In the midst of the Great Depression, James Truslow Adams coined the phrase “The American Dream.” He described it as “a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable.” Everyone should “be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
Adams believed that this concept is the “greatest contribution we have made to the thought and welfare of the world.”
It’s a dream of a profoundly moral and just society. The land of opportunity is a place where all who are able accept the responsibility to provide for themselves and their family. And, because everyone can get ahead by working hard and making good decisions, it’s a land where poverty does not exist. Even those with temporarily low incomes have a viable path to a better life.
The dream has always been about more than money. One revealing survey found that just 27% of Americans admire those who are rich. However, 88% admire those who work hard and get rich. It’s not the money that matters. It’s the hard work that draws rave reviews.
The vision of a land where people can work hard and earn their success remains extraordinarily powerful in the 21st century. But many Americans fear it’s a vision that describes our nation’s past more than its future.
Some worry that today’s children simply won’t have the opportunities than their parents had. Others are concerned that the desire for an opportunity to succeed has been replaced by an entitlement mindset. And, most recognize that there are some parts of the country where credible opportunities don’t exist. No matter how hard the residents are willing to work, the jobs simply aren’t there.
The declining sense of opportunity in 21st century America is directly related to growth of the Regulatory State. That’s because opportunity thrives only in an environment of freedom, equality, and self-governance.
• The land of opportunity is a land where the people are in charge. Everyone is empowered to pursue their own success.
• The Regulatory State is a land where unelected and unaccountable panels of government experts are in charge. Everyone else must ask permission first.
The conflict between the Regulatory State and a land of opportunity is at the heart of twenty-first century concerns about America’s future. It’s a conflict about the American Creed, the deeply held belief that we are free to do whatever we want with our own lives so long as we don’t interfere with the rights of others to do the same. Throughout our nation’s history, Americans have used that freedom to work together in community and create a better world.
The danger we face today is that as the bureaucracy increases, opportunity decreases.
The reverse is also true. By decreasing the power of the bureaucracy, we will unleash the American Dream. That is the greatest legacy we can pass on to future generations.