Jan 062013

I don’t know if the American Dream ever came true. I suppose it did, and maybe it still does sometimes for some chosen few, but regardless of whether it did or does, it is an enormously mighty instrument to keep up the central fiction of the ruling class, namely that their rule is due to merits.

The canonical version of the Dream is that, given enough effort and a bit of luck (but decidedly more effort than luck), everybody can make it from dishwasher to millionaire.

That’s not true. Dishwashers likely stay dishwashers and millionaires even more likely stay millionaires, but in order to keep it that way, it is important that everybody believes in the dream.

Didn’t make it? Bad luck, Buddy, you obviously didn’t try hard enough! And by trying hard and harder, people always work against each other, never in their common interest.

The American Dream also makes it possible to blame the victims. It gives an excuse to anybody who refuses to help the needy. This is something we hear so often: “Why should I give money to someone who chooses to be in that situation?”, even although people rarely choose to be miserable and dependent on mercy. The Dream explains it all: they deserve their fate, because they have not worked hard enough.

Hmm … I guess it’s time for the mandatory George Carlin now 🙂

The Song of the Day is “American Dream” from Marcia Ball’s 1997 album “Let Me Play With Your Poodle”. Hear it on YouTube.

  16 Responses to “2273 – The American Dream”

  1. Thanks for the George Carlin link. Hmm, now I have to get down from my cynicism level again for the day…

  2. You’ve hit the nail on the head, Andreas. The 1% of Americans who are millionaires and billionaires have sold this crap to roughly half of the rest of the country. That’s how the politicians who answer to these folks keep getting elected. They’ve been convinced that someday they’ll be in that elite group of “haves”. They won’t, of course, unless they win the lottery or something.

    And the 1% aren’t interested in job creation or deficit reduction or much of anything else. All they care about is (1) a smaller government and (2) protecting their own financial interests. That’s it. All they need to do is keep selling the fairy tales………..

    • In this respect the Dream is the “democratic” equivalent of the “god-given” rule of the old monarchs: “I own you, but that’s only because I’ve worked so hard. Work harder and one day …”

      Neat 😀

    • I just don’t get it, Paul. What is it with this covetous obsession with the so-called 1%? The 1% that pays about 25% of the federal tax burden, yet, you want to vilify them and make them pay more and more and more. What right do you have to someone else’s earnings?

      • It’s statistics. Plain statistics. Look at the share that the 1% own, look at what the bottom 50% have, put them into relation, plot over time. Plain simple. What you get is a gap that widens, a middle class that more and more struggles, and then you can begin to ask one simple question: WHY?

        • My response would be, why not? You have producers and consumers. You have job providers and workers. If a worker agrees to work for a given wage, all is fair. Why should he/she get more than they bargained for. Further, if a given worker should decide to go it on his own, make more money, take more risks, why is it that those who don’t want to take that risk should have the right and ability to take what someone else has. I just see no sense in it whatsoever. Some might look at it as altruism, I look at it as envy and coveting. Period.

          • Because the game is severely rigged. Take high frequency trading. It’s a game open only to the richest of the rich, but it is extremely destabilizing, especially given how big its share of overall trade has become.

            From Wikipedia: In the United States, high-frequency trading firms represent 2% of the approximately 20,000 firms operating today, but account for 73% of all equity orders volume (Aite Group Survey)

            What this really means is, that a few super-rich are siphoning everybody’s profits off exactly without hard work and by spreading the risk to everyone. Their profit, our risk. And if it does not work? Well, they let you bail them out. That’s what happened during the last years.

            I’m not against hard working people like you getting their share and being proud of it. That’s totally OK, I work for my money myself.

            I’m against excesses. I see a problem with the tricksters when it’s also the tricksters who have the money to pay for laws that suit them. Again, the system is rigged.

            High frequency trading at best works like a mild tax flowing into the pockets of the rich. At worst it puts hard working people out of jobs – for no fault of themselves.

            Given the danger to the general public, one would expect the government to step in, just like they do when they regulate car traffic with speed limits. They don’t do it though.

            It would be very easy: just tax transactions. Make the tax so small that it does not harm normal business, but big enough that it makes HFT unprofitable. Problem solved! Some people who don’t work for their money have to go back to doing real work, 99.9999% gain a more stable and secure world.

            Does not happen though. Wall Street pays corrupt politicians to make it not happen and therefore it does not happen, regardless how much sense it would make and how safe it would be.

            Again, it’s not about me trying to steal your iPhone, it’s about bankers risking your job, and you not being able to do anything about it. Sure, you can work hard and find another one, as long as they don’t decide to produce their goods in China and their software in India instead.

  3. Sorry, Andreas, but what a bunch of anti-American sentiment that is. From my point of view, as an American who has worked hard, despite prejudice, racism, and other manner of social ills to have some manner of success, I find this rather offensive; however, you are entitled to your own opinion, for sure. But, it is an opinion, probably based on news reports, etc, of what you believe America to be about. Not to worry, soon it will be bankrupt like Europe as more and more people start to ride on that “gravy train” that “the rich” are supposed to pay for. I’m not rich, but neither am I exactly poor. I made decisions to go to school and keep the straight and narrow. I lived in the “hood”, watched friends get hooked on drugs, and go to jail, so I didn’t grow up in a rich, or even middle class neighborhood.

    I believe in helping those in need, but also believe in earning your keep and that there will always be strata and that socialism/communism does nothing to help people, only hinders them. I know several people who are milking the system and it is disgusting, especially with the assistance and opportunities available to those who want to work for it.

    Also, for everything to be well, who says that you have to be a millionaire?

    • It’s not anti-American at all. That’s only what the title suggests. The Americans of today are the Brits of a hundred years ago, the Romans or whoever ruled the Empire.

      I try to look at things on an impersonal level, abstract, and I try to see patterns. That’s all. No offense implied or intended.

      My ramblings are not in any way complete either. I have looked at one side and I really concentrate on that side now. I strongly feel that we (as a people/species/society) are in a dead end and I think we need to look at alternatives.

      To discuss communism with Americans, and I really beg you to not take offence either, is pretty hard. For our good old friend Ted Byrne the Nazis were a socialist bunch, not much different from the Soviets. I understand his view (and there is something to be learned from it), but looking at history, at Hitler’s supporters in big industry, tells me a different story. Americans are obsessed with an idea of total freedom (that they themselves don’t live any more), and every kind of control by the state smells communist to them. But then, your effort to get to the moon would have gone nowhere if left to the forces of the market. You wouldn’t have won WWII with nothing but the power of the free market. Your corporations would have invested in Japan instead 😀

      Don’t get me started on FDR. Roosevelt is an arch-communist in your value system of today. Even Eisenhower is left of Clinton. Nixon wouldn’t make it into the primaries and Reagan wouldn’t have a chance getting elected. Calling Obama a socialist is a dirty joke.

      I don’t know what exactly Communism is. I know that it never existed and I am not sure if it ever can, if not human nature is too much against it. I know what it was meant to be and I intend to look at it, to find out what went wrong and why.

      How can I do that? Better people than I have failed!

      But then, I have the incredible power of hindsight. Everything is complicated when you are in the middle of it. Looking at it long after the fact might clarify things a lot.

      Yes, there will always be strata, and the long history of socialism (as completely opposed to communism in its external form) took that into account. Socialism, that’s what happened in Scandinavia, not in Russia, at least not in our diction. Even there some things went wrong, but overall Europe’s northern countries are far better off than most of the world. It is not a black and white world. That’s only what the Republicans preach.

      Educational levels in Scandinavia are consistently higher than in the rest of Europe and I believe in the US as well. Giving education for free and to all did not hinder anybody there.

      I am pretty certain that pure capitalism is not able to take a straight path to a better world. Its goals may sometimes coincide with the interests of the people, but in general it is just interested in perpetuating itself. In order to achieve great things (and to improve life for the general public is a great thing), you need some kind of overarching coordination, some purpose that is more than the will to amass money. Private enterprises can’t and won’t do that.

      The reason why so many well-meant efforts have failed is the same reason why capitalism flourishes. It’s not a general superiority of capitalism but a basic human fault, the way in which we all are prone to corruption.

      And as always I can only recommend Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Disposessed”. It’s what I always call the “Doctor Zhivago” of science fiction, a very political book, a book with a very balanced view of political systems, a book that could not be written today. It’s kind of socialism on their moon and it’s definitely hard capitalism on their earth. Both have their faults and there may be something in between.

      I am convinced that a goal is not discredited only because one effort to reach it has failed.

      • During the recent presidential election, I was curious, so I read Marx’s Communist Manifesto and found it, as you guessed, appalling. The huge fault that I see with Communism is in that it completely removes any will of anyone to do better. There is no point in doing better. There is no point in excelling. It’s very similar to the unions. Just do your time. Collect your money.

        This whole idea of class warfare, us against them, the rich against the poor, the widening gap of rich/poor is, I believe, nothing but “spin” put forth by those who are not well meaning, simply envious.

        Do I think a completely market based economy, pure capitalism, similar to what Ayn Rand spoke of in her book, will work? Probably, for a while, but in the end, some governmental agency would need to step in and take control, which is why we have government oversight, anti-monopoly legislation, etc, to try to keep the market somewhat free, but prevented from taking too much advantage of the individual.

        Andreas, certainly, you and I were raised in different cultures. I was raised to get an education, work hard/ work smart, manage my money, and be accountable for the choices that I made. This, too, is how I raised my children. Were we communists, from what I understand, there would be no point in this. They’d get something for nothing as part of the collective; however, as long as money is involved, who’s there to earn it? There’s no one to give a crap.

        If you want to talk about corruption, all you need to do is look at the various communist regimes that tried to survive and you’ll find a very small percentage that were exceptionally rich, while the masses were exceptionally poor. At least with capitalism, everyone, and I mean everyone, has the opportunity to do better.

  4. Ahh well Andreas me old mate, lets crack a bottle of red and wonder what could have been if only we had worked harder and drunk less.

  5. […] my, with my last post I have obviously tripped right into a wasps nest. OK, I should have known, writing about reading […]

  6. […] no intention to talk about communism or marxism today. It’s not that I feel defeated (you won’t win that easily Paul Lester!), it’s just that I have nothing new that I could say. Give me some time […]

  7. Why must most of US-Americans – like Paul – always act as missonaries of their philosophy of living and the aggresive kind of (turbo-)capitaslism, not recognizing, that there also other acceptable ways for wealth and freedom? Most US-Americans, speaking about the so called socialism in todays Europe – and call it then “communism” – have no idea, what they are talking about.

    • Well, Franz, I didn’t come to this site waving a flag. I was merely offering a counterpoint, an opinion to what Andreas said. I was not representing the US as a whole, or in part, merely my opinion based on my life, how I was raised and what I believe. For as many people on earth as there are, there are that many ways to live. If you go back and read what I said, instead of what you think that I said, at no point did I call it communism.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.