Mar 31, 2014

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The Birth of the American Dream – English 5 – Essay 3

Assignment: The concept of the “American Dream” is basic to the United States Declaration of Independence, which proclaims that “all men are created equal” and that they are “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights,” including “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” The American dream is based on opportunity 0 opportunity for success, upward mobility, and prosperity achieved through hard work. Modern interpretation of the American Dream includes the opportunity to pursue a career without artificial barriers, opportunity for home ownership, opportunity for one’s children to receive a good education and opportunity without restrictions limited to a person’s socio-economic class, religion, race, or ethnicity. 

You must address the following concepts in the course of your argument:

- Describe the changes that have taken place in the American economy since 1960. How have they affected the way Americans work and the work that Americans can expect to find? How does this affect the American Dream?

- Why are the rich getting richer and the poor, poorer? Examine the kinds of differences between the rich and the poor. Is the process of increasing the riches for the rich and increasing poverty for the poor inevitable?

One requirement is that you must draw from the ideas of the writers whose works we read in our “Wealth and Poverty” unit, namely Andrew Carnegie, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Robert Reich. You will also include your own ideas. Finally, you will draw from ideas of writers not included in this course whose works have influenced your thinking.

Grade: 87/100


- Your section addressing the change in the economy since 1960 is solid.

- Aim for a strong counter-argument/rebuttal when you are writing an argument.

- You have a clear, pleasing writing style.

- Errors with parenthetical in-text citations (punctuating end of signal phrases, ending period)


Gabriella Wendt

English 5

31 March 2014

The Birth of the American Dream

America is known throughout the world as the land of opportunity, where the streets are paved with gold, and one is handed limitless potential at the door – that is, when you are a straight Caucasian male.

In our classist, racist, and sexist society, the system is designed to support the privileged. I believe that the question shouldn’t be whether the American dream has ended; it should be whether or not we can have one at all.

The American dream, as it is typically glorified, never truly existed. America boasts an “equal opportunity” environment, touting a meritocracy, but conveniently disregards the intersecting systems of oppression and inequality that create its lower class.

The price which society pays for the law of competition, like the price it pays for cheap comforts and luxuries, is also great … for it is to this law that we owe our wonderful material development, which brings improved conditions in its train … and while the law may be sometimes hard for the individual, it is best for the race, because it insures the survival of the fittest in every department. (Carnegie 487)

Andrew Carnegie’s vision is not that of “survival of the fittest,” it is one of “survival of the richest.” His attitude that, “the man of wealth thus becoming … trustee for his poorer brethren, bringing to their service his superior wisdom, experience, and ability to administer, doing for them better than they would or could do for themselves,” (493) is reflected in America’s unwillingness and inability to bring the impoverished out of poverty. America’s real dream exists in the rich getting richer off of the backs of the laborers and undereducated, as well as its complacency with the status quo.

Through much of America’s history, the majority of the job market existed in production work; however, around the 1960s, that started to change in a significant way. With the introduction of computerized automation, most production jobs were either made completely obsolete, or outsourced for cheaper labor. As Robert Reich outlines in his essay about the changing American workforce:

Routine production jobs have vanished fastest in traditional unionized industries (autos steel and rubber for example)… foreign owned webs are hiring some American’s to do routine production in the United States … [but] the foreign-owned factories are highly automated and will become far more so in years to come … this fraction will continue to decline sharply as computer-integrated robots take over (520-21).

Traditionally those previously filling the low-level production positions would be, “young men entering the workforce without college education,” (Reich 520) but as jobs vanish, the senior members are protected and fewer positions are available to the unskilled laborers. The young people entering the workforce and those who have been displaced from production jobs are now moving into positions of service, an industry which is also shrinking, albeit at a more slow and uneven pace.

The future of America’s economy now rests in the hands of what Reich calls, “symbolic analysts,” those that, “solve, identify, and broker new problems” (516). Behind every machine that consumes a production job is the engineer who designed it and the marketer who sold it. From the faces on the silver screen to the voices over the radio, the scientists and programmers, and the young entrepreneurs – “almost everyone around the world is buying the skills and insights of Americans who manipulate oral and visual symbols” (Reich 526).

The trouble with being a symbolic analyst is that it typically calls for higher education and some level of luxury to pursue ones passions. Despite what the American dream claims is possible, those born into the rural or urban slums are not afforded such opportunities.

The most important characteristic of insular poverty is forces, common to all members of the community, that restrain or prevent participation in economic life at going rates of return. These restraints are several. Race, which acts to locate people by their color rather than by the proximity to employment, is obviously one. So are poor educational facilities. (And this effect is further exaggerated when the poorly educated, endemically a drug on the labor market, are brought together in dense clusters by the common inadequacy of the schools available to blacks and the poor.) (Galbraith 504)

A common response to this issue of insular poverty is to simply, “help [only] those who will help themselves,” (Carnegie 487) as, “a poor society … had to enforce the rule that the person who did not work could not eat” (Galbraith 506). It is also too often believed that those in positions of poverty are simply not trying hard enough, but, “the most certain thing about this poverty is that it is not remedied by a general advance in income. Insular poverty is not directly alleviated because the advance does not remove the specific frustrations of environment to which the people of these areas are subject” (Galbraith 505). However, by nature of its success, our society has a moral obligation to assist our impoverished members. “An affluent society that is also both compassionate and rational would, no doubt, secure to all who needed it the minimum income essential for decency and comfort … nothing requires such a society to be compassionate. But it no longer has a high philosophical justification for callousness” (Galbraith 506). To remain a world leader, America must demonstrate compassion and finally address its poverty problem.

I believe the solution lies, as outlined by John Galbraith, in providing quality public services for the impoverished youth.

If the children of poor families have first-rate schools and school attendance is properly enforce; if children, though badly fed at home, are well nourished at school; if the community has sound health services, and the physical well-being of the children is vigilantly watched; if there is opportunity for advanced education for those who qualify regardless of means; and if, especially in the case of urban communities, housing is ample and housing standards are enforced, the streets are clean, the laws are kept, and recreation is adequate – then there is a chance that the children of the very poor will come to maturity without inhibiting disadvantage. (507)

If America doesn’t invest in its urban and rural ghettos, they will only continue to grow and perpetuate the issues of unemployment, lack of education, poor health, and unhappiness. “Poverty is self-perpetuating partly because the poorest communities are poorest in the services which would eliminate it” (Galbraith 507)

Within the poorest communities, individuals may possess the desire to upset the vicious cycle and escape, but rarely is that possible. Not only is the majority of one’s time spent working to survive, if such work is even available, but there is also a dearth of opportunities which combines with generations of oppression to create an atmosphere of hopelessness. “In the United States, the survival of poverty is remarkable. We ignore it because we share with all societies at all times the capacity for not seeing what we do not wish to see.” (Galbraith 508)

The American dream is the idea of true inclusion paired with opportunity for all without restriction, but we cannot begin to claim it as reality until society helps those it had previously oppressed. In making “the investment in children from families presently afflicted,” (Galbraith 506) America can ensure its continued success and economic future. Where previously, only swiftly disappearing production or service jobs were available, the youth of America’s impoverished would have the opportunity to achieve roles as symbolic analysts.

Works Cited

Carnegie, Andrew. “The Gospel of Wealth.” Jacobus 481-495.

Galbraith, John Kenneth. “The Position of Poverty.” Jacobus 499-508.

Jacobus, Lee A., ed. A World of Ideas: Essential Readings for College Writers. Boston:

Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013. Print.

Reich, Robert B. “Why the Rich Are Getting Richer and the Poor, Poorer.” Jacobus 513-529.



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