American Dream").

The American Dream Today

In the 20th century, the American Dream had its challenges. The Great Depression caused widespread hardship during the Thirties, and was almost a reverse of the dream for those directly affected. Racial instability did not disappear, and in some parts of the country racial violence was almost commonplace.

Since the end of World War II, young American families have sought to live in relative comfort and stability in the suburbs that were built up around major cities. This led to the rise of the relatively conservative 1950s, when many pursued the "perfect family" as a part or consequence of the American Dream. This period was shattered by a new generation of young people who embraced the hippie values of the 1960s, denying traditional values such as the American Dream. In modern times, the American Dream is seen as a possible accomplishment, as all children can go to school and get an education. Though the drive to it waned during those years, the dream itself has never died out.

In the 1990s, the pursuit of an even newer version of the American Dream could be seen in the Dot-com boom. Silicon Valley initiated the Computer Age and the dot-com boom. Companies such as Hewlett-Packard, eBay, Yahoo!, Intel, Google, Apple, and Oracle remain headquartered there. People in the United States, as well as the world poured their energy into the new Gold Rush - the Internet. It was again driven by the same faith that by one's ingenuity and hard work, anyone can become successful in America. Ordinary people started new companies from their garages and became millionaires. This new chapter of the American Dream attracted many entrepreneurial people from China and India and elsewhere to Silicon Valley to form startups, and seek fortune in America.

Another recent example of the American Dream being realized is the case of Tamir Sapir. An immigrant from the former Soviet republic of Georgia, Sapir arrived in America in 1973 and started as a taxicab driver in New York City. Saving up to buy an electronics store, he catered primarily to Russian clientele. Eventually he made contacts with the Soviet contingent to the United Nations in New York, and traded electronics for oil contracts, which he then sold to American companies. Investing the profits in Manhattan real estate, he became a billionaire by 2002, less than thirty years after arriving penniless in America. Like many rags to riches stories, his is a unique one that would be hard to replicate. Yet today Sapir is becoming known as America's "billionaire cabbie".

Downfalls of The American Dream

  • The concept of the American Dream also ignores other factors of success such as luck, family, language, and wealth one is born into. Proponents of the dream argue that starting wealth is irrelevant because of the belief that there is no level of poverty from which one cannot rise with hard work and determination.

  • Higher Education can be very expensive in the USA. This can act as a bar on children from poorer families from entering professions which require a college degree. The counter argument would be the prevalance of low-cost, publicly funded colleges and the availability of financial aid, whereby the poorest students are increasingly being given guarantees of a high proportion (up to 100%) of grants, removing the obligation to pay back their university. Another counter argument is to point out that higher education is not a necessary condition to achieve the American Dream.

  • Wealth retention – Certain laws allow the wealthy to keep more of their money. For example, the recent cuts in the estate tax and capital gains taxes may work to further solidify wealth once it is earned. A counter to this argument are studies that show that "great family wealth" is nearly always lost in three generations.

  • Genetic lottery – Research has suggested that features like IQ and extroversion may give certain people some advantages over others when it comes to making smart business decisions or career choices, and in establishing a social network.

  • Consumerism and Economic materialism: Its emphasis on material possessions as a way of finding happiness is seen by critics as being somewhat superficial or meaningless. Many literary works level exactly that criticism at the American Dream, such as Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman. The play, a classic American work of literature, finds the main character Willy Loman struggling to come to grips with the fact that his American Dream is unattainable.

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