American Dream 2.0: Can we ditch the material for the aspirational?

by Ryan Streeter on August 11, 2013. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

This passage from Peggy Noonan’s latest column, in which she comments on focus groups as reported in Dan Balz’s Collision 2012, sums up a number of posts and articles I’ve written over the past couple years better than I could do myself:

There is pervasive confusion about what the American dream is. We seem to have redefined it to mean the acquisition of material thingsā€”a car, a house and a pool. That was not the meaning of the American dream a few generations ago. The definition then was that in this wonderful place called America, you can start out from nothing and become anything. It was aspirational. The limits of class and background wouldn’t and couldn’t keep you from becoming a person worthy of respect, even renown. If you wanted to turn that into houses and a pool, fine. But you didn’t have to. You could have a modest job like teacher and be the most respected woman in town.

When we turned the American dream into a dream about materialism, we disheartened our young, who now are forced to achieve what we’ve defined as success in a straitened economy.