…To some, this dismal outlook is either inevitable, or even positive, as Americans shift from their historically “expansive” view and embrace a more modest déclassé future. Rather than seek new worlds to conquer, or even hope to retain the accomplishments of prior generations, contemporary young Americans seem destined to confront a world stamped by ever narrowing opportunity, class distinction, and societal stagnation. Once a nation of competitive omnivores and carnivores, America could be turning more docile—a country of content, grazing herbivores….
…This devolved future is widely embraced by both left and right. Libertarian-leaning economist Tyler Cowen identifies a permanent upper class, essentially those who command machines and particularly the software that runs them, while the masses, something like 85 percent of the population, need to adjust to lower living standards, and a diet made up largely of beans and rice….
…The real issue here is not the declining validity of American aspiration, but overcoming the economic, political and social factors that threaten to suffocate it. Similar challenges—the concentration of wealth of the Gilded Age, the Great Depression, war, and environmental angst—have periodically appeared and were eventually addressed through technological innovation, and critical political and social changes. Rather than accept the shrinkage of the American prospect, we should seek ways to restore it for those who will inherit this republic….