And culture is no different. As a result, the blame game begins. The educated kids who had taken the time and money to earn degrees in lemonade squeezing and street vending looked at the kids without credentials as weak-minded and inferior simpletons who brought their misfortune upon themselves. The hardworking kids who started with nothing looked at the more fortunate kids who were handed their first lemonade jobs and blamed them for being entitled and unprepared for setbacks.
Soon, the neighborhood turned in upon itself and began to devour itself. Battle lines were drawn. Factions that were political and extreme and fervent and contradictory. Yet the underlying assumption remained. The world changed, but the assumption remained. Since the beginning, Americans 2 have always seen themselves as exceptional.
In no other time in world history has a group of relatively well-educated and industrious people been essentially handed a sparsely-populated continent replete with natural resources, wreathed by two vast oceans on each side protecting it from any potential invaders. Yes, for the first years of its history, the US was the lemonade stand where more and more customers magically showed up.
Whereas civilizations in Europe and Asia grew, peaked, and died many times over, the people of the US never had to deal with such limiting factors. Economic opportunity and progress appeared to be god given — such a constant that generations of people came and went without knowing life without it. Unlimited Land — From the very beginning, the US enjoyed a constant state of expansion.
Cheap and fertile farmland was always plentiful. And natural resources appeared to be endless, with massive reserves of oil, coal, timber, and precious metals that are still being discovered today. Unlimited Cheap Labor — The vast majority of the United States has remained sparsely populated throughout its history. In fact, it was a real concern of the founding fathers and they believed they needed to attract a steady flow of immigrants from all over the world to develop a robust and self-sustaining economy.
To do so, they created a democratic system that promoted entrepreneurialism and attracted talent. This generated an endless influx of cheap, industrious labor that still continues to this day. Unlimited Innovation — Perhaps the one thing the US system got right more than anything else is that it is set up to reward ingenuity and innovation. As such, many of the great technological advances in the last few centuries came from brilliant immigrants that the US attracted to its soil.
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Geographic Isolation — Civilizations in Europe and Asia were invaded, conquered, invaded again, conquered again, back and forth with the tides of history wiping cultures and peoples from the map over and over again. Each time, the destruction set society back, forcing them to reconsider themselves as they rebuilt. But not the United States. It was just too bloody far away. As a result, the US developed a sense of being isolated from the world. Americans take this for granted. But its effect cannot be overstated.
As recently as a couple decades ago, much of Europe feared an imminent invasion from the east. Hell, some European countries still fear that invasion. The American Dream is simple: No bout of bad luck. All one needs is a steady dosage of grit and ass-grinding hard work. And you too can own a McMansion with a three-car garage… you lazy sack of shit. And in a country with constantly increasing lemonade customers, endlessly expanding land ownership, endlessly expanding labor pool, endlessly expanding innovation, this was true. But the truth is that the deteriorating forces have been at work within the country for decades.
By almost every major statistical measurement, the average American is worse off than they were a generation ago.
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Generally speaking, Americans today, especially young Americans, are the most educated and productive generation in US history:. This is for the simple reason that there are no jobs, especially middle-class jobs. Where did we go wrong or did we even go wrong? Who can we blame in angry Twitter rants or at cocktail parties?
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Fact is, we ran out of land around So we conquered Cuba and the Philippines and like, Guam, and stuff. But after the World Wars happened we realized something the English never did: We called it a global hegemony, and it was basically like this low-level form of extortion of the third world: Dozens of markets around the globe opened up to us, and in return, we promised that our military would protect them from communism. But that too has dried up. Or at least not as much as they used to be.
In fact, some of them may soon become our competitors. No More Cheap Labor. Yeah, that all got outsourced. This may be the biggest and scariest one of all. Yeah, the whole world is going to be like that soon. Even taxi cabs and truck drivers. With no opportunity for those jobs to ever come back. This is also largely responsible for the manufacturing sector getting hosed.
Despite what Trump may yammer on about, US manufacturing output has doubled in the past 30 years and is still the biggest sector in the US economy. You know, robots and shit. The customers have stopped coming. The market is contracting. The easy money for anybody who wanted it is now gone. The sad truth is that fewer people today are getting ahead than before. In fact, economic mobility is lower in the US than almost every other developed country, and somewhere on par with Slovenia and Chile — not exactly the gold standards of economic opportunity in the world no offense to my Slovenian and Chilean readers.
And other Anglo countries such as Australia and Canada have far more economic mobility, as well as those icky socialist countries like Denmark, Sweden, and Finland. But when the tides turn, and those opportunities are simply no longer there, well, these same beliefs become quite dangerous and even destructive. The American Dream causes people to believe that people always get what they deserve. Bad stuff rarely if ever happens to good people and vice-versa. There are a couple problems with the Just World Hypothesis though: All of us get fucked at some point in our life in a very major way.
We all understand that on some level. But the labor market is at an all-time low. Real wages have been stagnating for 50 years straight. The lemonade customers have stopped coming, and that changes everything. Because it means people can work just as hard as they did before or even harder and end up in a worse place. Yeah, chances are, he already has one. The American Dream causes us to believe that people are only worth what they achieve. If everybody gets what they deserve, then we should treat people based on what happens to them. Therefore, success makes you into some kind of saint, a role model that everyone else should follow.
Failure turns you into a pariah, an example of what everyone else should try not to be. The unspoken assumption is that if they were so great, where the hell is their money to take care of themselves? A rising tide raises all ships, as they say.
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Bad things do happen to good people. We all screw up and make mistakes. Each of us suffers from some vice or tick or failure. The American Dream indirectly encourages people to feel justified in exploiting others. A couple years ago, a friend of mine was accused of a serious crime that he did not commit. He hired a lawyer, went to court, and was found not guilty.
The American Dream Is Killing Us
After consulting his lawyer, the lawyer said that this was basically just a scare tactic, probably an automated letter, designed to scare people into paying a settlement rather than going back to court again. So think about this a second. Last year the same pollsters found a slim majority defining getting ahead as simply "not falling behind". This lack of confidence in the ability to get ahead is twinned with almost total despair that the political class has neither the means nor the will to reverse the trend.
A Pew poll this month showed that they believed the government policies since the recession had helped the rich, banks and corporations and done nothing for the poor, the middle class or small businesses. They are right to be sceptical. With the budget battle and raising the debt limit looming, the narrative will once again be that America's deadlocked political culture is crippling its economy. It's true that it certainly doesn't help. But it has done far more damage when its components have worked together.
For the root causes of this decline are not difficult to fathom. Both parties supported the financial deregulation and international trade liberalisation that laid the foundations for this despondency. Each blames the other for its consequences. Neither is capable of doing anything about it because the very monied interests that made this situation possible also make the politicians. Little of this is unique to the US. The main countries within the European Union, including Britain, are suffering from wage stagnation, creating a squeezed middle class.
The retraction has not been taking place as long as it has in the US, but has been on the same trajectory for quite some time. But there are two key differences. The Germans, British and French were not raised with a guiding myth that is being contradicted at the end of every month when families routinely find they can't meet their expenses. Second, most European nations do have a welfare state at least for now that contends with the fallout.
Those who look to America as a trendsetter that maps our future should be careful what they wish for. The self-proclaimed leader of the free world is turning into a low-wage economy with a class system more rigid than most and a middle class that wavers between poverty and precariousness.
More than half the people using the food bank in Larimer County, Colorado, that I visited last year were working. More than one in four families in New York's homeless shelters includes at least one working adult. In the absence of a living wage and an ethical pay structure, the work ethic, on which the American dream is founded, doesn't work. Its multilingual script alarmed conservatives already losing their battle to preserve an America that never existed. My ideology tells me to tear it all down. Yet, like everyone else, I'm sucked into a system that offers a mirage of self-improvement.
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