I was born, raised, and lived in the US until the age of twenty-four when a certain wanderlust took over. That thirst since quenched, I have settled in Poland, and now only occasionally visit the country. The result is a contrasting perspective whenever I visit: almost twenty years having passed, the US I grew up in is not the US I see now. Besides technology, one of the biggest differences is the erosion of the middle-class into the lower-class—the upper class absorbing the gap in wealth. On the surface you cannot see this: people still drive new cars and have the latest model cell phones. It’s the knowledge that banks actually own the majority of this is where the difference lies. The majority of Americans now living almost their entire lives in debt, a kind of neo-feudalism can be observed, bringing about the question: is the American Dream of owning the white picket fence, two car garage and a dog named Rover still alive? Noam Chomsky in his Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power (2016) takes his view.
A blunt critique of the American system, Requiem for the American Dream is a concise outlay of the American economic, financial, political, and social system as it stands today in relation to the past 100 years. Chomsky postulating that the few contrive to maintain political and economic power over the many, the scene framed is difficult to deny. Citing quotes from writers of the constitution all the way to Donald Trump, Chomsky lays down the ten principles he believes are key to ensuring the system predominantly benefits those in power. From another perspective, it is Chomsky’s views distilled into the most basic elements.
No cow sacred, Chomsky throws a number of revered American beliefs onto the pyre. Included in this is the idea of democracy in the US. Despite the doctrination to the opposite, Chomsky posits it exists only in very limited form. Citing several major instances of popular public opinion as it contrasts Washington’s decisions, he puts the big multi-nationals and their lobbyists square in the cross-hairs of explaining the difference. Chomsky in turn damns the tried and true form of government known as lobbying as cronyism. And lastly, as the title suggests, that the American dream of a person building themselves from the ground up is almost entirely lost to the interests of multi-national profit-seeking and government collusion. He believes it is still possible, but nothing like the scale it once was given pace and greed with which larger business absorb the smaller. One of the interesting examples cited in this ase is the number of people who voted for Obama believing he would change the system, then switched teams and voted for Trump believing he too would be able to change the system, when in fact both simply want to keep the good ol’ boys system in place, the dream of something more for the common man evidently futile given the opposite direction which reality is moving.
In the end, Requiem for the American Dream is a sampler platter of criticism of the American political system and its handling of economics, democratic rights, and social issues. As such, it operates as an excellent gateway into Chomsky’s books. (Concise, it is, in fact, a “transcript” of the television documentary of the same name.) Light reading (for what the expression is worth in the context of the most critical aspects of America’s financial and political future), the scholarly reader will be begging for more references (which are available in Chomsky’s more in-depth books, but not here) while the casual reader will have much food for thought given that the reality Chomsky describes is evident all around us. Or, as Chomsky would have it, the classic American dream now appears more in the pipe than in reality. Thus, regardless of political leaning or whether or not the reader believes Chomsky to be right or wrong, Requiem for the American Dream is a book worth reading.