Adam Smith`s American Dream: Of desire and debt by Peter C. Whybrow

Last Updated: 25 May 2020
Essay type: Process
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The American dream is a complex notion that embodies traditions, social and personal values of people. This concept is closely connected with historical and economic development of America, its liberation movement and economic changes. Explaining the American dream it is possible to single out social, personal and economic dimensions that determine this concept. In the book “American Mania: When More Is Not Enough”, P. C. Whybrow tries to explain outcomes and consequences of the American dream for the entire population and a burden of debt faced by many Americans.

Taking into account economic perspectives, American dream means opportunities for everyone to become rich and prosperous in spite of his background and origin. From the very beginning of American colonization period people see the continent as a special place where there is plenty of opportunity for someone to become wealthy. Today, it is possible to define the American dream from different perspectives, but in general: the American dream is the idea that through persistence, hard work and self-determination people can achieve prosperity and high social status.

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This notion has created workaholic cults based on principles of the American dream. Following Whybrow (2005); “A polyglot nation of prodigious energy, we are held together by dreams of material progress” (p. 22). Consumerism has a great impact on the notion the American Dream. After the period of the Depression the reforms in the marketplace not only produced double-digit growth but also enabled ordinary citizens to nurture dreams and social networks that challenged official discourse and conventions through millions of daily commercial transactions.

People received a chance to earn more and buy expensive goods. Their buying habits were transformed and became necessities. The workaholic cult makes the realization of American Dream simpler because new consumers created great demand for goods. A new version of capitalism began evolving in which creativity was not just perennial but constant, in which rapid-fire innovation and continuous improvement were the norm. Cultural changes had a great impact on the workaholic cult and customer wants.

This process which took place in 1960s resulted in the development of the creative sector as an integral part of the American dream. Educational establishments were places where human creativity was cultivated and could flourish. Millions of Americans rather quickly acquired a steady job, a car, and a big house, and debts. Most of them had tried to achieve social mobility but failed limited by gender and racial prejudices, lack of education and financial support. Free-market capitalism supported (supports) a financial burden of struggling propositions.

On the one hand, economic development led to increased possibilities of education and the opening up of a greater variety of life chances, but these chances were minor in contrast to high class opportunities. Also, rapid population growth of poor classes increased burden on the financial resources and social provisions reducing buying potential of a particular individual from poor regions. The ideas of prosperity enslaved many Americans who tried to test the American dream and achieve higher social status. Also, these ideas are heated by inequalities between the rich minority and the poor majority.

Stressing the need to meet basic needs as the primary driving force towards development, sometimes imaginatively termed the basic needs approach, emphasizes that health and education are motors for productivity and that the basic needs of all sectors must be met. Today, the differences between middle class families and poor are inevitable supported by social and economic constraints and self consciousness of people. Following Whybrow “The scramble for “the dream” demands a lengthened workday, diminished sleep, continuous learning, unusual energy, and a high tolerance for financial insecurity.

To be “successful” is to be a multi-tasking dynamo” (Whybrow, 2005 p. 23). An American without a car and big house is an outsider, who is unable to settle his life. For this reason, millions of Americans take loans in order to meet the established criteria of prosperity. The main problem of Americans is that they spend more than they earn. This problem leads to large debts and psychological problems caused by hard working and financial pressure. The author explains that the debts and financial burden is a direct result of heavy advertising and fashion popularizing luxurious life style and prosperity.

The author gives the following example of ‘modern’ advertisements: "t he photographs highlight the vehicle’s interior, a rich brown leather interior. "Think of it as chocolate, as another sweet spot in your life," is the drift of the spin-doctor's advice” (Whybrow, 2005 p. 21). There is a false need fabricated by media and advertisers popularizing luxurious life style and fashion. Most people become enslaved to the workplace prisoners, because they have to meet the highest possible standards established by media and society.

The other problem is that people's occu¬pations or market positions have abso¬lutely no bearing on their self-understanding or interpretation of their social world and neither has any relation to their individual or collective actions, which are quite unpredictable on the basis of either. Social pressure is the main cause of financial debts and ‘free-will slavery’. “Many Fortune 500 companies, once considered havens of lifetime employment, have transformed themselves into profit-driven workaholic cults’(Whybrow, 2005 p. 22).

If anything explains the goals people pursue it is the social conditioning they receive, high social classes are proud and seek power, the ordinary man is timid and seeks security. Most people do not understand that upward mobility is practically impossible for working class children and immigrants, because they cannot enter Universities and pay for their education. Also, "manic" is caused by racism and feminism organized via institutional frameworks especially within the state as part of the disciplinary power of state agencies like the police, but which is subject to ongoing contestations.

Whybrow cites the example of a working mother who is enslaved and has no time for her daughter and family. The author comments that “It is the promise of special gifts and a magical holiday that finally proves convincing and, finishing the call, the mother sighs to herself and turns to reading” (Whybrow, 2005 p. 21). Most female employees are viewed as mothers and wives which create a glass ceiling for most of them, and force them to work hard for years to prove their professionalism and high level of responsibility.

Also, the author underlines the role of technology and innovations in life of Americans and their dreams. The great layer of information and varieties of technology become available now, but the present day situation is marked by such phenomenon as “technology stress”, which means that all technological advantages society is craving for are nothing more than ephemerally. In sum, the American dream and false social values resulted in the workaholic cult and financial burden for many Americans. Social and economic uncertainty creates new tensions while reinforcing existing ones.

The basic principle of this process is that in social process systems, prosperity are interrelated with the human or social aspects. The basic social and economic processes such as competition, conflict, accommodation and assimilation lead to debts and financial pressure. However a consistent pattern is the great gulf that separates the rich from the poor, and the central role of the state in articulating the relationship between them. References 1. Whybrow, P. C. (2005). “Adam Smith`s American Dream: Of Desire and Debt” American Mania: When More Is Not Enough. W. Norton & Company. pp. 21-48.

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Adam Smith`s American Dream: Of desire and debt by Peter C. Whybrow. (2016, Jul 03). Retrieved from

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