Requiem for the American dream | 美国梦真的已经死了吗? - FT中文网

Requiem for the American dream

Has US economic stagnation destroyed the myth of an ever better life for its citizens? David Leonhardt argues that it has
Prospective buyers visit a property for sale in Vallejo, California, 2017
The American dream, a term first used by a Depression-era historian named James Truslow Adams, is all about upward mobility. Any US citizen, if they work hard, should be able to not only succeed, but rise above the station of their parents.
美国梦是由大萧条时期的历史学家亚当斯(James Truslow Adams)首次提出的概念,它代表着向上流动。任何美国公民,只要他们努力工作,不仅应该能够成功,而且能够超越他们父母的地位。
In The Epic of America, published in 1931, Adams acknowledged that the ongoing economic crisis threatened a dream that, for most people through the country’s history, seemed attainable. But he also ended on a note of optimism — quoting a Russian immigrant called Mary Antin, who credited the country’s public library system with elevating her from being a child who knew no English to a writer who published her first book as a teenager. As Antin herself put it, “mine is the shining future”.
在1931年出版的《美国的史诗》(The Epic of America)中,亚当斯承认,正在进行的经济危机威胁到了一个对大多数人来说似乎是可及的梦想。但他也以乐观的笔调结束了这本书 — 引用了一位名为玛丽•安廷(Mary Antin)的俄罗斯移民的话,她认为美国的公共图书馆系统使她从一个不懂英语的孩子成长为一个十几岁就出版了第一本书的作家。正如安廷自己所说:“我的未来是光明的(mine is the shining future)。”
But things have changed in America, as New York Times writer David Leonhardt lays out in his important new book. For the last half century, US incomes have stagnated and wealth inequality grown. A typical family in 2019 had a net worth slightly lower than the typical family in 2001. “There has not been such a long period of wealth stagnation since the Great Depression,” Leonhart writes. What’s more, life expectancy is down — a rare and disturbing anomaly for a rich nation — as is social mobility.
但是,正如《纽约时报》作家大卫•莱昂哈特(David Leonhardt)在他重要的新书中所阐述的,美国已经变了。在过去的半个世纪里,美国的收入停滞不前,财富不平等加剧。2019年的典型家庭净资产,比2001年的典型家庭还要低一些。莱昂哈特写道:“自大萧条以来,还没有出现过如此长时间的财富停滞。”更重要的是,预期寿命下降了 — 这对一个富裕国家来说是罕见且令人不安的异常现象 — 社会流动性也在下降。
He calls this the Great American Stagnation, and for many it has turned the American dream into a myth that is impossible to imagine ever coming true. The Harvard academic Raj Chetty, whom Leonhardt helped popularise, found that while 92 per cent of children born in 1940 had higher household incomes than their parents, babies born in 1980 had only a 50/50 chance of doing better than the previous generation. This decline has come with massive economic, political and social costs, not just for the US, but for the world — everything from less willingness to engage with global crises such as climate change, to “an alarming anti-democratic movement” in the US, to a rise in racism and xenophobia.
他将这种现象称为美国的大停滞(Great American Stagnation),对许多人来说,这已经把美国梦变成了一个难以实现的幻想。哈佛大学的学者拉吉•切蒂(Raj Chetty)的研究得到了莱昂哈特的推广,切蒂发现,尽管1940年出生的孩子中有92%的人家庭收入高于他们的父母,但1980年出生的婴儿只有50%的机会超越上一代。这种下降带来了巨大的经济、政治和社会代价,这不仅影响了美国,也影响了全世界 — 从减少参与应对全球危机(如气候变化)的意愿,到美国内部“令人担忧的反民主运动”,再到种族主义和排外主义的上升。”

There is no longer a mass movement focused on improving economic outcomes for most Americans


Ours Was the Shining Future, Leonhardt’s first book, is an attempt to explain what happened. His take, which I believe is correct, is that democratic capitalism (defined as “a system in which the government recognises its crucial role in guiding the economy”) has since the 1970s given way to a laissez-faire free-for-all in which corporations and short-termism rule. In this world, he writes, “there is no longer a mass movement focused on improving economic outcomes for most Americans. The country’s largest activist groups, on both the left and the right, are focused on other subjects.”
《我们曾有过的辉煌未来》(Ours Was the Shining Future),莱昂哈特的第一本书,试图解释发生了什么。他的观点,我认为是正确的,那就是民主资本主义(定义为“一个政府承认其在引导经济中的关键角色的体系”)自20世纪70年代以来已经给予了无政府干预的自由竞争,其中企业和短期主义占据主导地位。他写道,“不再有一个大规模运动专注于改善大多数美国人的经济成果。国家最大的活动组织,无论是左翼还是右翼,都专注于其他主题。”
How did we get here? In Leonhardt’s analysis, changes to three things — political power, culture and investment — mean that average, working Americans have been left behind. Since the late 1960s, the “old labor” of the New Deal has been hijacked by a new and more entitled “Brahmin left”, increasingly made up of college-educated elites that talk down to workers rather than with them. In a country that fundamentally skews more socially conservative, the Democratic party has also become too radically progressive on social issues such as abortion, immigration and LGBTQ rights.
Because of this, they have lost the electoral votes needed to push through badly needed economic policies such as long-term public investment, as well as more progressive taxation, plus healthcare and educational reform, that would temper rising inequality. Add in a “greed is good” culture of self-interest and global market forces pushing only what’s good for the quarter, and you get a country in decline.
Leonhardt is at his best when he is doing the sort of data-driven analysis of economic and political trends that you might find on a newspaper opinion page. Storytelling is always harder, and authors of ideas books like this one often struggle to find the single personality-driven narrative that can weave together big trends in a way that keeps the reader moving forward. That’s what the truly great non-fiction books manage to do. I’m thinking of something such as David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest, which followed defence secretary Robert McNamara and his “whiz kid” group of policy experts to explain how America lost itself in Vietnam. Ours Was the Shining Future is not that book.
莱昂哈特最擅长的是进行那种你可能在报纸观点版面上看到的基于数据的经济和政治趋势分析。讲故事总是更困难的,而像这本书一样的思想类著作的作者,通常很难找到一个以个人为驱动的叙述,能够将大趋势巧妙地编织在一起,让读者持续前进。这正是真正伟大的非虚构类书籍设法做到的。我想到的是像大卫•哈尔伯斯坦(David Halberstam)的《最聪明的人》(The Best and the Brightest),书中追随了国防部长罗伯特•麦克纳马拉(Robert McNamara)和他的“神童”政策专家团队,揭示了美国在越南是如何迷失自我。《我们曾有过的辉煌未来》并非此类书籍。 
This is not to say that Leonhart fails. Rather than focusing on a single narrative, he tries to isolate the key events that drove the rise and fall of the American dream over 100 years in 10 chapters, many of which could have themselves been standalone book topics. He covers everything from the rise and fall of the industrial labour movement, to the history of progressivism, to the intersection of crime and political turmoil, and of course, the Reagan/Thatcher revolution and all it wrought.
The history of redlining and the institutionalisation of economic racism in the US is fascinating, as is the rise of students and women as bourgeois political forces on the left — African American women, for example, never struggled with the “feminine mystique”, as the writer Betty Friedan dubbed the malaise experienced by some middle-class housewives in the 1960s. They always had to deal with having both kids and jobs.
Much of Leonhardt’s recounting of the Reagan-Thatcher revolution and the rise of big business is predicable. That said, I was surprised and happy to learn that then senator Joe Biden was one of those who in the 1980s questioned the ascent of federal judge Robert Bork, whose rollback of traditional American monopoly policies led to a grotesque concentration of corporate power only now being addressed by president Biden’s antitrust efforts.
莱昂哈特在回顾里根-撒切尔革命和大企业崛起的过程中,大部分都是可以预料的。话虽如此,在了解到上世纪80年代时的参议员乔•拜登(Joe Biden)是那些对联邦法官罗伯特•博克(Robert Bork)的崛起提出质疑的人之一之后,我感到惊讶和高兴。博克对传统的美国垄断政策的回滚,导致了企业权力的过度集中,而这个问题直到现在才被拜登总统的反垄断努力所解决。
What’s fascinating — and far less known — is the way in which Old Labor hastened its own decline. The powerful Teamsters Union, for example, first supported farm workers’ leader Cesar Chavez and his efforts to build a more inclusive labour movement in the 1960s, before deciding to seize power for themselves in a way that only hastened the decline of the industrial labour movement as a whole. The continued fragmentation of the American labour movement has made it harder for unions to increase membership today, even as more and more people claim to support them.
令人着迷但鲜为人知的是传统劳工运动(Old Labor)加速了自己衰败的方式。例如,强大的卡车司机工会(Teamsters Union)最初支持农场工人领袖塞萨尔•查韦斯(Cesar Chavez)在1960年代建立一个更包容的劳工运动的努力,然后为了自身利益而决定夺取权力,这一行为加速了整个工业劳工运动的衰落。美国劳工运动的持续分裂使得工会在当今时代增加会员变得更加困难,尽管越来越多的人声称支持它们。
It’s also interesting to see how much the tragic murders of pivotal figures such as Martin Luther King and Robert F Kennedy, both of whom were able to speak across class and colour lines, made it significantly more difficult to create a liberal coalition that would support all working people. Both King and Kennedy had worked to build a broader based coalition of voters who could counter southern racism, trickle-down economics, and a neoliberal fear (on both sides of the political aisle) of any kind of government intervention to guide the invisible hand to a more just outcome.
有趣的是,我们还可以看到,马丁•路德•金(Martin Luther King)和罗伯特•F•肯尼迪(Robert F Kennedy)等关键人物的悲剧性谋杀,使得建立一个支持所有劳动人民的自由派联盟变得更加困难。金和肯尼迪都曾努力构建一个更广泛的选民联盟,以对抗南方的种族主义、自上而下的经济体系,以及两党对任何政府干预引导无形之手走向更公正结果的新自由主义恐惧。
Their deaths, and the subsequent fragmentation of the New Left into more and more finely divided interest groups, show that the talent of individual leaders can matter as much as demographics when building political power.
他们的死亡以及新左派(New Left)逐渐分裂为越来越细分的利益集团,表明在建立政治力量时,个别领导者的才能与人口统计数据一样重要。
Biden, who keeps a bust of Caesar Chavez in his office and has no fear of industrial policy or wealth redistribution, has tried to rebuild the power of working people. But while the US economy is now doing better than it has in a quarter century by many metrics, the polls don’t yet reflect that reality.
Ours Was the Shining Future ends before Bidenomics begins, although a concluding chapter supports many of the ideas that the White House has since advocated. But the US is still a democracy, and next year, there will be a presidential election. Whether America’s future will again shine may hinge on the outcome.
Ours Was the Shining Future: The Rise and Fall of the American Dream by David Leonhardt Riverrun £30/Random House $32, 528 pages
《我们曾有过的辉煌未来:美国梦的兴衰》大卫•莱昂哈特著,兰登书屋(Random House)出版,售价30英镑/32美元,528页
Rana Foroohar is the FT’s global business correspondent
拉娜•福鲁哈尔(Rana Foroohar)是FT的全球商业记者
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