When did the American Dream go bad?

The American Dream is in bad shape.

It should be.  Why?  The American Dream as we know it today is VERY different from the American Dream of pre-WW2 Americans.  What’s different?

Today’s dream is defined as landing a good, stable job, owning a nice house (in the suburbs), and a retirement account.

Prior to WW2?    It was defined as economic independence.  In most cases that meant a home that paid for itself and a couple of business ventures that generated extra income.

What’s the difference between the two?


Today’s dream is flawed in three ways:

  • It is dependent on a good job being there.  That’s less and less likely now that the gov’t is shrinking.
  • The home you buy in the ‘burbs will cost you up to half of your job’s income to live there.  Miss a couple of paychecks for whatever reason and you are deeply in the red.
  • Your retirement account is based on speculation in uncertain markets about which you know almost nothing.

In contrast, the old dream gets you into a place where:

  • IF you aren’t in a job, you are starting a business venture or improving your home’s productive value.
  • Your home produces enough income or reduces your costs of living so much it costs nothing to live there.
  • You invest your earnings in the things you know about.  Your home.  Local businesses.  The businesses of people you believe in.  Places where your actions can have a positive impact.

Join the movement to restore America's prosperity

Discussion — 7 Responses

  • Mike Lotus June 19, 2014 on 2:25 pm

    This is going in a very good direction, John.

    The old dream is the future dream, but immensely more productive.

    From the Founding to the present average per capita income increased by a factor of about 40.

    There is no reason we cannot match that performance in a small fraction of the time. If you look at the curve, we should be at 100 x Founding era income per capita by midcentury — and all that without the crushing and corrupt hierarchy of the dying industrial era political and economic order.

  • Michael June 19, 2014 on 5:19 pm

    John when is the new book coming out?

  • James Bowery June 20, 2014 on 6:31 pm

    The original American Dream was the Jeffersonian Yeoman Farmer: A man who raised his children to equally viable adulthood by settling territory (adding value to new land through the addition of his own labor and his own capital, both human and material). When the last of the easily cultivated land was settled, a fundamental change happened to the American Dream and this was reflected in the enormous demand for “Progress and Poverty” by Henry George that attempted to deal with the closing of the frontier by coupling a single tax on land value to a citizen’s dividend — thereby enlisting the interests of the entire population in the project of increasing the value of the land. The reaction to this movement was basically Marx: Queer the Georgist movement and promote class warfare so that eventually the American people could be dispossessed by a combination of public sector rent seeking and private sector rent seeking.

  • Javier June 25, 2014 on 1:43 pm

    The American Dream Is Every Man’s Nightmare

    By MajorStyles



    The American dream. A house in the suburbs, two children, two cars, and maybe a family dog. It’s the image that’s been seared into the American consciousness via countless television shows: Happy Days, Leave it to Beaver, etc. The desire continues to run strong in the American landscape. Anybody who has married friends can attest to this. Eventually, it’s out of the bachelor pad and into a suburban home with a manicured lawn. That’s where you’ll raise your future family and continue the tradition that was born in the aftermath of World War 2, when a swarm of GIs returned stateside.

    Over the years, I’ve noticed that this dream is not important to American men. Most guys are content to get the most bang for their buck, whether that means living in an apartment complex, renting a room from a friend, or buying a cheap piece of land in the country. In over forty years, I never met a man that actually dreamed of owning a home in the suburbs.

    This desire—to own a suburban home—is a female one. In short, it’s her American dream. While there are some exceptions to this rule (like 1%), this is by and large the case. American women dream of a future life in an affluent suburb. This raises some questions that all American men, particularly younger ones, should consider.

    How will you pay for HER American dream? Can you really afford it?


    If you do a cursory review of the numbers, you’ll see the Mount Everest you’re being asked to climb. And you don’t need a PHD in Mathematics to figure out that it’s too expensive to pay for a woman’s “American Dream.”

    Disagree with me? Well, let’s break down the numbers then…
    1.. The cost of an average American home is $337,300; this requires a down payment of $67,460, and a $1400/month mortgage payment for the next 30 years.

    In January of 2014, the average cost of a home in the US was sitting at a hefty $337,300.

    So how will you afford this?

    Well, first comes the down payment. As many homeowners know, it’s recommended to put 20% down on a property. Anything lower than this comes with a slew of added costs and stipulations (such as PMI payments, limitations to the amount you can borrow, etc.). So 20% is the prudent move.

    Well, 20% of $337,300 is a whopping $67,460. I repeat, $67, 460!


    Do you have $67,460 in your savings account? Does she have that money?

    Most Americans don’t—not even close. In actuality, most young American men and women are entering their mid-twenties swamped with college loan debt. They’ve been scraping by for the last four to six years. They’ve been eating Top Ramen and soda crackers. They don’t have $70,000 just lying around the house. If anything, they have $70,000 of debt—each.

    But American wife doesn’t care. She must have HER dream, regardless of the damage it produces.

    So she’ll look to borrow the down payment money from a family member—or, she’ll pressure you to borrow it from your family. This is quite common. However, this trend is on the decline. A weakened economy is reducing the wealth of the average American, and fewer older parents have $70,000 to part with.

    But let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that you manage to get the $67,460 down payment. You secure a generous gift from Uncle Joe, who has dementia and two months left to live.

    You put $67,460 down on a house worth $337,300—the loan with be roughly $269,840 when you get the keys to move in. Now, the current interest rate on a thirty year fixed income is 4.3%. If you go to, you can calculate the following numbers yourself. You’ll find that a 30 year mortgage at 4.3%, on a total payment of $269, 840, comes out to $1,367.24 a month. Roughly $1400 a month.

    It’s more than you want to spend. But you drink a beer, she sucks your dick, and all is forgotten for the moment. But now comes stage two….
    2. The house needs to be remodeled and a new car needs to be purchased. You’re now paying roughly $2,000/month

    Do you think your old couch from college, the one you’re perfectly fine with, will suffice? You silly child. The entire inside of the house needs to be remodeled (even though fewer friends seem to visit you these days). The list here can get quite long: sofas, flat screen televisions, dining room tables, hardwood floors, new beds, kitchen remodeling, retiling of the bathroom, backyard pool and accompanying jacuzzi, garden landscaping, etc.

    What’s the cost for all this? Well, there’s not an official number, but let’s just say it’s pricey. Many couples take out a second mortgage to pay for it. Others will put the tab on the credit card. I personally know of one couple who spent $150,000 to remodel their house. We can say, conservatively, that the new modifications for the home will cost an extra $300 a month.

    Also, a new car (or cars) needs to be purchased. She can’t be seen in a subpar vehicle. You wouldn’t want her to endure that, would you? So you pay $10,000 more than you normally would to please her escalating ego. Purchasing a quality vehicle, of course, comes with a hefty monthly payment. Let’s be conservative and say another $300 a month, on top of the second mortgage you took out for the remodeling.

    So remember that $1,400 a month you were paying? Well, with the remodeling costs, along with the new vehicle, add another $600 a month to the bill.

    You’re now paying $2,000 a month.


    You’re growing more uncomfortable with this. It’s more than you wanted to spend. You notice that you’ve recently developed acid reflux. Also, clumps of your hair have been collecting in the shower drain. And you’re starting to drink earlier in the day. But here comes stage three. She tells you she’s pregnant.
    3. Having two children will cost another $2,000 a month; you’re now paying $4,000 a month

    She wants to have two children—a boy and a girl. However, now that your finances are imploding before your eyes, you’re having second thoughts.

    How much is this going to cost, anyway?


    A recent article by, entitled “The Cost of Raising a Baby” breaks the news to us: “the average middle-income family will spend roughly $12,000 on child-related expenses in their baby’s first year of life. By age two, parents are up to more than $12,500 per year.” This cost does not diminish, but stays pretty consistent. chips in with, “it costs almost $200,000 US Dollars (USD) to raise a child from birth to age 18.” $12,000 a year comes out to an extra $1,000 a month. So, if you have two children, that’s an extra $2,000 to add to the mix.

    That’s $4,000 a month to buy HER American dream: a suburban home, remodeling, new transportation, and two children. I repeat, $4,000 a month!


    At this point, you’re contemplating divorce, suicide, or murder. She calls you off the ledge by assuring you, “We can do this together!” You live another day. Your mantra becomes that of Boxer the horse, in Orwell’s Animal Farm—“I will work harder.”
    4. ***Spoiler Alert!

    How much do you need to make to pay for all this? Well, more than $75,000 a year. The website,, states this point blank in their article, “You Cannot Afford a $350,000 Home with a $75,000 Household Income!”

    And there’s the rub. You see, the average American household, I repeat, household, only makes $50, 502 a year. So, if you’re an average American family, you’re still $25,000 short, at a minimum, from owning a piece of the American dream. HER American dream.


    Financially, the “American Dream” is a man’s nightmare. It’s far too expensive. So it’s best to circumvent the whole thing by not even dating an American woman with the intention of marriage.

    Remember that bad financial decisions affect the trajectory of your life. Money provides opportunities: to travel, to invest, and more importantly, to fund YOUR dreams. If you squander all your income on a suburban house, your dreams will be like that song from Kansas—“Dust in the Wind.”

    Please forward this article to all the young men you know. Lord knows, they won’t hear about it in their Economics 101 course.

    • Ringdocus Javier June 26, 2014 on 8:56 am

      You seem bitter.

  • James Bowery July 6, 2014 on 2:39 pm

    Mr. Hanauer, Please reconsider your support of minimum wage. Both practically and philosophically the correct angle of attack on the demand problem is the unconditional basic income — not intervention in business decisions. Its practical because it eliminates the middlemen whether in the public sector (welfare bureaucracy) or the private sector (businesses compelled to deliver money to the population via compliance to regulations). Philosophically the unconditional basic income admits the foundation of civilization is the individual investing his natural right to initiate force to obtain the necessities of raising a family. What is he investing it in? Civilization. As an investor he is due a dividend. Now, the only question remaining is what is the primary service of government to civilization if not the protection of property rights that could not be protected in a state of nature where people are individually initiating force? Taxing economic activity is the wrong tax base. Taxing _liquidation_ value of net assets is getting closer to treating government as a mutual property insurance company that pays out dividends to its stockholder-members.

  • FJA July 16, 2014 on 12:28 pm

    When my group started working after college the mantra was “saving for retirement”.

    (In hindsight it’s obvious this was emphasized by marketing efforts of various financial management interests.) Now in our early 40’s it occurred to a few talking the other day how odd that was – in our 20’s? Not saving for a home? Pairing off with a spouse? Of course our age set was raised more by mass media less by the church or traditional character-building elders.