What Ever Happened to the American Dream?

The Statue of Liberty front shot, on Liberty I...

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This week I tried to focus on the news coming out of Iowa with the first Republican caucus, which Mit Romney won by a narrow margin. I commented in a blog that I struggle to understand the policies of both the Republican and Democratic Parties. This Summer I was totally stunned by the crisis between the  Obama administration, and the Republican and Democratic  parties over funding – to me it seemed that narrow political self-interest and brinkmanship was holding the World to ransom.

After the Summer, I watched on as the Euro crisis deepened, often at the instigation of US managed Hedge Funds and US investment banks speculating in favour of the Euro’s collapse – all of this was driven by an apparent frenzy of analysis from US owned credit agencies.

Recently, I have been reflecting on my own personal experiences with America and individual American people. For me, American people have always been warm, friendly and hospitable.

The title of this blog is “What Ever Happened to the American Dream?” I was born in the UK, just after the Second World War, and belong to the baby boomer generation. Generally speaking, opportunities and success were available to my generation with hard work, a sound education and an agreeable personality – it was vastly different to the global crises facing today’s youth. Anyway, from an early age, I had been an admirer of America, its people and society. For many years I had been fascinated by the concept of the American Dream. In my early life, I genuinely believed that there was greater opportunity in America, compared to say the major European countries that were more elitist.

Probably the best definition of the American Dream was provided by James Truslow Adams in 1931:

Life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.

The American Dream as an ethos has been popularized by a large number novels, films, in the theatre, music and across the arts, plus of course, the US media. The American Dream motivated waves of immigrants to America and provided inspiration to their wider families living in the Old-World often experiencing economic, social and political deprivation.  

My best personal illustration of the American Dream is in 2003 when I stopped in Los Angeles for a few days en route to Australia accompanied by my wife. Despite spending much of my early career working for US multi-nationals, it had been nearly twenty years since I had last set foot in America. Returning to Los Angeles, where I had family on my father’s side was an exciting experience (my cousins had emigrated from the UK in the 1950s, arrived first in New York, crossed America by car, and settled in California) . We took a taxi from the airport and I got into a conversation with my Russian taxi-driver and asked him about life in America. He replied:

Life was really hard for me and my family in Russia, so I was really happy to come to America. Please understand for me as a taxi driver life is still very difficult and I have to work very long hours but next year my daughter will qualify as a doctor….

Unfortunately, the American Dream was increasingly financed by ever-increasing personal debt to pay for homes, cars, education and a materialist life style. In 2008, the bubble burst and left many in debt with no assets and the economic crisis has resulted in millions without work or the likelihood of work. Major US employers argue that the unemployed do not have the right skills and they are either importing foreign skilled labour or exporting the jobs by way of outsourcing or offshoring.

As an observer, the US seems to have lost faith in the American Dream and its society seems to be dangerously divided between two political polar extremes. This has resulted in two opposing views of society described by Nancy Folbre in the New York Times as the Overclass Vs. the Underclass.

I am not a political analyst but I hope that the next US President will regain the middle ground and restore faith in the American Dream.