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WHAT'S HAPPENED TO THE AMERICAN DREAM? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jim Jordal   
Thursday, 05 June 2014

WHAT’S HAPPENED TO THE AMERICAN DREAM?

By Jim Jordal

Woe to those who decree unrighteous decrees, who write misfortune which they have prescribed to rob the needy of justice, and to take what is right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless.”                                                                                            Isaiah 10:1-2, NKJV

On Monday, June 2, Mary and I attended a conference on the St. Catherine’s College campus in St. Paul entitled Economic Mobility: Moving Toward Enough For All. Sponsored by A Minnesota Without Poverty and the Pew Charitable Trust, the conference addressed the burgeoning crisis over wealth distribution and its effects on poverty and economic mobility in America.

Today the American Dream is an increasingly unachievable delusion for about half our population. “Stickiness” on the ladder of upward mobility prevents more and more people from climbing out of poverty to the working or middle class. The “dream” in the past has usually meant the firm belief that hard work and diligent management of resources would almost automatically assure families of reaching a higher income and class level than that of their parents. And until a generation ago that was usually possible.

What has changed? Why are the rungs on the ladder of achievement so sticky? Why don’t hard work and diligence still work to gain our dreams? The classic answers focus on racism, sexism, elitism, globalization, automation, educational failures, and political unrest as basic causes. We spent most of the morning identifying and decrying these very true but overly simplistic issues. It wasn’t until the last set of questions was presented to the panel of experts that the deeper and much more damaging issue of increasing control of public policy by the top one percent of our wealth holders and opinion makers was brought up.

This presents one problem that continually inhibits progress toward ending this unnecessary human suffering: Our educational, religious, political, and economic leaders themselves fail to grasp the urgency of the situation and its root causes. They keep bringing up the same old issues which we have already mentioned. True as they are, their elimination would still not create the egalitarian society we all seem to desire---where a day of work offers a living wage, where everyone achieves what their ability will allow, and where a safety net of compassion and justice exists for those too wounded to succeed on their own.

We need radical change in the basic values of society. One participant put it this way: “Without economic justice we will never solve poverty.” Economic justice means a fair (not equal) distribution of the earth’s wealth, a level playing field not skewed by persons of great wealth, progressive taxes based on ability to pay, and government that sides with the people rather than the possessors of money. For us to gain these favorable conditions of justice would indeed necessitate a radical change in values.

During the afternoon session we identified and evaluated many possibilities for reestablishing the ladder of upward mobility.  Scores of possibilities were mentioned, most of them dealing with creating more jobs, higher wages, tax restructuring, micro-credit opportunities, and reducing racism and sexism in the marketplace. Very few dealt with changes to the overall plutocratic domination system that creates the problems in the first place, since few of even our best educated people seem to realize that gaining these desirable conditions will be virtually impossible as long as the Supreme Court keeps declaring that money is free speech and can be liberally applied to control the election process. There remains in our institutions of education and commerce a great gap between the charity which is so vociferously supported and the need for advocacy, or speaking truth to power. Charity alone will not suffice; we need strong and continuous advocacy for justice, especially from the supposed repositories of truth and justice---the American religious establishment.

The Bible reading from Isaiah promises woe to those who manipulate the law to secure wealth for themselves at the expense of the poor and vulnerable. We are deeply into this syndrome at present, with only a few voices speaking against it. Why don’t you join those attempting to reestablish the American Dream by going beyond charity toward powerful advocacy?