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.


Berkeley, Calif.

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).


Plainview, N.Y.

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.


Fort Wayne, Ind.

I found William Greider’s article uplifting. I am a high school social studies teacher caught up in the struggle of 108 teachers being laid off in my school district because of the economy and not saved by Obama’s stimulus plan. I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve still got my job.

So Greider cheered me up, for a while. I got into his daydreams. I liked the first one–a livable wage. The second and third are pretty good, too–having to do with democratizing the workplace and creating the social corporation–but they seem way up in the clouds. Here are my numbers 2 and 3: (2) Enact single-payer universal healthcare. It shouldn’t be so hard to do what every other industrial nation does–provide healthcare for all its citizens. (3) This is a little harder. We need an education system that allows every high school graduate with a B average a fully paid college education up to and including a PhD. If we can do that, everything is possible, including Greider’s daydreams.


Greider Replies

Washington, D.C.

These letters and many others confirm the central point of my new book: people need to step up and reassert their power as citizens. They see the realities more clearly (and honestly) than do the governing elites in both parties and the business/financial sector. The country needs a new politics in which citizens take on our public and private governors.

In my own behalf, I urge Craig Randleman and Erica Etelson to read Come Home, America in full. I do indeed speak to their complaints–the scandal of poverty amid plenty and the ecological crisis. For Americans the imperative to act on both dimensions is self-evident. Now we shall see if the Washington machinery is ready to do so.


Return With Us Now to 1599…

Tarzana, Calif.

Anyone who read James Longenbach’s review of Jonathan Bate’s book on Shakespeare [“This Small Extravagance,” May 4] would find fascinating a book he did not mention: James Shapiro’s A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599. Shapiro comes as close as likely possible to achieving Longenbach’s and Bate’s aim: a biography of the mind–how and why Shakespeare wrote what perennially interests us. Shapiro chooses just one year, 1599, when the Bard was 35, as a window into his life and mind. He weaves an intricate tapestry of the world Shakespeare inhabited as he and his company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, established the Globe Theatre–and could have been ruined.

Shapiro roots this daunting business venture, and the four epic plays Shakespeare wrote that year, firmly in the tangled thicket of Elizabethan London near the end of the queen’s reign. Shapiro’s exhaustive research into the details of daily life, Shakespeare’s contemporaries, his milieu and the social, political and economic forces at play re-create the zeitgeist and intuit much of Shakespeare’s psyche and animus. Suddenly, fleetingly, he and we breathe the same air.


Longenbach Replies

Rochester, N.Y.

James Shapiro’s A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare is worth reading, as is A.D. Nuttall’s Shakespeare the Thinker. But if you really want to know what a biography of the mind might feel like, read Kenneth Gross’s Shylock Is Shakespeare. It’s clear, provocative, beautifully proportioned, and it dares to speak Shakespeare’s mind.