VIDEO: From civil rights to Russia to America’s economy — Hedrick Smith seeks to help “Reclaim the American Dream”

(Watch Smith’s TEDx Talk at Orcas Island (posted April 1, 2015)

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Hedrick Smith’s long journalism career began covering civil rights in the American South,  traversed to dissecting Kremlin policy in Moscow, to producing award-winning documentaries for the Public Broadcasting Service — along with multiple books along the way. Now the Pulitzer Prize-winning octogenerian is off to another frontier — a search for the people, ideas and institutions that might help “reclaim the American Dream.”  

Smith talked about his new quest during a videoconference seminar March 3, 2015 with three Williams College seniors.  They were emerging from their Winter Study research experience at a local initiative called the Rules Change Project.   The effort was arranged through the campus Center for Learning in Action and Rules Change Project organizers are seeking to recruit student volunteers for additional research.  Smith is author of the 2012 bestselling book, “Who Stole the American Dream.” The former Washington bureau chief for The New York Times continues to document America’s epidemic of economic inequality and consider how it might be cured.




“Rules Change and the American Dream: A Dialogue Across Generations,” brought together Smith with Williams seniors Mitch Prevot, Jack Atchue and Tom Cabarle. They gathered for a two-hour talk, discussion and town meeting-style dialogue with the audience. The whole event, featuring Smith “Skyping” from his Washington, D.C.-area home to a large screen in Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall — was video recorded for public use on the web and via WilliNet, Williamstown’s public-access cable service.

From left, Prevot, Atchue and Cabral

From left, Prevot, Atchue and Cabarle

The Rules Change Project is at the intersection of journalism and public policy, according to longtime Williamstown resident and former jounalist and publisher Bill Densmore.  “Our tag line is ‘solutions reporting about capitalism and the common good’,” says Densmore. “Our aim is to spotlight institutions and individuals who are helping to examine — and perhaps change — the relationship between corporations and government, and among corporations and key stakeholders besides stockholders — employees, customers, communities and the envirionment.”

Prevot, Atchue and Cabarle spent January reviewing hundreds of articles and resources collected by Densmore over two years and reflecting aspects of the Rules Change vision.  Each then took on the task of preparing profiles of two people (a total of six among the three of them) they judged to be Rules Change “giraffes” — people and institutions sticking their necks above the crowd to foster analysis an action that will make our participatory democracy more just and open.  In dialogue with Hedrick Smith, they’ll talk about their research, their designated “giraffes,” and how their January research may have affected their own thinking about reinventing the American Dream for the Millenial generation.

For two years since the publication of his book, “Who Stole the American Dream,” Smith has been crosscrossing America talking crowds large and small – in some prestigious locations – and he has gotten an earful of concern from those audiences. He’ll set the scene for the Rules Change challenge – telling us why the public feels powerless. He’ll lhave some suggestions for what to do about it, including 10 steps for reviving the American Dream.  (Water Street Books will also have his book for autographed  sale in the Brooks-Rogers lobby).

In his 1960s-era book, Capitalism and Freedom, and a now-famous 1970 New York Times Magazine essay, the free-market economist Milton Friedman wrote: “There is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use it resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud. Fifty years later, things have changed. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren often speaks about today’s economic “rules of the game” as being “rigged against the little guy.”  Exactly which rules are rigged? And if so, what will it take to change them?

At the same time, legal scholars such as Lynn Stout are revisiting Friedman’s now-assumed dictum, launched by Friedman, that the only purpose of a corporation is the maximize profits. In fact, Stout writes in her book, “The Shareholder Value Myth,” there are equal values at stake – involving customers, employees, communities and the environment.

A chance to be heard – March 3

After Smith’s half-hour talk about what he’s learned from speech audiences, and the discussion with the three seniors,  students and community members in the Brooks-Rogers audience will be asked to speak about their aspirations for the American Dream, about whether the “rules of the game” are rigged (for and by whom), and their ideas for involvement and change.  What is the  state of the American Dream? What does that mean to audience members? And how do we restore it, or reinvent it?

For more information about the evening, or about volunteering to do web-based research and writing for the Rules Change Project, email Bill Densmore at or call 617-448-6600.


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