Recovering the American Dream

The Moral Dimension of Work, Business, and Money by Robert Wuthnow

Robert Wuthnow, a noted professor of religion (Princeton; God and Mammon in America, 1994, etc.), here conducts extensive interviews with Americans to reveal what he sees as a disparity between work, money, and spiritual health.

This  lengthy study of American workers and their relationship with money lacks the spark of Wuthnow’s foster father, Benjamin Franklin, but some of the interviewees raise interesting points. One claims that the difference between a salary of $30,000 and $70,000 is minimal; it’s the move from $12,000 to $30,000 that counts. Another, a wealthy lawyer, assuages his fear of spending too much by compulsively turning out lights.

All of those interviewed complain that they feel distant from family and values. Wuthnow’s main point, which he illustrates with heavy-handed quotes and the story of Franklin, is that a more moral pursuit of money is needed. His theory—that a moral orientation to economics allows a worker a measure of choice—is a good one. The American Dream, he argues, has drifted more into a steady drone of endless work, and only an infusion of values can save it.

However, while Wuthnow quotes a good deal of statistics, it’s not clear why he thinks this amoral trend in the American economy has happened. He gives a number of examples of workers caught by golden handcuffs (they earn a lot, but they spend as much as they earn, so the cycle is endless), with the not-so-subtle implication that it is the lack of moral direction in their job choice that has led them astray, rather than the fact they don’t save any of their earnings. His particular brand of Judeo-Christian morality is hardly a balm to people who simply can’t manage money. Though the book is rather plodding and offers vague philosophy instead of action, it does raise important questions about the internal life of the American worker.

POOR RICHARD’S PRINCIPLERecovering the American Dream Through the Moral Dimension of Work, Business, and Money by Robert Wuthnow (Princeton Univ.  456pp 0-691-02892-3)

 You May Also Like

Rebecca Kurson

Rebecca Kurson writes about literature, pop culture, television, science fiction and music. Her work has appeared in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Observer, The Federalist and Rodale's Organic Life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *