Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Vision of a New American Dream

For generations of Americans, the American dream stood for opportunity. The dream was rooted in the belief that, in a peaceful and democratic society, citizens were free to pursue their goals, and honest effort would result in a satisfactory degree of material comfort. The idealistic notion that in America one might reasonably aspire to a better life for oneself and one’s family was a powerful symbol. It spoke not merely to personal aspirations but to our aim as a society as well.

Unfortunately, in recent decades the traditional American dream has been displaced by a “more is better” focus that promotes not quality of life, but rather the unbridled production and consumption of stuff. While this simplified version of the dream succeeded in boosting the US economy—now the biggest in the world in terms of material production and consumption—it has failed in more important ways. According to studies, all this material wealth isn’t making us any happier than we were before the boom. Worse yet, shifting the prize from well-being to acquisition actually endangers some of the very things we cherish. The “more is better” dream is unsustainable personally, as it draws American families into a work-and-spend treadmill that depletes savings and clutters lives. It is unsustainable environmentally, as it fuels a level of resource consumption that the planet cannot keep up with. The “more is better” dream, in fact, is denying our children their fair opportunity for comfort, security and a healthy environment.

The Center for a New American Dream envisions a society that values more of what matters – not just “more." New American Dream is dedicated to helping support and nurture an American dream that revives the spirit of the traditional dream—but with a new emphasis on non-material values like financial security, fairness, community, health, time, nature, and fun. We see both a nation and a world in which a healthy global ecosystem anchors a just society offering all citizens the freedom, the resources and the personal security necessary to pursue their dreams, connect with the natural world, and enjoy a high quality of life. Some key elements of this new American dream are as follows:

A Higher Quality of Life

We envision a society in which citizens are able to meet material needs and pursue their dreams; where there is broad recognition that quality of life includes not just material wealth but also non-material values, relationships, and experiences; where there is more time for families, leisure, community service; where progress is measured not simply by changes in gross domestic product, but rather by indicators that more truly reflect improvements to quality of life, environmental sustainability, and social and economic fairness.

A Healthy Environment

We envision a society whose ecological footprint is in step with Earth’s capacity, so that we are living in balance with what the natural world has to offer and we protect the resource base for future generations. Everyone should have access to clean air, clean water, healthy food, and adequate resources.

More Fairness

We envision a world that works for all; a world in which everyone has the opportunity to achieve a high quality of life; a world in which wealthy nations and individuals do not overconsume natural resources while the poor do without; a world in which workers at all parts of the supply chain are provided with safe working conditions and just compensation; a world where no one is denied access to basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, safety; a world where citizen influence over government policies is elevated over moneyed influence.

Strong Communities

We envision strong, tightly woven, participatory communities; more direct relationships between local producers and consumers; livable, walkable neighborhoods connected via accessible and affordable transportation systems with natural areas, parks, and open spaces available to all.

Healthy Economy and Marketplace

We envision a vibrant economy that operates in deference to both citizen needs and ecological limits; where advertising informs rather than manipulates, overwhelms, and preys upon insecurities; where citizens can choose not to receive commercial messages and no advertising is targeted at young children; where energy production and industrial processes do not exacerbate climate change nor degrade important biological communities; where materials are continuously recycled back into the manufacturing process and nothing is wasted; where environmentally and socially preferable products are widely available and competitively priced; where consumers have easy access to information that allows them to make informed choices—information about the economic, environmental, and social impacts associated with the entire life cycle of available products.