Answer the questions and use at least one reference given in the file. How would you define the American Dream?How important is money as a measure of success?Is this idea unique to the USA?Is there a Canadian, British or Scandinavian dream?Was it originally intended to be unique to the USA? As individuals, do we have a right to expect certain things to be provided by the system, such as health care, education, minimum level of subsistence, food/ shelter, etc.?Is the American dream still a possibility for those who are new to this country?Is it still realistic to think about becoming wealthy in this country?How would you answer critics who say that the “American Dream” has become the “American Daydream” with hopes of a lottery win or TV show fame rather than hard work?What role—if any—should government assume in keeping the dream alive?The American Dream is almost impossible to separate from our work ethic…should we pay more attention to the non-work part of our lives? The Europeans say that we live to work and they work to live.Who comes closer to the ideal?
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DISCUSSION BOARD # 1
The American Dream
Unit 1 Overview
As you consider the concepts that we have dealt with in this first unit, implicit in
these free market ideas is the conclusion that markets measure scarcity and
allocate scarce resources through the pricing mechanism. In addition, consumers
dictate to markets what and how much to produce and income and wealth is
determined by individual productivity/ingenuity. Adam Smith saw competition as
the “invisible hand” that would keep the playing field level for everyone. It was
believed, at least in the beginning of a market economy, that these mechanisms—
over time–will always maintain a stable, growing, full employment economy. It
also assumes that you don’t tamper with free markets and that the proper
incentive is present to reward all who are providing resources, i.e., capital, labor
Historically, we have seen an evolution of economic and political thought as we
have dealt with the many changes and challenges that have occurred. These
challenges have prompted a closer examination of our basic assumptions about
our market economy. Our founding fathers saw government as having a very
limited role—maintain an army and a navy to protect our shores and a
political/legal system to make and enforce laws and to settle disputes. This would
seem to support the argument today that government should be much smaller
and that the private sector always has the better answer.
The reality is that our economic/political system today has evolved and changed
as result of the many historical events has occurred. Our reaction to these events
have suggested that, although a market economy has worked very well for us,
there may be a few inherent problems that do not have a built-in answer.
The Sherman Anti-Trust act of 1890 marks the first of these worries. Given the
growth and power of certain industries (such as Standard Oil of New Jersey) we
saw markets being dominated by one firm (monopoly) or a small number of firms
(oligopoly). Conclusion: it is hard to have a market economy without competition.
The question, of course, is how to deal with this kind of economic/market power.
The approach that was used in the late19th century was to turn the Federal
government was the only entity that had enough power to break up these giant
trusts and return to a competitive market. The legislation did just that, although
it took nearly two decades.
By the late 1800s and early 1900s we were seeing an additional problem…the
exploitation of labor. Working conditions, especially in industries such as mining
and heavy manufacturing, was extremely difficult. Low pay, long hours, the
danger to workers and the impact on their overall health was increasingly an
issue. To deal with this problem, we again turned to government to pass laws
that would mitigate some of these problems. Whether this was consistent with a
market economy is still being debated.
The 1930s presented the most difficult economic challenge that we have ever
faced. It meant that we had to re-examine another fundamental belief about our
free market system, i.e. the belief that it will always return to a stable and fullemployment state because of certain built-in market devices. As we waited from
1928 to 1932 for this to take place our economy literally imploded. GDP dropped
by almost 50% and employment was at least 25%. Given this kind of crisis, we
turned again to government.
Rugged Individualism and the American Dream
President Herbert Hoover is credited with the term “rugged individualism” and
felt that it described a spirit and energy that was unique to the United States. It
was a belief in individual initiative, personal freedom and responsibility which he
felt was at the heart of our system. It also suggested that everyone had equal
opportunity for personal success if they were willing to work hard. The general
belief was that government had no role or responsibility in this process.
Here is an excerpt from his last speech before he was elected President in 1928:
…And what has been the result of the American system? Our country has become the land of
opportunity to those born without inheritance, not merely because of the wealth of its resources
and industry but because of this freedom of initiative and enterprise. Russia has natural
resources equal to ours…. But she has not had the blessings of one hundred and fifty years of our
form of government and our social system.
:…By adherence to the principles of decentralized self-government, ordered liberty, equal
opportunity, and freedom to the individual, our American experiment in human welfare has
yielded a degree of well-being unparalleled in the world. It has come nearer to the abolition of
poverty, to the abolition of fear of want, than humanity has ever reached before. Progress of the
past seven years is proof of it….
The greatness of America has grown out of a political and social system and a method of [a lack
of governmental] control of economic forces distinctly its own our American system which has
carried this great experiment in human welfare farther than ever before in history…. And I again
repeat that the departure from our American system… will jeopardize the very liberty and
freedom of our people, and will destroy equality of opportunity not only to ourselves, but to our
When financial markets virtually collapsed in 1929 and 1930 these words did not
sound quite the same.
Another important term was coined during this same prolonged period of
economic, political and social turmoil. Historian James Truslow Adams wrote of
“the American dream” in his 1931 book, The Epic of America. He could not have
anticipated the impact of this phrase would have and how it would endure.
Although the phrase was similar to Hoover’s “rugged individualism” idea the
“American Dream” described a belief that related more to our personalized
expectations of opportunity and success. Although we have come to associate this
phrase more with money and possessions, Adams defined this phrase quite
differently. Here is the original quote from the Library of Congress:
“It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in
which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they
are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the
fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
Apparently, Adams originally intended “the American dream” to describe equality
across all classes of people. The phrase has changed somewhat over the years and
would probably be defined by most today in purely economic terms—opportunity,
a good job, advancement, security, a home and car, etc. Although difficult to
define, and even more difficult to measure, the “American dream” has become an
important part of our culture.
Although most of our problems during the middle and latter part of the 20th
century were not as severe as the 1930s, we continue to struggle with economic
instability and the inevitable consequences that it brings. For most of our history,
however, there has been one constant in all of this change—the belief that
everyone in this country should have the opportunity for a better life and that
hard work was the key to success. For many generations this perception and
hope brought many people to our shores from throughout the world
The role of government in all of this has been vigorously debated for most of our
history. In Unit 2 we will discuss the economic functions of government in much
more detail and also examine the impact of public policy and taxation on this
In this first discussion board I am asking you to focus more on the individual. As
citizens, what do we have a right to expect—if anything? Is the American Dream
still a reality for all or is it only a reality for some?
Discussion Board # 1– After viewing the video and related material, I am asking
you to respond to several questions. These are the guidelines that I will follow in
grading your paper: See Discussion Information on Blackboard.
These same guidelines will be used on all of the discussion board (reaction paper)
Important–your paper (question responses) should be posted at least 3 days
before the closing date for the assignment so that discussion can take place–this is
why it is called a discussion board. You may use any source that you would like
to support your view. Remember, I am asking your opinion about these questions
but I want to know the facts that you are using to support those opinions. It is okay
to change your opinion about things—it is not okay to change the facts.
One last point—and I feel strongly about this—everyone is entitled to their
opinion and has a right to be heard. I will not tolerate any behavior (emails) that is
not respectful to everyone in the class. We seem to going through a very strange
period in this country where we have some who think that anyone who does not
share their opinion has to be “shouted down.” A college classroom (even on-line)
should be a place where ideas can be openly discussed and challenged. No one has
a monopoly on truth. You will find me fairly flexible on most things but not on the
right to be heard and respected.
I have attached the URL for the PBS video on this topic. You are invited and
encouraged to review other sources on this topic. Please review all of these before
you begin and use them to support your own conclusions.
Questions: Answer fully and in detail.
1. How would you define the American Dream? How important is money
as a measure of success?
2. Is this idea unique to the USA? Is there a Canadian, British or
Scandinavian dream? Was it originally intended to be unique to the
3. As individuals, do we have a right to expect certain things to be
provided by the system, such as health care, education, minimum level
of subsistence, food/ shelter, etc.?
4. Is the American dream still a possibility for those who are new to this
5. Is it still realistic to think about becoming wealthy in this country?
6. How would you answer critics who say that the “American Dream” has
become the “American Daydream” with hopes of a lottery win or TV
show fame rather than hard work?
7. What role—if any—should government assume in keeping the dream
8. The American Dream is almost impossible to separate from our work
ethic…should we pay more attention to the non-work part of our lives?
The Europeans say that we live to work and they work to live. Who
comes closer to the ideal?
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