From top: Dervla Brennan (left) Eleanor Coleman at Loreto College, Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2 this morning; Minister for Education Richard Bruton visiting the National Parents Council Exam Helpline in the Omni Center in Dublin this afternoon. Tony Groves
In 1914, Walter Lippmann wrote a book called Drift and Mastery. The book, which argued for a progressive, scientific and rational society, also contained the first reference of the American Dream.
He argued against the “understanding that the common, undisciplined man” would save society. To Lippmann this was a dangerous fantasy of unbridled capitalism “that leads only to… anarchism”.
Lippmann wanted the American Dream to be seen “as a way to differentiate a high national ideal, from mere economic opportunity”. He saw it as an vision for a forward-thinking America; a system not driven by top down business and industry, but by bottom up labour initiatives and creativity.
When, in 1931, James Truslow Adams popularised the phrase “the American Dream” he defined it as “a land where life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”
He argued that the Great Depression was brought on by America worshipping business above its people.
(Reread that. Doesn’t it remind you of the Marxist slogan – From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs-, no? Maybe my red-tinted glasses are colouring my understanding.)
Sadly, in my opinion, both Lippmann and Adams lost the battle for the American Dream. The phrase, rather than becoming a societal utopian vision, became synonymous with big business and rampant capitalism.
President Calvin Coolidge summed up the mentality when he said “the man who builds a factory builds a temple; the man who works there, worships there”. Praise to the Almighty Dollar, indeed.
The defeat of Lippmann and Adams wasn’t accidental. It was a strategic bastardising of their American Dream by big business. Post World War II the business elites poured resources into a campaign that positioned themselves as the saviours and protectors of the American Dream.
They developed curricula for public schools and helped word sermons for Ministers to give to their congregations. They crushed, remoulded and then sold the American Dream as one of Consumerism and Keeping up with the Joneses.
This boom and bust, consumerist driven American Dream has failed. In 1970 over 90% of 30 year olds who were earning more than their parents had at age 30. Today that figure is hovering just over 50%. The American Dream, if not dead, has certainly become a nightmare.
Back home, the Leaving Cert results are out and the points race is in full flow. The future is wide open in front of our best and brightest. There are more options for school leavers than ever before. But who’s dreams are they pursuing?
I’d like to think that it is down to the individual and that each of our school leavers will avail of an opportunity to advance themselves and follow their dream.
But I can’t help thinking of the Big American Industrialists shaping school curricula to suit their own dreams, and I remember our Minister for Education, Richard Bruton recently saying: “employers are to be given a greater say in shaping the type of education and training that is delivered.” Scary, isn’t it?
You’d have to question a government that defended Apple against the EU much more robustly than it did its own citizens in the face of a decade of austerity.
Nonetheless, our young people are more savvy than our politicians. They have a more global outlook than many of the businesses they will go on to work for. Survey after survey shows them to be more progressive, liberal and optimistic than the cranks of my generation.
They can carve out a world where life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone. After All, you’ve got to have a dream.
Tony Groves is a full-time financial consultant and part-time commentator. With over 18 years experience in the financial industry and a keen interest in politics, history and “being ornery”, he has published one book and writes regularly at Trickstersworld