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Three Ways the “American Dream” Changed the World

I’m trying to decide on what I should put into the book.

As I started to write it, it became clear that the American Dream has been much more than a nice idea.  It’s much more than that and it’s not only American.  It’s now nearly universal.

So, let me test out three way I believe the Dream has changed the world.  It’s a list that I haven’t seen articulated before (which is a surprise).

  1. It provided the motivation, at an individual level, for an active and entrepreneurial participation in the economy.  It was why we worked, strove, and innovated.  It shaped our choices.  It’s also the only thing that almost everyone in the world can agree on — 3 billion people are chasing it right now.
  2. It made possible rapid and sustained technological improvement.  The Dream led to broad demand for technological improvements to every day life (as opposed to novelties for elites).  It also vastly expanded the pool of technological innovators required to push the boundaries of what was possible.
  3. It provided us a collective path to improving this world.  The Dream has had a moral component:  it is universally applicable (everyone should have the opportunity to pursue it — something that has happened) and the path taken should be honest/good (cultural definitions of this can vary, but without it, it is a race to the bottom exercise in greed).

Too mushy?  To me, the only way we get from where we were 300 years ago to today is through a simple, powerful idea like this.  So many systems of thought assume this stuff occurs auto-magically (i.e. rational optimizers?? huh?).

JR

BTW:  if the three ideas aren’t clear, say so and I’ll improve them

 

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Discussion — 12 Responses

  • Chandu February 18, 2014 on 5:21 pm

    John; I go with no. 1 and add this to it – It provided us a collective path to improving this world.

    Reply
  • John Robb February 18, 2014 on 6:45 pm

    Thanks Chandu!

    Reply
  • B metz February 18, 2014 on 8:14 pm

    One aspect about collectivism I hope you will clarify. The difference between forced collectivism and voluntary collectivism.

    Since the word collectivism itself has been so associated with tyranny, I propose that the word collaboration be used to differentiate this.

    Reply
    • John Robb B metz February 18, 2014 on 10:34 pm

      B — When I use the collectively, I meant it as this simple idea lets us coordinate our actions without formal coordination (or even knowledge that are we doing so — as long as we do it honestly).

      Reply
  • Steven February 19, 2014 on 11:48 am

    Will you begin with a definition of The American Dream? I suspect it’s one of those terms that everyone knows, some can articulate, and upon which few actually agree.

    Reply
    • John Robb Steven February 19, 2014 on 1:41 pm

      Definitely. Lots of people think the dream is the results of the dream — a house + car. But the results are dependent on what you do with it. JR

      Reply
    • Marshall Midden Steven February 26, 2014 on 4:45 pm

      Yes, before such a list the “definition” of the American Dream needs to be stated. You have stated parts before, but it is rather complicated in its simplicity.

      Reply
  • Michael February 19, 2014 on 3:00 pm

    The “American Dream” provided people with a defined end goal with loosely defined but mapped out steps to reach it.

    Along with examples of how people reached the “Dream”.

    Reply
  • Cavolonero February 26, 2014 on 7:16 pm

    You could also say Napoleon did these exact three things with his dream

    Reply
  • Luis Nunez February 26, 2014 on 8:05 pm

    Greed well said John ! A disease and a affliction that affects us all. There are shadows inside the shadows and at the end of the tunnel is the source and the infection of greed and power aka The Deep State ! Neutralize that and maybe truth , Justice and equality will come back to the American Dream

    Reply
  • David L Kline February 28, 2014 on 10:30 am

    What strikes me about TAD is that it is “dream.” Not a sociological, economic, or pragmatic observation. It is similar to “myth,” as in “foundation myth,” a construct that can be useful if potentially popular. What I hear you arguing is that TAD has soured because of years of disappointment. In my observation, decades, centuries of disappointment leads not to abandoning a beloved myth but rather to broadening and strengthening the myth.

    Reply