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The American Dream Is Not Dead

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Populists on both sides of the political aisle routinely announce that the American Dream is dead. According to them, the game has been rigged by elites, workers can’t get ahead, wages have been stagnant for decades, and the middle class is dying.

Michael R. Strain, director of Economic Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, disputes this rhetoric as both wrong and dangerous. In this succinctly argued volume, he shows that, on measures of economic opportunity and quality of life, there has never been a better time to be alive in America. He backs his argument with overwhelming—and underreported—data to show how the facts favor realistic optimism.

He warns, however, that the false prophets of populism pose a serious danger to our current and future prosperity. Their policies would leave workers worse off. And their erroneous claim that the American Dream is dead could discourage people from taking advantage of real opportunities to better their lives. If enough people start to believe the Dream is dead, they could, in effect, kill it. To prevent this self-fulfilling prophecy, Strain’s book is urgent reading for anyone feeling the pull of the populists.

E. J. Dionne and Henry Olsen provide spirited responses to Strain’s argument.

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About the Authors

Michael R. Strain is director of Economic Policy Studies and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. An economist, his research has been published in academic and policy journals and he has edited two books on economics and public policy. He is a research fellow at the Institute of Labor Economics (IZA) in Bonn, Germany, writes regularly for popular audiences, and is a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion. Strain is frequently interviewed by major media outlets, speaks often to a variety of audiences, and has testified before Congress. He holds a PhD in economics from Cornell University and lives in Washington, DC.

E. J. Dionne Jr. is a Washington Post columnist, professor at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a visiting professor at Harvard University. His latest book is Code Red: How Progressives and Moderates Can Unite to Save Our Country (St. Martin’s Press, 2020).

Henry Olsen is currently a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a columnist at the Washington Post. He has worked in senior executive positions at many center-right think tanks. Olsen served as vice president and director of the National Research Initiative at the American Enterprise Institute from 2006 to 2013. He previously worked as vice president of programs at the Manhattan Institute and as president of the Commonwealth Foundation. Mr. Olsen’s work has been featured in many prominent publications, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Guardian, National Review, and the Weekly Standard. He is the author of Ronald Reagan: New Deal Conservative (HarperCollins, 2017) and coauthor (with Dante J. Scala) of The Four Faces of the Republican Party: The Fight for the 2016 Presidential Nomination (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).

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Populists on both sides of the political aisle routinely announce that the American Dream is dead. According to them, the game has been rigged by elites, workers can’t get ahead, wages have been stagnant for decades, and the middle class is dying. Michael R. Strain, director of Economic Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, disputes this rhetoric as both wrong and dangerous. In this succinctly argued volume, he shows that, on measures of economic opportunity and quality of life, there has never been a better time to be alive in America. He backs his argument with overwhelming—and underreported—data to show how the facts favor realistic optimism. He warns, however, that the false prophets of populism pose a serious danger to our current and future prosperity. Their policies would leave workers worse off. And their erroneous claim that the American Dream is dead could discourage people from taking advantage of real opportunities to better their lives. If enough people start to believe the Dream is dead, they could, in effect, kill it. To prevent this self-fulfilling prophecy, Strain’s book is urgent reading for anyone feeling the pull of the populists. E. J. Dionne and Henry Olsen provide spirited responses to Strain’s argument.
By one reading, things look pretty good for Americans today: the country is richer than ever before and the unemployment rate is down by half since the Great Recession—lower today, in fact, than for most of the postwar era. But a closer look shows that something is going seriously wrong. This is the collapse of work—most especially among America’s men. Nicholas Eberstadt, a political economist who holds the Henry Wendt Chair in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute, shows that while “unemployment” has gone down, America’s work rate is also lower today than a generation ago—and that the work rate for US men has been spiraling downward for half a century. Astonishingly, the work rate for American males aged twenty-five to fifty-four—or “men of prime working age”—was actually slightly lower in 2015 than it had been in 1940: before the War, and at the tail end of the Great Depression. Today, nearly one in six prime working age men has no paid work at all—and nearly one in eight is out of the labor force entirely, neither working nor even looking for work. This new normal of “men without work,” argues Eberstadt, is “America’s invisible crisis.” So who are these men? How did they get there? What are they doing with their time? And what are the implications of this exit from work for American society? Nicholas Eberstadt lays out the issue and Jared Bernstein from the left and Henry Olsen from the right offer their responses to this national crisis.It’s become fashionable to demean millennials as the “snow flake” generation. Raised during the peace and prosperity of the ‘90s, they’re often perceived as carrying an entitlement mentality and of being incapable of handling adversity. But Philip Klein sees them differently. Given the economic head winds they faced at the start of their working lives, millennials have shown commendable fortitude. And as Klein argues, they will need to maintain this character strength going forward because further challenges loom in their future. The aftershocks of the Great Recession, the skyrocketing cost of living, and the titanic weight of student loan debt have made the American Dream seem to be forever retreating toward the horizon. As if that weren’t enough, millennials will face the largest federal debt in history as boomers retire and extract trillions of dollars from Social Security and Medicare—far more than they contributed. Now politicians clamoring for the millennial vote in 2020 are making overtures toward socialism, and millennials are responding positively—understandably so, considering how the economic cards are stacked against them. But, as Philip Klein shows, the reality is that such policies would only make their burden infinitely heavier. In this concise, data-driven book, Klein begins the work of brightening the future for millennials by analyzing the problem compassionately yet objectively. There are real reasons to worry about what lies ahead if nothing changes. But the facts laid out in Klein’s book can steer the conversation to realistic solutions.Black civil rights leaders have long supported ethnic identity politics and prioritized the integration of political institutions, and seldom has that strategy been questioned. In False Black Power, Jason L. Riley takes an honest, factual look at why increased black political power has not paid off in the ways that civil rights leadership has promised.   Recent decades have witnessed a proliferation of black elected officials, culminating in the historic presidency of Barack Obama. However, racial gaps in employment, income, homeownership, academic achievement, and other measures not only continue but in some cases have even widened. While other racial and ethnic groups in America have made economic advancement a priority, the focus on political capi­tal for blacks has been a disadvantage, blocking them from the fiscal capital that helped power upward mobility among other groups. Riley explains why the political strategy of civil rights lead­ers has left so many blacks behind. The key to black eco­nomic advancement today is overcoming cultural handicaps, not attaining more political power.
In the twentieth century, free people faced a number of mortal threats, ranging from despotism, fascism, and communism to the looming menace of global terrorism. While the struggle against some of these overt dangers continues, some insidious new threats seem to have slipped past our intellectual defenses. These new threats are quietly eroding our hard-won freedoms, often unchallenged and, in some cases, widely accepted as beneficial. In New Threats to Freedom, editor and author Adam Bellow has assembled an all-star lineup of innovative thinkers to challenge these insidious new threats. Some leap into already raging debates on issues such as Sharia law in the West, the rise of transnationalism, and the regulatory state. Others turn their attention to less obvious threats, such as the dogma of fairness, the failed promises of the blogosphere, and the triumph of behavioral psychology. These threats are very real and very urgent, yet this collection avoids projecting an air of doom and gloom. Rather, it provides a blueprint for intellectual resistance so that modern defenders of liberty may better understand their enemies, more effectively fight to preserve the meaning of freedom, and more surely carry its light to a new generation. Contributors include: Anne Applebaum, Bruce Bawer, Peter Berkowitz, Max Borders, Richard A. Epstein, Jessica Gavora, Michael Goodwin, Daniel Hannan, Alexander Harrington, Mark Helprin, Christopher Hitchens, Robert D. Kaplan, James Kirchick, Greg Lukianoff, Barry C. Lynn, David Mamet, Katherine Mangu-Ward, Tara McKelvey, Mark T. Mitchell, Michael C. Moynihan, Chris Norwood, Glenn Harlan Reynolds, Naomi Schaefer Riley, Christine Rosen, Ron Rosenbaum, Stephen Schwartz, Lee Siegel, Christina Hoff Sommers, Shelby Steele, and Dennis Whittle.
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In A Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic, one of our country’s foremost demographers, Nicholas Eberstadt, details the exponential growth in entitlement spending over the past fifty years. As he notes, in 1960, entitlement payments accounted for well under a third of the federal government’s total outlays. Today, entitlement spending accounts for a full two-thirds of the federal budget. Drawing on an impressive array of data and employing a range of easy-to-read, four color charts, Eberstadt shows the unchecked spiral of spending on a range of entitlements, everything from medicare to disability payments. But Eberstadt does not just chart the astonishing growth of entitlement spending, he also details the enormous economic and cultural costs of this epidemic. He powerfully argues that while this spending certainly drains our federal coffers, it also has a very real,long-lasting, negative impact on the character of our citizens. Also included in the book are responses to Eberstadt’s argument from other leading political theorists, William Galston—who questions Eberstadt’s causal links between government programs and dependence—and Yuval Levin—who suggests that the problems posed by dependence may, in fact, run even deeper than Eberstadt suggests. A final response from Eberstadt puts everything in perspective and invites the rest of us to lend our voices to the conversation.
Content

About the Authors

Michael R. Strain is director of Economic Policy Studies and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. An economist, his research has been published in academic and policy journals and he has edited two books on economics and public policy. He is a research fellow at the Institute of Labor Economics (IZA) in Bonn, Germany, writes regularly for popular audiences, and is a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion. Strain is frequently interviewed by major media outlets, speaks often to a variety of audiences, and has testified before Congress. He holds a PhD in economics from Cornell University and lives in Washington, DC.
E. J. Dionne Jr. is a Washington Post columnist, professor at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a visiting professor at Harvard University. His latest book is Code Red: How Progressives and Moderates Can Unite to Save Our Country (St. Martin’s Press, 2020).
Henry Olsen is currently a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a columnist at the Washington Post. He has worked in senior executive positions at many center-right think tanks. Olsen served as vice president and director of the National Research Initiative at the American Enterprise Institute from 2006 to 2013. He previously worked as vice president of programs at the Manhattan Institute and as president of the Commonwealth Foundation. Mr. Olsen’s work has been featured in many prominent publications, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Guardian, National Review, and the Weekly Standard. He is the author of Ronald Reagan: New Deal Conservative (HarperCollins, 2017) and coauthor (with Dante J. Scala) of The Four Faces of the Republican Party: The Fight for the 2016 Presidential Nomination (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).

About the Authors

Nicholas Eberstadt holds the Henry Wendt Chair in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he researches and writes extensively on demographics and economic development generally, and more specifically on international security in the Korean peninsula and Asia. Domestically, he focuses on poverty and social well-being. Dr. Eberstadt is also a senior adviser to the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR). His many books and monographs include Poverty in China (IDI, 1979); The Tyranny of Numbers (AEI Press, 1995); The End of North Korea (AEI Press, 1999); The Poverty of the Poverty Rate (AEI Press, 2008); Russia’s Peacetime Demographic Crisis (NBR, 2010); and A Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic (Templeton Press, 2012). His latest book is Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis (Templeton Press, 2016). He has offered invited testimony before Congress on numerous occasions and has served as consultant or adviser for a variety of units within the US government. His appearances on radio and television range from NPR to CNN’s The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. Mr. Eberstadt has a Ph.D. in political economy and government, an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government, and an A.B. from Harvard University. In addition, he holds a Master of Science from the London School of Economics. In 2012, Mr. Eberstadt was awarded the prestigious Bradley Prize.
Jared Bernstein joined the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in May 2011 as a Senior Fellow. From 2009 to 2011, Bernstein was the Chief Economist and Economic Adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, Executive Director of the White House Task Force on the Middle Class, and a member of President Obama’s economic team. Prior to joining the Obama administration, Bernstein was a senior economist and the director of the Living Standards Program at the Economic Policy Institute, and between 1995 and 1996, he held the post of Deputy Chief Economist at the U.S. Department of Labor. Bernstein holds a PhD in Social Welfare from Columbia University and is the author and coauthor of numerous books for both popular and academic audiences, including his latest book, The Reconnection Agenda: Reuniting Growth and Prosperity. Bernstein has published extensively in various venues, including The New York Times, Washington Post, and The American Prospect. In addition to hosting this blog and co-hosting the On The Economy podcast, he is an on-air commentator for the cable stations CNBC and MSNBC and contributor to The Washington Post’s PostEverything blog.
Henry Olsen is currently a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a columnist at the Washington Post. He has worked in senior executive positions at many center-right think tanks. Olsen served as vice president and director of the National Research Initiative at the American Enterprise Institute from 2006 to 2013. He previously worked as vice president of programs at the Manhattan Institute and as president of the Commonwealth Foundation. Mr. Olsen’s work has been featured in many prominent publications, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Guardian, National Review, and the Weekly Standard. He is the author of Ronald Reagan: New Deal Conservative (HarperCollins, 2017) and coauthor (with Dante J. Scala) of The Four Faces of the Republican Party: The Fight for the 2016 Presidential Nomination (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).
 

About the Author

Philip Klein is the executive editor of the Washington Examiner. He has written extensively on federal politics and policy from the nation’s capital for well over a decade, and his analyses are widely referenced across the ideological spectrum. He started his journalism career in New York, where he was a financial reporter for Reuters. Over the years, he has written for or been cited by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Bloomberg, among many other publications. He has also appeared on television and radio, including on Fox, Fox Business, CNN, MSNBC, and NPR. He is a graduate of George Washington University with degrees in history and economics, and also holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. He is the author of Overcoming Obamacare: Three Approaches to Reversing the Government Takeover of Health Care.
David Harsanyi is a senior editor at the Federalist, a nationally syndicated columnist, a frequent contributor at the New York Post and National Review, and author of four books including his most recent book, First Freedom: A Ride Through America's Enduring History with the Gun.
Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor at National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at National Review Institute. He is a member of Generation X.

About the Authors

Jason Riley is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, and a commentator for Fox News. After joining the Journal in 1994, he was named a senior editorial writer in 2000 and a member of the editorial board in 2005. Riley writes opinion pieces on politics, economics, education, immigration, and race. A frequent public speaker, he is a longtime commentator for Fox News. Riley is the author of Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders (2008), which argues for a more free-market-oriented U.S. immigration policy; and Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed (2014), which discusses the track record of government efforts to help the black underclass. He has also worked for USA Today and the Buffalo News. Riley holds a B.A. in English from SUNY-Buffalo.
Glenn C. Loury is the Merton P. Stoltz Professor of the Social Sciences and Professor of Economics at Brown University. He has taught previously at Boston, Harvard and Northwestern Universities, and the University of Michigan. He holds a B.A. in Mathematics (Northwestern University, 1972) and a Ph.D. in Economics (MIT, 1976). As an academic economist, Professor Loury has published mainly in the areas of applied microeconomic theory, game theory, industrial organization, natural resource economics, and the economics of race and inequality. He has been elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Econometric Society, Member of the American Philosophical Society, Vice President of the American Economics Association, and President of the Eastern Economics Association. In 2005 he won the John von Neumann Award (given annually by the Rajk László College of the Budapest University of Economic Science and Public Administration to “an outstanding economist whose research has exerted a major influence on students of the College over an extended period of time.”) He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Carnegie Scholarship to support his work. He has given the prestigious Tanner Lectures on Human Values at Stanford (2007), the James A. Moffett ’29 Lectures in Ethics at Princeton (2003), and the DuBois Lectures in African American Studies at Harvard (2000). As a prominent social critic and public intellectual, writing mainly on the themes of racial inequality and social policy, Professor Loury has published over 200 essays and reviews in journals of public affairs in the U.S. and abroad. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, is a contributing editor at The Boston Review, and was for many years a contributing editor at The New Republic. Professor Loury’s books include One by One, From the Inside Out: Essays and Reviews on Race and Responsibility in America (The Free Press, 1995–winner of the American Book Award and the Christianity Today Book Award); The Anatomy of Racial Inequality (Harvard University Press, 2002); Ethnicity, Social Mobility and Public Policy: Comparing the US and the UK (ed., Cambridge University Press, 2005); and, Race, Incarceration and American Values (M.I.T. Press, 2008). The father of five and proud grandfather of six, Glenn C. Loury, a native of the Southside of Chicago, currently resides in Brookline, Massachusetts.
John McWhorter is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He previously was Associate Professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley. He earned his B.A. from Rutgers University, his M.A. from New York University, and his Ph.D. in Linguistics from Stanford University. Professor McWhorter specializes in language change and language contact. He is the author of The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language; The Word on the Street, a book on dialects and Black English; and Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music in America and Why We Should, Like, Care. A Contributing Editor at The New Republic, he has also been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Time, and The New Yorker. Frequently sought after by the media, Professor McWhorter has appeared on Dateline NBC, Politically Incorrect, Talk of the Nation, Today, Good Morning America, The Jim Lehrer NewsHour, Up with Chris Hayes, and Fresh Air

About the Author

Credit: Guerin Blask for The New York Times
Adam Bellow is the founder and editor of an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, All Points Books, which aims at publishing authors from across the political spectrum. He was formerly the vice president/executive editor at Broadside, a conservative imprint of HarperCollins. He has also been an executive editor at Doubleday (Random House) and was formerly editorial director of the Free Press (Simon & Schuster). A native New Yorker, he grew up on the Upper West Side (with its attendant intellectual deformities) and graduated from Princeton University in 1980 with a degree in comparative literature. He also did graduate work at the University of Chicago (political philosophy) and Columbia University (history) before entering publishing in 1989. His editorial interests range broadly across history, politics, religion, philosophy, and other branches of social science, but he is best known for publishing conservatives, and played a key role in the conservative intellectual revolt of the 1980s and 1990s. His essays and articles have appeared in the Atlantic, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, and World Affairs. He is also the author of In Praise of Nepotism: A History of Family Enterprise from King David to George W. Bush (2004).

About the Authors

Credit: AEI
Nicholas Eberstadt holds the Henry Wendt Chair in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he researches and writes extensively on demographics and economic development generally, and more specifically on international security in the Korean peninsula and Asia. Domestically, he focuses on poverty and social well-being. Dr. Eberstadt is also a senior adviser to the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR). His many books and monographs include Poverty in China (IDI, 1979); The Tyranny of Numbers (AEI Press, 1995); The End of North Korea (AEI Press, 1999); The Poverty of the Poverty Rate (AEI Press, 2008); Russia’s Peacetime Demographic Crisis (NBR, 2010); and A Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic (Templeton Press, 2012). His latest book is Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis (Templeton Press, 2016). He has offered invited testimony before Congress on numerous occasions and has served as consultant or adviser for a variety of units within the US government. His appearances on radio and television range from NPR to CNN’s The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. Mr. Eberstadt has a Ph.D. in political economy and government, an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government, and an A.B. from Harvard University. In addition, he holds a Master of Science from the London School of Economics. In 2012, Mr. Eberstadt was awarded the prestigious Bradley Prize.
Credit: EPPC
Yuval Levin is the Hertog Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the editor of National Affairs magazine. His essays and articles have appeared in numerous publications including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Commentary, and others. He is a contributing editor of National Review and The Weekly Standard, a senior editor of EPPC’s journal The New Atlantis and, most recently, author of The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism. He is a recipient of a 2013 Bradley Prize for intellectual achievement. Before joining EPPC, Mr. Levin served on the White House domestic policy staff under President George W. Bush. He has also been Executive Director of the President’s Council on Bioethics and a congressional staffer. He holds a B.A. from American University and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.
Credit: Brookings
William A. Galston holds the Ezra K. Zilkha Chair in the Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies Program, where he serves as a senior fellow. A former policy advisor to President Clinton and presidential candidates, Galston is an expert on domestic policy, political campaigns, and elections. His current research focuses on designing a new social contract and the implications of political polarization. He is also College Park Professor at the University of Maryland. Prior to January 2006, he was Saul Stern Professor and Acting Dean at the School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, director of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, founding director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), and executive director of the National Commission on Civic Renewal, co-chaired by William Bennett and Sam Nunn. A participant in six presidential campaigns, he served from 1993 to 1995 as Deputy Assistant to President Clinton for Domestic Policy. From 1969 to 1970 Galston served as a member of the United States Marine Corps and was honorably discharged. Galston is the author of eight books and more than 100 articles in the fields of political theory, public policy, and American politics. His most recent books are Liberal Pluralism (Cambridge, 2002), The Practice of Liberal Pluralism (Cambridge, 2004), and Public Matters (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005). A winner of the American Political Science Association’s Hubert H. Humphrey Award, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004. Galston has appeared on all the principal television networks and is a frequent commentator on NPR. He writes a weekly column for the Wall Street Journal.
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