The Good Life and Its Discontents: The American Dream in the Age of Entitlement, 1945-1995

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Times Books, 1995 - History - 293 pages
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Disputing today's fashionable pessimism, Samuelson argues that the United States has been a huge success since the Second World War, creating unprecedented prosperity and permitting more Americans than ever before to live life as they see fit. Then why is it that so many of us feel so bad? The answer lies in a paradox of our own making: In the early postwar decades, we convinced ourselves that we could solve all social problems and build a society that could virtually ensure universal personal happiness. Inevitably, we became disillusioned - not because we have done so little but because we expected too much. We feel that the country hasn't lived up to its promise, and we are right. But the fault, Samuelson maintains, lies as much with the promise as with the performance. Our current pessimism is a direct reaction to the excessive optimism of the early postwar decades. It stems from the confusion of progress with perfection. Having first convinced ourselves that we were going to create the final American utopia - an extravagant act of optimism - we are now dismayed that we haven't - a burst of unwarranted pessimism. What is consistently missing in public debate is a sense of proportion. We need a clearer understanding of our strengths and shortcomings, because we are ill served by either excessive optimism or excessive pessimism. The first leads to romantic schemes that are doomed to failure, while the second spawns hopelessness and continued paralysis. In The Good Life and Its Discontents, Samuelson shows how we arrived at our current plight. He tells how we proceeded from two immense national tragedies - the Great Depression and the Second World War - to a postwar economic boom that, by its contrasts with the disruptions of the Depression and the war, engendered a psychology of entitlement: a feeling that we had a right to uninterrupted personal and societal progress. It is the confounding of this notion that is now generating our collective disappointment and disorientation, Samuelson writes. In the end, he contends, an ethic of responsibility needs to replace an assumption of entitlement in both politics and personal behavior. Entitlement invites perpetual disappointment. If "better" is the destination, he concludes, then there can be no arrival and there is continual frustration at the endlessness of the journey.

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User Review  - Mtatge - LibraryThing

Excellent book that looks at why Americans feel entitled to so much even after having achieved one of the highest living standards in the world. Read full review

THE GOOD LIFE AND ITS DISCONTENTS: How the American Dream Became a Fantasy, 1945-1995

User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

A journalist's cursory diagnosis of what he believes ails the body politic in the latter-day US. Newsweek and Washington Post columnist Samuelson only amorphously defines the angst, disenchantment ... Read full review


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