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The American Dream: Sweet Dream or a Nightmare?
What is the American Dream? Is it a silly notion that can be considered a fairy tale, or is it something that is practical and can actually be achieved? Let’s take a look into the past, say 235 years into the past, with the founding of our country. With the founding of our country came the founding of new constitutional principles, new ideas, new government, and, perhaps most importantly, a new sense of hope.
Hope is the key word in this example. The hope that these men and women had was not a sense of hope to become rich or famous, but rather a sense of hope to live normal lives, without being bothered from other superior and stronger forces. There is a significant difference in the sort of hope that these people had and that of later citizens of the U.S. It can be stated that, as conditions within the U.S. improved, the need to live a simple, basic life without poverty turned into something that was obsolete.
Take, for example, the famous Industrial revolution in 1865, after the Civil War. This was a time of economic prosperity, new ideas, and creativity. Although this age led to a state of prosperity, few individuals realized the downsides that came with these developments. Pollution, overpopulation and child labor increased significantly. Worst of all, however, was the sense of arrogance that came with this new time period. Individuals began improving their lifestyles, a middle-class developed, the wealthy became wealthier, and the average per-capita income increased. Unfortunately, however, people did not realize that this would lead their descendants into periods of economic depression and suffering.
Statistics show that, by the 1920s, all appeared to be fine in the U.S. Industrial Production, 70% Gross National Product; 40%, Per Capita Income; 300%, Corporate Profits; 62% (the percentages represent an increase over time). Although these results seem to indicate the success of the U.S. during this time period, people failed to be faced with the true statistics that showed the state of affairs during this time period. 1925: $1.38 Billion with Consumer Credit outstanding. In 1927: 15% of all consumer durables bought on installment payments; 60% of automobiles bought on installment payments; 80% of radios bought on installment payments. Installment payments seem to be the other recurring theme during the 20s.
What are installment payments? They are basically the equivalent of a credit card. People purchase items on credit. In their attempts to achieve the American Dream by purchasing countless luxury items, their debt piled up. Once their debt piled up, they could do nothing about their economic poverty. Another main cause of this time of financial turmoil known as the Great Depression was the lack of attention given to farmers. In times of success, the wealthy do not pay attention to the lower class. The lack of attention to the country’s farmers caused their economy to collapse, and, with the destruction of the farmers, came the destruction of the upper class, middle class, and the unachievable American Dream in the 1920s.
The 1930s was a very interesting time period in American History. This period, being a continuation of the Great Depression, was categorized as bleak, depressing, and, literally, full of dust. During this time, farmers in the Midwest, in their attempts to become prosperous, decided to use up and drain out the surrounding farmland for their personal benefit. Destroying the farmland, specifically the grass in the area, allowed the dust underneath the grass to be swept up by the wind. So much dust was swept up, in fact, that storms of dust destroyed the nearby area, caused blindness, destroyed crops, and, ultimately, further destroyed the confidence and hope of the people living in this region.
Let’s jump ahead to the year 1941, the beginning of the U.S.‘s involvement in World War II. Although the war was devastating, the need for goods from other countries actually boosted the U.S. economy and lifted people out of the Great Depression. Although this seems like a positive aftereffect, should the U.S. rely on the aftereffect of a war to save us from financial collapse? Is it our responsibility to take care of ourselves, or to let our last resort come from warfare and strife? Statistics show that 495,000 troops died in the U.S. alone, which was considered to be a minor string of fatalities in comparison to the devastation of other countries.
On our time machine through turmoil we should jump ahead to the 1970s. What was the 1970s categorized as? It can be viewed as a time of disco, Elton John, afros, but, most importantly, the concept of the American Dream. At this time, a small demon was introduced to the world on a large scale. The demon is rectangular, has sharp edges, and comes in a variety of colors. This demon is…the Credit Card! As of now, the credit card contributes to approximately 98%of the U.S.’s personal debt. How can a small piece of plastic present such a huge problem? This is because it taps into the notion of human greed and corruption. Individuals were so focused on getting what they wanted, and the credit card gave them that opportunity so easily, that people didn’t think about the consequences.
In addition to this, families started taking in more than one income. Houses became bigger, people purchased more cars, and families started purchasing more and more goods. With the new consumption of extra goods came a little economic term known as inflation. Prices went up as people worked harder to achieve their idea of living a luxury lifestyle. The problem, however, was that not everybody had this “ambition” to achieve, and that the people who didn’t have two or more incomes were left in the dust.
Our next stop on the turmoil time machine is 2005. At this time, banks were lending out mortgages to those who needed extra money for purchasing their houses. Regardless, however, people could not pay off their loans. People couldn’t afford their homes, left them, and then states lost out on their taxes, resulting in deficit and turmoil. Events such as these ultimately demonstrate the failed attempt for our country to achieve a universal American Dream.
Our final stop on our journey is not actually the past or the present, but the future. What will the future notion of the American Dream be considered? Will individuals continue to become less practical in their goals to live their desired lifestyles, or come to terms with what they are likely to achieve? Ultimately, through examining the history of our country, one can only hope that our fellow citizens resort to a less costly and abrupt method of living.