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America: The Best Country in the World at Being Last -- How Can We Change That?

The data is piling up to confirm that we’re Number One, but in exactly the way we don’t want to be—at the bottom. Where did we go wrong and what can we do about it?

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In the end it all comes down to the American people and the strong possibility that we still have it in us to use our freedom and our democracy in powerful ways to create something fine, a reborn America, for our children and grandchildren. We can realize a new American Dream if enough of us join together in the fight for it. This new dream envisions an America where the pursuit of happiness is sought not in more getting and spending, but in the growth of human solidarity, real democracy, and devotion to the public good; where the average American is empowered to achieve his or her human potential; where the benefits of economic activity are widely and equitably shared; where the environment is sustained for current and future generations; and where the virtues of simple living, community self-reliance, good fellowship, and respect for nature predominate. These American traditions may not prevail today, but they are not dead. They await us, and indeed they are today being awakened across this great land. New ways of living and working, sharing and caring are emerging across America. They beckon us with a new American Dream, one rebuilt from the best of the old, drawing on the best of who we were and are and can be.

James Gustave Speth teaches at Vermont Law School. He is an American environmental lawyer, advocate, and author. His article in this issue, the first of a two-part series, is based on his forthcoming book from Yale University Press, America the Possible: Roadmap to a New Economy.