The National Catholic Review
The Editors
The annual celebrations of Indepen-dence Day commemorate not only the sacrifices made during the American Revolution, but also a more nebulous concept: the American dream, which for many is bound up with the promise of economic success for any hardworking American. Yet the American dream is beginning to seem like a fantasy for even the most dedicated laborers. As a recent series in The New York Times detailed, growing economic and class disparities are having a disturbing effect on contemporary American society. The paper’s series, entitled Class Matters, focused on such problems as health care for the underclass, the persistent inability of immigrants to raise their economic prospects and the plight of relos, that is, corporate employees relocated by their corporations. By contrast, one article took aim at the spending habits of the super rich, describing such purchases as $12,000 mother-baby tennis bracelet sets. The overarching portrait was of a society where the haves are acquiring more and the have-nots even less than before. Indeed, the share of the nation’s income earned by the very wealthiest Americans has doubled since 1980 (to 7.4 percent in 2002), while the share of income earned by the bottom 90 percent has actually fallen.

How did we reach this point so quickly? As recently as a generation ago, a hardworking family could count on their children’s lives being at least as financially secure as their own. One could point to the tax cuts introduced by President Bush as a method by which the richer are able to become the super rich, and separate themselves even more, in gated communities and in other subtler ways, from hoi polloi.

But a combination of several factors has been at work over the last few decades. Corporations, for example, used to promise implicit lifetime employment in return for often harsh sacrifices made by entire families. Beginning in the 1980’s, however, facing pressures from overseas, corporations opted to lay off employees and outsource jobs to foreign and therefore cheaper locales, forcing many employees into a nomadic work life. Concurrently, many C.E.O.’s. sopped up the savings that attended the layoffs to enrich themselves, all the while touting the need to cut costs.

At the same time, the number of entry-level factory jobs, which had traditionally provided hope to immigrants, has diminished, thanks to low-cost alternatives overseas. This has condemned many recent immigrants to years of low-paying, dead-end jobs as well as longtime American citizens to penury. Barbara Ehrenreich’s plaintive book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America demonstrated how the author was incapable of living on a minimum-wage job no matter how hard she worked.

The worsening economic divide is contrary to the most elemental themes in Catholic social teaching. The notions of solidarity and the common good, for example, recognize that human interdependency is not only necessary but positive. Moreover, there are important goals for society that reach beyond purely individualistic ones. In his encyclical Mater et Magistra, Blessed Pope John XXIII wrote that the economic prosperity of a nation is not so much its total assets in terms of wealth and property, as the equitable division and distribution of this wealth (No. 74). And in a society that prizes $12,000 mother-baby tennis bracelets while hardworking Americans cannot afford basic necessities, the achievement of the common good will remain elusive. This is one reason why a decent living wage is another important tenet of church teaching, as pointed out by Pope John Paul II in Laborem Exercens (No. 19).

This kind of world, so unjust, is also antithetical to Gospel values, particularly as described in Matthew 25. And we are responsible for the least of our brothers and sisters not simply in this country, but in the developing world as well.

What can we do? Repealing tax cuts that favor the super rich and raising the minimum wage would be a start. So would policies in corporations that put a cap on executive compensation. (Arguments that this would not provide adequate incentive have been disproven: corporate salaries of top-level executives are rarely based on performance.) So would introducing more courses in undergraduate and graduate business programs that foster an understanding of the common good. Though the United States is sometimes described as a classless society, some basic adjustments must be made if our country is not to degenerate into two classes: the have-everythings and the have-nothings.

Comments

John T. Joyce | 7/22/2005 - 4:09pm
The "Vanishing Dream" editorial(7/4)is excellent and addresses issues that must be taken up more vigorously by the Church because they are central to bringing about Jacques Maritain's vision of "economic humanism."

The editorial correctly draws attention to Laboren Exercens and Matthew 25. There is in addition a rich body of Catholic philosophy and Social thought that is badly neglected.

Your "What can we do?" list omits what is very probably the single most important thing to be done in the near term: removal of the formidable legal impediments in the US to union organizing and bargaining.

I was amused by the view of a recent subscriber that the editorial "is nothing more than socialist propaganda." Clearly he's not very familiar with socialist propaganda. I wonder what his reaction was/would be (as the case may be) to the minister's peroration in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.

John T. Joyce Swans Island, Maine

Harry Hardin | 6/24/2005 - 11:02am
I am writing to thank this editorial writer for shining light on the "best kept secret in the Church", our social teaching. Our society (derived from the Latin word for Fellowship, really defined as being in relationship with others) will only survive when we work in concert for the good of all of man kind. Many call this socalism, but is that really the correct way to look at it? Jesus spent most of his ministry working with those and being one in fellowship with the poor, the outcast, and the marginalized. The one word answer to the infamous question "Am I my brother's keeper?" is answered with a resounding yes by the example of Christ's ministry. Is this great universal truth that Christ revealved to us really Socialism? Or by labeling something as socialist do we try to justify our self centered actions?

Harry Hardin

RITA JENRETTE | 6/24/2005 - 10:26am
I decided to vote for John Kerry when I observed George Bush, during a political dinner, at the Waldorf Astoria. Festooned in black tie and grinning like a high school football player he had the audacity to state, "What we have here tonight are the 'haves and the have mores' but what I call you is my base..." The crowd of 'fat cats' burst into peels of laughter. How obscene for our President to make such a "let them eat cake" type statement. The diparity between the poor and the wealthy continues to widen and I am fearful that those of us who have money will continue to turn a blind eye to those in need. After all, I have never seen a Brinks truck at a cemetery and I have never seen a man on his deathbed state,"If only I had made more money..."

Jeannette Bell | 6/23/2005 - 10:41pm
Excellent article. Right on target.

Thank you.

Gerard Burford | 7/5/2005 - 9:11pm
Thank you for publishing your Editorial, "The Vanishing Dream", July4-11,2005. It reassures me that I am not alone on this issue. Sometimes I think I am bucking my head against a brick wall trying to dialogue with people about raising the minimum wage, providing affordabel housiing, providing adequate health care coverage. So many americans including good Catholics are passionate about things like displaying the Ten Commandments, amending the constitution to prevent gay marriage, keeping "under God" in the pledge of allegiance, but seem indifferent or deafeatist about the social teachings of our church. Some people play the "do-gooder" or "bleeding heart liberal" name calling, others just say it can never be done because raising the minimum wage for example would cause employers to cut back on jobs, or would raise prices so high people couldn't afford to buy things anyway. But to see your magazine continue to promote the hopeful cause that it is possible and can be done is encouraging to me and to many more who want to see changes in our nation and the world that would be more in keeping with Matthew 25 and all Jesus' teachings as well as our church's brave tradition of social justice.

John Wren | 6/27/2005 - 8:49am
Yes, there are problems with the American Dream, but do you really believe raising the minimum wage or stopping the production of $12,000 bracelets will solve them?

We used to be a nation of shopkeepers, but we are rapidly turning into a nation of clerks working for Starbucks and Wal-Mart.

The problem is not the bottom rung of the ladder of success, but with all the people who are stuck there, and those who undermine their confidence to move up, from oppresive government regulations with which only the largest corporations can comply, to demoralizing anti-U.S. propoganda like this article.

John Wren www.JohnWren.com

Tony Ensenada | 7/2/2005 - 3:53pm
This editorial exemplifies why, after subscribing for twenty years, I have not renewed my subscription. America, along with the Jesuits, has substituted leftist ideology for Catholicism.

It appears the new editor will continue in the leftist shoes of his predecessor.

Much of the poor in this country live better than the wealthy did four hundred years ago.

That's splendid progress, and that progress is thanks to capitalism in which some get super-rich, but everyone with a work ethic eventually improves his standard of living.

There's no systematic, structural or societal imediment to anyone improving his financial situation in the United States. If the rich get richer, it's because they continue to do the things that made them rich in the first place.

That's not sinful; that's intelligent. It's also good, because when the rich have more wealth, they spend more, and more jobs are created which improves the financial situation of the not-so-wealthy and the poor.

Robert E. McNulty | 6/30/2005 - 11:00pm
As a long time subscriber, I am concerned about both the political bias and lack of scholarship in your editorial "The Vanishing Dream."

Economis disparity has occurred. When did this happen? The reverse was true in the period from 1950 to 1975. The gap started and accelerated sharply in the 1990's. Both the Kennedy and Reagan tax rate cut resulted in increased Federal tax revenues without affecting the income distribution. What evidence do you have that the Bush rate cuts were different?

CEO compensation has been divorced from performance and boards must take responsibility.The SEC has forced mutual funds to use independent chairpeople and independent boards.Corruption is being prosecuted and stock options steals being contained. Both the Clinton and Bush administrations have proposed possible fixes which probably should be tried.Nontheless the US continues to be the immigrants dream as shown by visa applications.

Scott Dodge | 6/28/2005 - 3:55pm
Dear editor: I wholeheartedly agree with your editorial "The Vanishing Dream" and appreciate the moral commentary on the New York Times series of articles. It seems that two things are necessary to have an economy at the service of people and reverse the globalizing trend of people in servitude of an inhuman economy. Both neceesities are not only consistent with Catholic social teaching, both are necessities because of our Christian and Catholic faith.

First, an assertion of control via international organizations (i.e., the U.N., the WTO, the EU, etc.) of governments, preferably democratic governments, over control multi-national/trans-national corporations. The recent rejection of the EU constitution by the French and the Dutch are a sign of hope in this regard. The second necessity is for a renewed and recharged world-wide labor movement.

Thank you for continuing to bring attention to crucial issues like the disturbing trends this editorial dicusses which effect every person on the planet.

Sincerely, Deacon Scott S. Dodge Salt Lake City, Utah

James Branon | 6/24/2005 - 11:01am
hown long does it take to realize the truth of a situation???

as dylan wrote long ago....

Robert Wilson | 6/23/2005 - 8:02pm
I just subscribed to your publication. This article

is nothing more than socialistic propaganda.

No doubt I could have spent my money more

effectively.

Linda Meehan | 2/16/2007 - 4:04pm
I read with disappointment your editorial, “The Vanishing Dream” (7/4). It is too simplistic to keep saying the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. If you mean the man who owns the company I work for when you refer to tax cuts for the rich, then I am definitely not opposed to that. He is very forthcoming about the company’s finances, in good years and in bad, and if a tax cut for him means that I (and the other 80-odd employees of the company) get to keep our jobs for another year, how can I be angry about that? If a tax cut for him means that 80 families are supported by secure, meaningful jobs, and the income derived from those jobs is spread out in the community to other businesses and to charities, how can I be against that?

We are a great and generous nation because we are a wealthy nation, and we are a wealthy nation because of the ability of entrepreneurs to follow their dreams, build corporations and pay far more in taxes than many of us ever will.

While economic disparity does exist in our and every nation, I’ll take our system every time. I would like to see greater depth of thought put into your editorials on this issue.

Robert Wilson | 2/16/2007 - 3:53pm
I just subscribed to your publication. The editorial “The Vanishing Dream” (7/4) is nothing more than socialist propaganda. No doubt I could have spent my money more effectively.

Lucy Fuchs | 2/16/2007 - 4:19pm
The editorial “The Vanishing Dream” (7/4) analyzes why the American dream is vanishing. Part of the fault is the loss of solidarity and the common good on the part of corporations and their desire to maximize profits at the expense of the workers. Later in the same issue, Terry Golway talks about a soup kitchen and how the corporations have been “like godparents” to the men and women who are served.

I mean no disrespect, but the world is full of rich people and corporations who will give funds and encourage volunteers to help in the soup kitchens. What they won’t do is change their policies to make soup kitchens unnecessary. They remind me of how the produce growers in Florida are amazed when anyone accuses them of exploiting the migrant workers. After all, they give Christmas baskets every year to the workers.

Giving donations makes the rich and powerful feel good—and allows them to do write-offs on their taxes—and it is so much easier than paying workers better wages, refusing to outsource jobs and supporting increases in minimum wages, as well as providing health benefits and pensions.

Soup kitchens are fine, but there is something definitely wrong with a country, with the incredible resources that this country has, if such soup kitchens are necessary for decades without an end in sight.

When are Catholic parishes around the country going to hear about and implement Catholic social teachings?

Tony Ensenada | 7/2/2005 - 3:53pm
This editorial exemplifies why, after subscribing for twenty years, I have not renewed my subscription. America, along with the Jesuits, has substituted leftist ideology for Catholicism.

It appears the new editor will continue in the leftist shoes of his predecessor.

Much of the poor in this country live better than the wealthy did four hundred years ago.

That's splendid progress, and that progress is thanks to capitalism in which some get super-rich, but everyone with a work ethic eventually improves his standard of living.

There's no systematic, structural or societal imediment to anyone improving his financial situation in the United States. If the rich get richer, it's because they continue to do the things that made them rich in the first place.

That's not sinful; that's intelligent. It's also good, because when the rich have more wealth, they spend more, and more jobs are created which improves the financial situation of the not-so-wealthy and the poor.

Robert E. McNulty | 6/30/2005 - 11:00pm
As a long time subscriber, I am concerned about both the political bias and lack of scholarship in your editorial "The Vanishing Dream."

Economis disparity has occurred. When did this happen? The reverse was true in the period from 1950 to 1975. The gap started and accelerated sharply in the 1990's. Both the Kennedy and Reagan tax rate cut resulted in increased Federal tax revenues without affecting the income distribution. What evidence do you have that the Bush rate cuts were different?

CEO compensation has been divorced from performance and boards must take responsibility.The SEC has forced mutual funds to use independent chairpeople and independent boards.Corruption is being prosecuted and stock options steals being contained. Both the Clinton and Bush administrations have proposed possible fixes which probably should be tried.Nontheless the US continues to be the immigrants dream as shown by visa applications.

Scott Dodge | 6/28/2005 - 3:55pm
Dear editor: I wholeheartedly agree with your editorial "The Vanishing Dream" and appreciate the moral commentary on the New York Times series of articles. It seems that two things are necessary to have an economy at the service of people and reverse the globalizing trend of people in servitude of an inhuman economy. Both neceesities are not only consistent with Catholic social teaching, both are necessities because of our Christian and Catholic faith.

First, an assertion of control via international organizations (i.e., the U.N., the WTO, the EU, etc.) of governments, preferably democratic governments, over control multi-national/trans-national corporations. The recent rejection of the EU constitution by the French and the Dutch are a sign of hope in this regard. The second necessity is for a renewed and recharged world-wide labor movement.

Thank you for continuing to bring attention to crucial issues like the disturbing trends this editorial dicusses which effect every person on the planet.

Sincerely, Deacon Scott S. Dodge Salt Lake City, Utah

James Branon | 6/24/2005 - 11:01am
hown long does it take to realize the truth of a situation???

as dylan wrote long ago....

Robert Wilson | 6/23/2005 - 8:02pm
I just subscribed to your publication. This article

is nothing more than socialistic propaganda.

No doubt I could have spent my money more

effectively.

John T. Joyce | 7/22/2005 - 4:09pm
The "Vanishing Dream" editorial(7/4)is excellent and addresses issues that must be taken up more vigorously by the Church because they are central to bringing about Jacques Maritain's vision of "economic humanism."

The editorial correctly draws attention to Laboren Exercens and Matthew 25. There is in addition a rich body of Catholic philosophy and Social thought that is badly neglected.

Your "What can we do?" list omits what is very probably the single most important thing to be done in the near term: removal of the formidable legal impediments in the US to union organizing and bargaining.

I was amused by the view of a recent subscriber that the editorial "is nothing more than socialist propaganda." Clearly he's not very familiar with socialist propaganda. I wonder what his reaction was/would be (as the case may be) to the minister's peroration in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.

John T. Joyce Swans Island, Maine

Harry Hardin | 6/24/2005 - 11:02am
I am writing to thank this editorial writer for shining light on the "best kept secret in the Church", our social teaching. Our society (derived from the Latin word for Fellowship, really defined as being in relationship with others) will only survive when we work in concert for the good of all of man kind. Many call this socalism, but is that really the correct way to look at it? Jesus spent most of his ministry working with those and being one in fellowship with the poor, the outcast, and the marginalized. The one word answer to the infamous question "Am I my brother's keeper?" is answered with a resounding yes by the example of Christ's ministry. Is this great universal truth that Christ revealved to us really Socialism? Or by labeling something as socialist do we try to justify our self centered actions?

Harry Hardin

RITA JENRETTE | 6/24/2005 - 10:26am
I decided to vote for John Kerry when I observed George Bush, during a political dinner, at the Waldorf Astoria. Festooned in black tie and grinning like a high school football player he had the audacity to state, "What we have here tonight are the 'haves and the have mores' but what I call you is my base..." The crowd of 'fat cats' burst into peels of laughter. How obscene for our President to make such a "let them eat cake" type statement. The diparity between the poor and the wealthy continues to widen and I am fearful that those of us who have money will continue to turn a blind eye to those in need. After all, I have never seen a Brinks truck at a cemetery and I have never seen a man on his deathbed state,"If only I had made more money..."

Jeannette Bell | 6/23/2005 - 10:41pm
Excellent article. Right on target.

Thank you.

Gerard Burford | 7/5/2005 - 9:11pm
Thank you for publishing your Editorial, "The Vanishing Dream", July4-11,2005. It reassures me that I am not alone on this issue. Sometimes I think I am bucking my head against a brick wall trying to dialogue with people about raising the minimum wage, providing affordabel housiing, providing adequate health care coverage. So many americans including good Catholics are passionate about things like displaying the Ten Commandments, amending the constitution to prevent gay marriage, keeping "under God" in the pledge of allegiance, but seem indifferent or deafeatist about the social teachings of our church. Some people play the "do-gooder" or "bleeding heart liberal" name calling, others just say it can never be done because raising the minimum wage for example would cause employers to cut back on jobs, or would raise prices so high people couldn't afford to buy things anyway. But to see your magazine continue to promote the hopeful cause that it is possible and can be done is encouraging to me and to many more who want to see changes in our nation and the world that would be more in keeping with Matthew 25 and all Jesus' teachings as well as our church's brave tradition of social justice.

John Wren | 6/27/2005 - 8:49am
Yes, there are problems with the American Dream, but do you really believe raising the minimum wage or stopping the production of $12,000 bracelets will solve them?

We used to be a nation of shopkeepers, but we are rapidly turning into a nation of clerks working for Starbucks and Wal-Mart.

The problem is not the bottom rung of the ladder of success, but with all the people who are stuck there, and those who undermine their confidence to move up, from oppresive government regulations with which only the largest corporations can comply, to demoralizing anti-U.S. propoganda like this article.

John Wren www.JohnWren.com

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