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The American Dream Has Moved Abroad

Washington’s Blog [1]
March 18, 2010

The American dream has always been that even those with humble roots can end up wealthy.

The American dream is what has motivated generations of Americans – natives and immigrants alike – to work hard and play by the rules.

And as Michael Moore wrote [2] in 2003, the American dream is what has kept Americans from rebelling against corporate corruption:

After fleecing the American public and destroying the American dream for most working people, how is it that, instead of being drawn and quartered and hung at dawn at the city gates, the rich got a big wet kiss from Congress … and no one says a word? How can that be?

I think it’s because we’re still addicted to the Horatio Alger fantasy drug. Despite all the damage and all the evidence to the contrary, the average American still wants to hang on to this belief that maybe, just maybe, he or she (mostly he) just might make it big after all.

So don’t attack the rich man, because one day that rich man may be me!

But as I have previously noted [3], things have gotten much worse recently:

[T]he average wage of Americans, adjusting for inflation, is lower than it was in the 1970s. The minimum wage, adjusting for inflation, is lower than it was in the 1950s.



On the other hand, billionaires have never had it better …


As economics professor and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich writes…:

Are we finally in a recovery? … Big global companies, Wall Street, and high-income Americans who hold their savings in financial instruments are clearly doing better. As to the rest of us — small businesses along Main Streets, and middle and lower-income Americans — forget it.

Warren Buffet said [5] a couple of years ago:

There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.

Now, the OECD has found that upward mobility is lower in the U.S. than most other developed countries. Dan Froomkin provides a must-read summary [6] of the report:

A new report [7] from the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) finds that social mobility between generations is dramatically lower in the U.S. than in many other developed countries.


The report finds the U.S. ranking well below Denmark, Australia, Norway, Finland, Canada, Sweden, Germany and Spain in terms of how freely citizens move up or down the social ladder. Only in Italy and Great Britain is the intensity of the relationship between individual and parental earnings even greater.

For instance, according to the OECD, 47 percent of the economic advantage that high-earning fathers in the United States have over low-earning fathers is transmitted to their sons, compare to, say, 17 percent in Australia and 19 percent in Canada.


All in all, the OECD report is an ugly reality check for a country that has historically seen itself as uniquely rewarding of talent; as a place free of the sorts of rigid social structures that led so many generations of immigrants to leave Old Europe.

In other words, the American dream has moved abroad.