Greider: An American Dream
Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.
Every so often a writer presents ideas so intelligent and well articulated as to touch a place deep inside that cries yes, yes and yet again, yes [“The Future of the American Dream,” May 25]! Thank you, William Greider, for a very thoughtful analysis.
William Greider’s article (excerpted from his wonderful book) is a moving clarion call. Unfortunately, not for all. As a white heterosexual male with no disabilities, I have enjoyed a life free of prejudice, and I did not question its benefits until I quit the corporate world three years ago. Stepping out of the lifestyle Greider so thoroughly derides was illuminating and frightening and has, thankfully, been deeply satisfying. I can attest that the benefits Greider outlines are real; I now have time for activism, volunteering, reading, gardening and reflection. But I feel there is much more work for America to do in addressing entrenched inequalities. For I cannot imagine where I’d be if my origins, color, sexual preference or educational environment had been different. I can imagine being a marginalized, educationally underserved black person wondering how Greider can suggest that his vision is available to all.
I believe that a call to service must be added to Greider’s goals for those who step away from the pursuit of riches. Surely this would increase the chances of success of the government intervention he has outlined.
I share Greider’s vision of a society that saves itself from collapsing by putting a premium on human pursuits other than consumption. He states, however, one erroneous assumption several times–that scarcity and deprivation are behind us. We are facing a resource depletion crisis that will make the current financial crisis look like the good ol’ days. Oil, gas, water, metals, topsoil–you name it, and the world will soon not have enough of it to meet the demands of a rapidly growing population.
Alongside the cultural and philosophical shifts Greider dreams of, we need to focus (quickly!) on some serious problems, such as how to feed 7 billion people without fossil-fuel-based fertilizers, pesticides, farm equipment and trucks. Greider calls for full employment, but as resources dwindle, unemployment must soar. What will a post-carbon society look like? I’m not sure, but we had better start envisioning and building it rather than allowing the end of oil to catch us unprepared. Greider and other liberal/progressive economists such as Paul Krugman need to acknowledge natural resource constraints in their analyses (as even Thomas Friedman has done).
For years I worked in New York City at a high-paid job that required me to put in eleven- or twelve-hour days, work at home and call in on weekends. One day I realized my kids were almost grown up, and I switched to a job about five miles from my house. My hour-and-a-half commute became about ten minutes; my hours were 9 to 5; I got back five to six hours a day. The downside was that my salary was cut in half. But I look at the new job as winning the lottery. I may not be able to rush out to buy that big-screen TV, but I can walk into my daughter’s room and chat about Lost, Heroes or college. Now I have the American Dream.