Monday, April 18, 2011

Death of the American Dream

There was a time a generation ago when I could, through hard work and ingenuity, change my fortune and find a piece of the American Dream. Now that dream is in its death throes.

Every day I am bombarded by images of the affluent life. Pro athletes, reality shows featuring rich people, get rich quick schemes, and nonstop commercialism reminding me to "buy this," "vacation there," and "use that." The good life is what I am told to seek. Who has the good life? Do you? I know I don't. In a paper titled, "Wealth, Income, and Power" G. William Domhoff, Professor of Sociology at UCSC, talks about who has a hold on the good life.
"In terms of types of financial wealth, the top one percent of households have 38.3% of all privately held stock, 60.6% of financial securities, and 62.4% of business equity. The top 10% have 80% to 90% of stocks, bonds, trust funds, and business equity, and over 75% of non-home real estate. Since financial wealth is what counts as far as the control of income-producing assets, we can say that just 10% of the people own the United States of America."

10% of Americans hold essentially all of the wealth. Worse than all of that, the top 1% of income earners, who average over $1 million a year, actually pay a smaller percentage of their incomes to taxes than the 9% just below them. In the same paper Domhoff goes on to cite E. N. Wolff's 2007 paper, "Recent trends in household wealth in the United States: Rising debt and the middle-class squeeze."
"Of all the new financial wealth created by the American economy in that 21-year-period, fully 42% of it went to the top 1%. A whopping 94% went to the top 20%, which of course means that the bottom 80% received only 6% of all the new financial wealth generated in the United States during the '80s, '90s, and early 2000s.

How can this happen? Isn't this a government by the people, for the people? In a world where money is power, how can so few hold all of the power? Distraction, distraction, distraction. I've spent so much of my time following the dangled carrot that the glorification of the "good life" creates, I've never stopped to examine why I don't have my piece of the good life. I slave at horrible jobs, do demeaning things, and fight for the crumbs falling from the tables of the high and mighty. Generation X, my generation, will be the first in American history to fail to improve on the quality of life of the previous generation. I, like many other of Generation X, am lucky to keep a roof over my head and food on my table. The educational system is abysmal, preventing an upward mobility afforded previous generations. Many around me believe whatever nonsense fits their world view without checking facts and then attempt to foist their flawed views on society, incapable of being swayed by logic or reason. Fear mongers beat down my door with talk of the end approaching, all while setting in motion the very harbingers they prophesy against.

I know I am not alone in this. How can people like me recover the American Dream? Is it recoverable at all? We must start by speaking up. Start by boycotting companies where CEO salaries are not reasonable, such as banks that paid bonuses to the very CEO's that drove them into the ground. We have to speak out to anyone who will listen about the truth of how little of the tax burden the rich actually bear. We must write our Senators and Congresspersons to the point their boxes are full. Let them know they were elected to represent all Americans, not just the top 1%. Where possible we must stop working for corporations and instead go to work for small businesses or start new business. We must lobby for legislation enforcing salary caps for companies bailed out by our tax dollars. We have to elect officials who will look out for the American people, and, lacking any of those, run for congress. It is time to take back our nation. Let the revolution begin here.

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