It’s a long-cherished American dream: seeing our children enjoy a better life than we had. And from the nation’s beginning, when the founders declared the “self-evident” truth that all people have the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” the United States’ remarkably steady growth in prosperity has made that dream come true for untold multitudes.
In today’s dismal economic climate, though, most Americans think the run is over—that we are the generation to witness the withering of that perennial promise. Not even one in five Americans believes today’s children will be better off than their parents. Two in three say the kids will have it worse.
It looks like—as President Obama said back in January 2009, after news of especially nasty economic contraction—we are starting to experience “the American Dream in reverse.”
Such pessimism is not without justification. The nation’s economic woes are hitting young men harder than just about anyone; more and more are moving back in with Dad and Mom. Gloomy near-term factors like job losses are coupled with longer-range realities like the growing ranks of retirees and the unsustainability of Social Security. The dream of homeownership—of building equity over the lifetime of a 30-year mortgage—has become a castle in the air: Home equity has collapsed from $13 trillion at the height of the housing boom to $6.5 trillion. The wealth gap between the old and young has grown eye-poppingly wide. And evidence abounds that the nation’s economic decline is irreversible.
But hold on a moment. Before anybody leaps off a bridge, let’s step back from the brink and assess the big picture.
Two important truths will give us some much-needed perspective on the threat to the American Dream.
Just What Is the American Dream?
First, we need to challenge our assumptions about the need for endlessly rising prosperity of the sort we enjoy today.
At one time, the focus of what is more or less an “official national dream” was different. It wasn’t about any particular possessions or income level, but about opportunity being available to anyone who went after it. Even the scrappy immigrant of low station, if he worked hard, had a better chance of giving his children a leg up in America than anywhere else in the world.
But that focus began to shift in the 1930s with the shared-sacrifice principle introduced by fdr’s New Deal. If all workers pitched in, the government could establish Social Security to ensure that retirees could enjoy their sunset years free of want. It was perhaps the first time that the model American lifestyle was attached to a particular material promise.
This trend quickly took aggressive hold in people’s minds. At the end of World War ii, the G.I. Bill offered returning veterans low-interest home loans, and enterprising developers began using mass production to erect inexpensive houses for the everyman. After decades of around 45 percent of American families living in homes they personally owned, that number ballooned to 55 percent by 1950, and 62 percent by 1960. Just like that, homeownership became a new facet of the American Dream. Riding a wave of postwar prosperity, Americans also began to enjoy higher levels of car and television ownership. The aim of sending the kids to college became mainstream.
In the middle of this unprecedented upsurge in standards of living—and helping to fuel it—was a mushrooming of consumer credit. At a comparatively small $2.6 billion in 1945, the nation’s personal-debt monster grew to $45 billion by 1960—and $105 billion just a decade after that. Meanwhile, Americans’ expectations of what life should offer floated up into the troposphere: a bigger house, a second car, a fancy annual vacation. The free spending transformed what was once the world’s biggest creditor nation into, in 1986, its biggest debtor nation.
There is something magnanimous about parents wanting something better for the next generation. “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children,” the proverb says. But clearly, during these pie-in-the-sky years, the American Dream got unhinged from the virtues of hard work, responsibility and self-control. And the inherent falseness in expecting a never-ending ascent in material abundance was exposed. As Gregg Easterbrook wrote in his 2003 book The Progress Paradox, “For at least a century, Western life has been dominated by a revolution of rising expectations: Each generation expected more than its antecedent. Now most Americans and Europeans already have what they need, in addition to considerable piles of stuff they don’t need.”
Today, even as Americans consume more and enjoy more luxuries and a higher standard of living than ever, a majority of them say they consider the American Dream unachievable. Nothing is ever enough. Whatever they have, they feel entitled to so much more. Satisfaction and contentment are ever just over the horizon.
Don’t buy into this poisonous, delusional thinking. Square your values with reality. And make sure you’re passing on to your children a wealth of what really matters in life. (Our reprint article “How to Be Rich” might help. Request a free copy.)
Just What Is America’s Future?
The second truth we need to understand in order to gain perspective on the state of the American Dream involves the broader view of the nation’s economic future. Much evidence points to decline for the foreseeable future. But other even more sure proof shows that the long-term outlook is much, much dreamier.
Consider this seriously. A recent Gallup poll found 65 percent of Americans believe the Bible “answers all or most of the basic questions of life.” The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 78 percent of Americans—nearly 8 in 10—say the Bible is the “Word of God”; and of those, almost half believe “it is to be taken literally, word for word.”
That means nearly 40 percent of Americans consider the Bible literally God’s Word, and every word of it true.
Are you one of them? If so, consider this.
A full third of the Bible is prophecy. And very prominent within that prophecy are rich, vivid descriptions of a future world very different from our own. It is a world of universal prosperity. Not one in which a single nation provides opportunities to succeed for a span of a handful of generations—but in which all peoples and all nations enjoy such benefits for centuries. That is what God wants! Think of the American Dream—and multiply it by billions!
In front of the United Nations building in New York City stands a statue of a man beating his sword into a plowshare. This inspiring image comes from a passage in Isaiah. The book of Micah quotes the same passage: “nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Here, though, the prophecy continues: “But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it” (Micah 4:3-4).
This is a prophecy of God installing an economic system worldwide that revolves around universal land ownership, just as it did in ancient Israel (1 Kings 4:25). In God’s society, every family will own property, the very basis of producing abundance and wealth.
“… I will cause the shower to come down in his season; there shall be showers of blessing. And the tree of the field shall yield her fruit, and the earth shall yield her increase, and they shall be safe in their land, and shall know that I am the Lord …” (Ezekiel 34:26-27). “Showers of blessing”—what a wonderful expression. Rain is a blessing only God can give, and He blesses the obedient abundantly. Their fields, crops, orchards and vines will be so productive, and yields so great, that they cannot keep up! They will still be harvesting when it comes time to sow the fields with new crops (Amos 9:13).
God says He will bless us in the city, bless us in the field, bless our health and our children, our livestock and crops, our savings, our security and all the work of our hands. These are all promises He gave to ancient Israel (Deuteronomy 28). Those people disobeyed Him and were cursed, but all of mankind will soon obey God and receive all of these incredible blessings—especially a repentant modern Israel!
Imagine quality city life being affordable. Imagine a city providing enough stable, decent jobs that unemployment is next to nil, and everyone enjoys affluence. Imagine a city devoid of run-down, impoverished slums and ghettos. “… Thus says the Lord of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity …” (Zechariah 1:17; Revised Standard Version).
Sound too good to be true? God challenges you to believe it! “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:8-10).
Believe it or not, America is specifically described within those prophecies as rejoicing in those blessings!
The British nations and the United States—the modern-day descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh—became the wealthiest and most powerful nations on Earth in this end time (because of Abraham’s obedience to God). This status and power has faded from Britain, and is now fading from the United States. But their recent status among nations is only a foretaste of even greater wealth and power to come—in God’s service—once all of Israel is living in obedience to the government of God.
“Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together to the goodness of the Lord, for wheat, and for wine, and for oil, and for the young of the flock and of the herd: and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all …. and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:12, 14).
An understanding of biblical prophecy reveals that, yes, we are in for some extremely difficult times in the short term. But these troubles are in fact signs that we are on the threshold of that far better world! They are signs that Jesus Christ is just about to return!
We are, in truth, the generation to witness the blossoming of that perennial promise! And that long-cherished dream of seeing our children enjoy a better life than we had will become a reality far more awesome than we ever imagined.
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