45 minutes | May 14, 2021

Doron Taussig, "What We Mean by the American Dream: Stories We Tell about Meritocracy" (Cornell UP, 2021)

Doron Taussig invites us to question the American Dream. Did you earn what you have? Did everyone else? The American Dream is built on the idea that Americans end up, in our working lives, roughly where we deserve to be based on our efforts and abilities—in other words, the United States is supposed to be a meritocracy. When Americans think and talk about our lives, we grapple with this idea, asking how a person got to where he or she is, and whether they earned it. 

In What We Mean by the American Dream: Stories We Tell about Meritocracy (Cornell UP, 2021), Taussig tries to find out how we answer that question. Weaving together interviews with Americans from many walks of life—as well as stories told in American media about prominent figures from politics, sports, and business—What We Mean by the American Dream investigates how Americans think about whether an individual deserves an opportunity, job, termination, paycheck, or fortune. Taussig's frank assessment of the state of the American workforce and its dreams allows him to truly and meaningfully ask the question that underpins so many of our political debates and personal frustrations, did you earn it? By doing so, he sheds new light on what we mean by—and how we can deliver on—the American Dream of today.

Stephen Pimpare is director of the Public Service & Nonprofit Leadership program and Faculty Fellow at the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire.

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