The American Dream – A National Depression
I recently spoke to a young man who despite numerous personal obstacles was graduating high school. He was certainly not the best student, but earning a diploma had always been one of his goals. He would be the first in his dysfunctional family to receive one. I asked him what next – what was his goal – now that he had accomplished this. His response obviously concerned me. “If I’m lucky I’ll get hit by one of those big orange city garbage trucks, sue, win a million dollar law suit and never have to work.”
What has happened to the American dream? I’m reading an excellent book called “Snowball – Warren Buffet and the Business of Life” by Alice Schroeder. When Buffett completed school, “possibly the most prestigious corporate job in the United States was working for *US Steel. Almost every young businessman saw the route to success as working his way up the ladder in a great industrial corporation.”
Schroeder writes “In Eisenhower’s post-war, post-Depression America, job security was all important, and Americans believed that institutions – from the government to large corporations – were essentially benevolent. Finding one’s cell inside the instructional beehive and learning how to fit in was the normal and expected thing to do.”
Nobel Prize winner in Economics, Joseph Stiglitz in his book “The Price of Inequality” talks about “America’s 1 Percent Problem”. “America has been growing apart, at an increasingly rapid rate. The top 1 percent seized more than 65 percent of the gain in total national income. While the top 1 percent was doing fantastically, most Americans were actually growing worse off.”.
Stiglitz says “It is easy to understand the growing insecurity that so many Americans feel. Even the employed know that their jobs are at risk, and that with the high level of unemployment and the low level of social protection, their lives could suddenly take a turn for the worse. The Great Recession thus represented a triple whammy for many Americans: their jobs, their retirement incomes and their homes were all at risk.”
In the American “dream” dead? I think not. I believe “we” are suffering from a great deal more than just a long term economic downturn – we are being held hostage by a serious national depression. Yes, we have damaging economic policies that must be changed, but a lot of where we are is squarely “in” our heads. There is a giant elephant sitting on our back. America does not do “stuck” well. We feel beat up and betrayed. We’ve had the wind knocked out of us. We’re in a kind of mass hypnotic state of self-sabotage fueled by negativity and fear. There is a solution and it’s not complicated.
It has everything to do with the need for BETTER national leadership. We need a focused dynamic coach – a “player” who is going to steer us out of and away from the ditch we’ve been in since the last year of the Bush presidency. This person must be a master of knowing how to bring together severely opposing parties and lead them to consensus. We need a closer, a statesman, an organizer, a cheerleader, a manager, a rainmaker and a super salesperson.
We’ve heard the term Paradigm Shift – a change from one way of thinking to another, a revolution, a transformation a sort of metamorphosis. I’ve personally experienced such a phenomenon. I was on the PATH train that goes from Jersey City into the World Trade Center. This was years before 9/11. The mood of the country was very much like it is now, perhaps worse. Americans were being held hostage by Iran and we tried and miserably failed to rescue them.
Every morning as the train flew on the tracks under the river to Wall St., men and women were silent, embarrassed and disheartened. What happened to America? The same question that is being asked now. As a new president took office and the hostages were released the mood on that train – and all across America – was jubilant. It was if someone had turned on a light switch and we were shocked into a new positive energy. The riders on the train began to talk again – they spoke of hope, renewal, reinvestment and the American dream.
There is little difference between then and now. We need to find that light switch. We need to find a Roosevelt, Knute Rockne, John Wooden, Patton or Norman Schwarzkopf to get us all believing that there still is an American dream. I’m an independent – right now I don’t see ANY of what I’m suggesting in any of the candidates or the two parties. It is sad we don’t more choices. Our candidates are debating the lies and content of their campaign commercials, not serious issues. It will take someone like a Chris Christie, with whom I’m not allied politically, but who seems to possess the courage, backbone and fortitude to move this country in the direction we need.
But, as we all decide, never let anyone tell you the American dream is gone. The 1% will always have their wealth. It is the job of the 99% with their entrepreneurial spirit, talent and creativity to turn the country around and get it back on track. I sincerely hope “we” all choose wisely.
* The American steel industry has been in decline for decades. A victim of intense global competition, greedy unions and advanced technology, steel, along with so many other manufacturing operations (and jobs) was relocated overseas, more likely to be found in Mexico, Korea or India rather than Michigan, Indiana or Pennsylvania. Millions of jobs, both blue and white collar, have permanently disappeared. What remains in the dust of what once was the mighty and influential American industrial machine is now a diverse offering of service, health and tech related business.