The Jaker

Mostly rational politics, with occasional rants about how a few crazy Republicans are ruining the country.

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Tuesday, February 01, 2005
Is the American Dream over?
Thanks to my friend Jessica for sending me this fascinating article from Newsweek. If you print-and-read one article this week, I'd recommend this one. It discusses how the American Dream is getting away from us, or at the very least, is misguided. [Continuing the discussion I referenced in a November post]. Our Constitution, written 200+ years ago, is no longer seen as the model for developing countries, who instead look to the "European Model" of democracy with an understanding of an obligation to provide "adequate social welfare as a basic right".

The American Dream has always been chiefly economic...

[Europeans] certainly they would never put up with the lack of social protections afforded in the American system. Europeans are aware that their systems provide better primary education, more job security and a more generous social net. They are willing to pay higher taxes and submit to regulation in order to bolster their quality of life. Americans work far longer hours than Europeans do, for instance. But they are not necessarily more productive—nor happier, buried as they are in household debt, without the time (or money) available to Europeans for vacation and international travel. George Monbiot, a British public intellectual, speaks for many when he says, "The American model has become an American nightmare rather than an American dream."

Many people use the economic productivity argument, citing the tradeoff between economic growth and a government-provided social safety net. Clearly, the two are not mutually exclusive. Finland and Sweden, two of the most socially-conscious countries, are among the world's most robust economies. In fact Britain continues to move closer to the European Model than the American one, for good reason...
The inspiration, says Giddens, comes not from America, but from social-democratic Sweden, where universal child care, education and health care have been proved to increase social mobility, opportunity and, ultimately, economic productivity.

Social mobility is an American problem that even Republicans recognize has gotten out of hand. With the increasing inequality in American society it's gotten harder to break out of the economic class you were born into. And that's fundamentally contradictory to the economic American Dream. Perhaps we should coin the Swedish Dream?

"In Sweden, you are three times more likely to rise out of the economic class into which you were born than you are in the U.S."

One problem, I believe, is that many Americans are far too scared of change. Sensible progressive ideas are held back by conservatives who are too nostalgic about the way things were, including the likes of Antonin Scalia who believe the Constitution to be some kind of magical document. We are too beholden to our history. As a wise, Amherst-educated executive once said about business "You innovate or die". I think the same is true in society as a whole. We have to adapt. Which is why you see today's developing democracies surveying the landscape and finding better models than the U.S., which has clearly been left behind.

the United States is the only developed democracy without a universal guarantee of health care

We're also the only western democracy with the death penalty, but that's another post. People counter with talk of long waits in Britain. The U.S. system is clearly better for the non-poor who can afford it, right? Wrong
the World Health Organization rates the U.S. healthcare system only 37th best in the world, behind Colombia (22nd) and Saudi Arabia (26th), and on a par with Cuba.

You can even attribute some of the fiscal problems the country is having to this perception - the article even talks about people more interested in European culture and buying European products than in the past. That's definitely not going to help the trade deficit, and indeed if severe could push the U.S. economy into crisis. It also doesn't help that we're seen as war-mongers.

The article saddens me. My family moved to the U.S. from Europe in 1987 precisely because of the opportunity America promised. And while I can't live a parallel life in Ireland and compare, I've clearly benefitted from American education and business opportunities. Perhaps it's left-over European idealism, but I can't help but feel like we're missing out on a progressive global change in this country, and soon we'll find ourselves way behind, with rich Republicans still talking about teaching creationism in grade school while millions suffer through a poverty they could do nothing to prevent.
posted by CB @ 5:57 PM  
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