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The American Dream Is Dead
Obama Killed It
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“The U.S. worked hard to create the American dream of opportunity. But today, that dream is a myth.”

Economist Joseph Stiglitz, Financial Times

If you follow the financial news, you already know that the American people are on an epic downer. Just check out some of these headlines I pulled up in a five minute Internet search and you’ll see what I mean:

“Gloom and doom? Americans more pessimistic about future” Las Vegas Review

“U.S. Standard of Living Index Sinks to 10-Month Low; Expectations for future standard of living drops more than current satisfaction” Gallup

“Americans Still Pessimistic About Economy–Almost 70 percent think the economy is in bad shape” Time Magazine

‘Slipping behind’: Are we becoming a nation of pessimists?” NBC News

Income Inequality in the United States Fuels Pessimism and Threatens Social Cohesion” Center for American Progress.

And here’s my personal favorite:

“NBC/WSJ poll: 60 percent say fire every member of Congress” NBC News

Pessimism, pessimism, and more pessimism. It’s like the whole country is on the brink of despair. Maybe Phil Graham was right, after all. Maybe we are just a nation of whiners. But I kind of doubt it. What’s really going on can be summed up in one word: Frustration. People are frustrated with the government, frustrated with their jobs, frustrated with their shitty, stagnant wages, frustrated with their droopy incomes, frustrated with their ripoff health care, frustrated with living paycheck to paycheck, frustrated with their measly cat-food retirement plan, frustrated with their dissembling, flannel-mouth president, frustrated with the fact that their kids can’t find jobs, and frustrated with the prevaricating US media that keeps palavering about that delusional chimera called the American Dream.

What dream? The dream that America is the land of “land of opportunity”?

Tell that to the 23-year old college grad who’s stuck delivering pizzas to try to put a dent in the \$65,000 tab he ran up getting his Masters in engineering. See how much he believes in the Dream.

All that stuff about “working hard and playing by the rules” has turned out to be pure bunkum, just like the “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” horsecrap or the “owning a home enters one into the middle class” thing. What a freaking joke. 6 million people have been booted out of their homes since the bubble burst, and the Pollyannas on TV still drone on about “owning a home”. Get the gun!

No one’s buying that garbage anymore. Just like no one believes that our economic system is “a level playing field”, or that our kids will have a better standard of living then our own, or that tomorrow will be better than today. Every one of those “shining city on a hill” promises have turned out to be complete hogwash. The only city on a hill you’re going to find in the US, is the privately-owned gulag where petty drug offenders are locked up for life so some chiseling hedge fund manager can report record profits to his shareholders. There’s your shining city in a nutshell.

The American people aren’t whiners. They’re just tired of the lies, that’s all. Look; the country was in the throes of the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression, but the American people rallied, right? They came out by the millions to vote for the dazzling young senator from Chicago who was going to change everything and restore America to its formal glory.

So much for that fairytale. Can you really blame the people for believing the hype and pegging their hopes on a man who never had any intention of keeping his word?

No, of course not. The people did what was expected of them. They cast their vote thinking that their vote mattered, thinking they could change the system if a solid majority supported it. But they were hoodwinked, right? Because that’s not the way the system really works. In fact, the system doesn’t really work at all. Power is just handed from one group of scheming elites to the next behind the laughable, public relations charade we call political campaigns. The whole process is designed to pull the wool over people’s eyes, and to avoid the possibility of any real change. Isn’t that how it works?

So now we’re stuck with candidate Tweedledee and everything keeps getting worse. Unemployment is deliberately kept high so big business has a permanently large pool of desperate workers it can hire for a pittance. All the profits from productivity-gains are carved up by moneybags CEOs or divvied up among shareholders instead of going to working people. And the banks are given money at zero rates so they can roll over their gargantuan pile of toxic loans at no cost to themselves or increase the leverage on their illicit hedging operations which they keep off their balance sheets and away from the prying eyes of government regulators. The entire system is rigged from top to bottom to make sure that no one who isn’t part of the inner circle is ever able to lift himself above his present, clock-punching, mind-numbing, 9 to 5 drudgery.

And now things are suddenly getting worse. And they’re getting worse because the fatcats who run the system think that working people have had it too easy for too long and they want to tighten things up. They want to trim the deficits, dismantle vital social programs, and slash the unemployment rolls. As one Paul Ryan opined, “We don’t want the safetynet to become a hammock.” Indeed. Workers, you see, have had it too cushy up to now, so Obama ‘s going to change all that.

The American people know what’s going on. They’re not as dumb as the jowly, stuffed-shirt pundits on CNBC and Bloomberg think. They can see beyond the lies and political bloviating. They know their goose is cooked. That’s why they’re so depressed, because they feel powerless. Pessimistic, frustrated and powerless. And for good reason. Take a look at this from Farai Chideya at Huffington Post:

“According to the Pew Research Center, in the first two years following the Great Recession, 93 percent of Americans lost net worth. Only 7 percent got wealthier. Forty-three percent of those sampled in a nationally-weighted survey I recently commissioned believe this is a permanent trend…

I ran the 2500-respondent query as part of an ongoing book project charting how America’s workers are faring, and (found) that nearly 35% of respondents said they had spent retirement or personal savings to supplement their wages. Twenty percent relied only on personal savings; four percent on retirement savings, like an early withdrawal from an IRA or 401k, and eleven percent spent both…

Even more arresting: 21 percent of those I surveyed agreed with the statement “In 2013, I borrowed money from friends or family specifically in order to pay household, medical or credit card bills.” (“Working on Empty: America’s Workers Are Spending Down Savings to Survive,” Huffington Post)

You’ve heard it all before. People are draining their savings just to make ends meet day to day. And what choice do they have? It’s not like they can just up-and-quit and get a better job down the street. There are no jobs! And the few jobs that are available, don’t pay a living wage. So they’re stuck. Everybody’s stuck. And you wonder why people are so glum about the future? It’s because America has changed, and not for the better.

Did you know that nearly 80 percent of the people who were questioned in a recent LearnVest and Chase Blueprint survey said the American dream involved owning a home?

Unfortunately, a mere 43 percent of those respondents said they think “achieving the American dream in this economy is possible.”

43 percent! Less than half the people believe the ideological gobbledygook we’ve been spoon-fed from Day 1. That’s got to mean something, right? It means more people are giving up, they’re throwing in the towel. Why? Because hard work, a good education and playing by the rules just doesn’t cut it anymore. The opportunities are gone, vanished, kaput. That’s what 30 years of outsourcing, offshoring and corporate-friendly policy does for a country. It turns it into a two-tiered system where all the gravy flows to the top and everyone else is left with table scraps. That’s why according to Gallup “67% of the people are Dissatisfied With Income, Wealth Distribution”. Check it out:

“Two out of three Americans are dissatisfied with the way income and wealth are currently distributed in the U.S. … Americans are much less optimistic about economic opportunity now than before the recession and financial crisis of 2008 unfolded. Prior to that, at least two in three Americans were satisfied, including a high of 77% in 2002.”

And here’s more from another Gallup survey:

“Americans’ Satisfaction With Economy Sours Most Since 2001–Public more satisfied on most other issues today than 13 years ago,” Gallup

“Americans … are significantly less satisfied with the economy and the role the U.S. plays in world affairs. The 40-percentage-point drop in Americans’ satisfaction with the economy, along with a 21-point drop in the world affairs issue…

The U.S. has seen numerous changes since early 2001, but….The biggest change in satisfaction has been with the state of the economy — now much lower than it was then, at the end of the dot-com boom and before the major recession of 2008-2009.”

No one needs Gallup to tell them that the economy stinks. We all know that. Just like we know that America is no longer the land of opportunity, which Gallup confirms as well:

“In U.S., Fewer Believe “Plenty of Opportunity” to Get Ahead–Similarly, only half say the U.S. economic system is fair.” Gallup

Of course, there’s no opportunity. Why would there be more opportunity when the government is cutting spending instead of creating jobs? That’s not how the economy works. You have to spend something, to get something. There’s no free lunch.

Obama has done nothing to help working people. He hasn’t lifted a damn finger, which is why “58 percent of Americans disapprove of his stewardship of the economy” (Wall Street Journal/NBC News and Quinnipiac University) It’s also why 78 percent said of respondents in a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll said they think the country is “on the wrong track.” And it’s also why Obama’s personal performance ratings have slipped below those of George Bush in the fifth year of his presidency. Obama has been a disaster and everyone knows it. The impact of his misrule with be felt for years to come. Just take a look at this comment by University of Michigan economist Richard Curtain who explains the dramatic change he’s seen in consumer behavior due to the policies that were put in place following the Great Financial Crisis (GFC). The quote is from an analytic piece titled “Consumer Behavior Adapts to Fundamental Changes in Expectations” Economic Outlook Conference November 21, 2013:

“I have been reporting on the economic implications of the latest twists and turns in consumer expectations at this conference for nearly four decades. From the heights of expansions to the depths of recessions, consumers had never deserted their bedrock belief that the economy would produce ever increasing levels of affluence. The Great Recession, unlike any other downturn in the past half century, has not only tarnished the American Dream, but has prompted some fundamental changes in consumer expectations and behavior.” (“Consumer Behavior Adapts to Fundamental Changes in Expectations” Economic Outlook Conference November 21, 2013, University of Michigan)

How do you like that? After 40 years of watching this stuff, Curtin says he’s noticed a “fundamental change” in the “bedrock belief that the economy would produce ever increasing levels of affluence.”

This is quite profound, I think, with far-reaching implications for the economy. The pessimism that Obama (and Congress) have generated through their policies have dampened expectations and changed people’s views about the future. Most people no longer expect their wages to increase or their financial situation to improve. For a growing number of people, the American dream is dead. This is already having an effect on personal consumption, household spending and economic growth. It’s also effecting the way people view the government, and what we think of ourselves as a nation. As Curtin notes:

(The) “deeply rooted uncertainty about future economic conditions…has been sustained by the growing recognition that no federal policy has yet emerged that will restore long term economic prosperity anytime soon for the majority of consumers. Optimism about long term job and income prospects are essential for maintaining high levels of economic motivation. Too few consumers have regained that optimism.”

Exactly. “No federal policy” has been put in place to “restore long term economic prosperity.”

That’s the whole ball o’ wax, right there. The pols have done nothing.

The pessimism we now see everywhere, can be traced back to government policy. All the blame goes to Obama and Congress. They’re the ones who ended the American Dream. They killed it.

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at [email protected].

(Republished from Counterpunch by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Economics • Tags: Poverty, Unemployment 
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  1. There is a logical conundrum posed here–how might, even metaphorically, what was never living be considered dead, as opposed to say, “lifeless”? In more Rabelaisian terms thus–the dream was all wet from the beginning and centered on the malignant fictions of Ragged Dick & ilk. Melville’s Confidence Man, a truly great if widely neglected novel, still unsurpassed, tells a different story–in fact many different stories, not only prescient but in the end both darker and more jocund than even Catch-22. It is a pity those in financial circles are not more widely educated nowadays–there might still be room among all the machinations for things vaguely identifiable as philosophy, intelligence, perhaps even culture and history.

  2. John says:

    How will taking ever more money from the people in order for government to spend it help people long term? The system IS broken, and the American dream IS dead because of government actions.

  3. Don Nash says: • Website

    The “American Dream” is a living nightmare. So long as the American people are kept divided by the monied elite, we’ll get nowhere. Wait, we’ll be kept divided. I’m of the opinion that is by design.
    How ‘we the people’ go about throwing off the chains of our divisions is problematic to say the least.

  4. Karen says:

    Would Romney have done any better? You assess the problem correctly, but who is offering anything better?

  5. Redwood says:

    Romney would not have done any better. Neither would McPain In The Ass. The Republicans want nothing to get done when the Democrats are in charge so that the Republicans will eventually be in charge. They only want to be in charge because they are selfish and want to benefit the Religious Right & the NRA. The Democrats only want to be in charge so they can waste taxpayer money on the worst public schools in the industrialized world and keeping people on welfare. Both parties want to be in charge to fund illegal, unnecessary, unprovoked wars and on greedy corporations. The American people have been brainwashed since 1776 that the American Dream is a reality and will never die, should never die and no foreign nation should or could have a dream to match or surpass theirs.

  6. Art M says:

    “Can you really blame the people for believing the hype and pegging their hopes on a man who never had any intention of keeping his word?”

    Well, perhaps not the first time. But then again, how many times has the fruitless, silly, evilness of evil known as the Republican and Democratic parties been returned to continue the endless and self-amusing turn of the screw?

    The question was asked, “Who is offering anything better?” – and that question, although righteous, is indicative of the problem and symbolic of the frustration.

    James Clapper lies to the people, to Congress, to the world, and yet he still walks about free, with the same job and salary; yet, an elementary school boy is punished with banishment for making his hand look like a gun, a farmer is thrown in jail because he offers whole milk for sale, a woman in an airport must suffer being groped and felt in an airport because she looks nice and wants to travel somewhere. This system has been so bad for so long, rotten from the top to the bottom, front to back, that this weirdness, this insanity called Amerika that assaults the senses, has come to be accepted as normal.

    The question has morphed into: who can offer anything better?

  7. booklady says: • Website

    To whom it may concern:
    Please, listen to the idea even if you disagree with my arguments. And stop wasting time blaming everything on Obama. He’s just a fallible human being like all our other Presidents, only a different color. There’s actually a solution to the problem, but nobody’s talking about it yet.

    It isn’t enough to just raise minimum wage like people are talking about. We also need to start talking about getting rid of the 40-hour week and transitioning to a shorter one–probably 32 hours, since that would be a neat 4-day week. We really need to do both of these things at the same time, and we need to do it soon. The problem is not really what we need to do but how to go about it. Listen:

    There just isn’t enough work for everyone anymore. We’ve automated it. That’s not going to change; it’s just going to get worse. The future is here—the one science fiction writers used to tell us about–the one in which we don’t have to work much because machines and computers do the work. Or, I should say, it’s ALMOST here, and the effects are beginning to be felt. It’s coming and we need to seriously start thinking about how we’re going to deal with it. As more and more automation takes over our work for us, we need to gradually transition, in steps, to a shorter and shorter workweek.

    We’ve had the standard 40-hour week so long that I think it perhaps hasn’t occurred to anybody to get rid of it. We’ve lived with it all our lives. Possibly only a former science fiction buff like myself would even think of it. The signs of unemployment gradually becoming a permanent systemic problem have been camouflaged up to now, I think, by fluctuations in the unemployment rate as the economy goes through its ups and downs. I really think we were in a kind of employment bubble up to 2008, and it has burst. Think how bad it would be if we had another recession in a couple of years, when we have NOT recovered from the last one yet. We’d be watching people starve in the streets. For this reason, I intend to send this same message–or one very similar–to anybody else I think might listen because I can find no evidence that anybody is working on this problem or has even realized it IS a problem. I can find no person or organization that is advocating such a change or I would add my voice to theirs, and my money . . . If I had any.

    Putting people back to work would change the balance of power. Workers are afraid to try for better conditions right now because if they lose their jobs they’re in a world of hurt. They have no leverage anymore. We need to restore that balance by putting people back to work. Even people who believe in a so-called “free market” ought to be able to see that it can’t work if the standard workweek isn’t the right size for there to be a balance between employers and employees. Now supply and demand is exerting a strong downward force on wages because of the high unemployment rate–too many people for the available work. If we could put everybody back to work, it would allow supply and demand to start putting positive pressure on wages instead of negative. It would be a silent, almost invisible force doing this work for us.

    In addition, sharing the work in this way would (perhaps I should say could) theoretically put everybody back to work immediately. If you could get businesses to do this voluntarily (and with a good case, I think a lot of CEOs would, at least those who haven’t bought into the sociopathic mindset of greed über alles. It actually would improve the bottom line for many businesses.) Then we wouldn’t have to wait around for our glacially slow, dysfunctional government, which would just argue us to death. We can’t really afford to wait for them. If businesses would do it voluntarily, it could be done much more gently, at a pace that would minimize any economic damage to individual businesses, and there would certainly be some. It would be better to keep the hamfisted government out of this if possible. Perhaps some organization of businesses and workers could monitor things and try to guide the process. Someone needs to do the job of coordination. Once some businesses make this change, I think it would become an unstoppable force, and other businesses would have to follow, or they wouldn’t be able to get decent employees.  After it’s already done, or pretty much done, then change the law.

    Sharing the work in this way would (could?) theoretically put everybody back to work WITHOUT BUILDING A SINGLE FACTORY. You get to stop talking about “job creation” as if that term really had any meaning. We don’t, as a matter of fact, WANT to go back to the frenzied orgy of consumption that it would take to employ everybody now. We would have to make “busy work,” really, to employ all the people who need jobs at 40 hours, and that kind of work is really, truly bad for the environment. We could, perhaps, ease off of the horrible materialism that we have embraced that keeps us running around in a rat race. We don’t need all that stuff.

    A good many rich corporations could do exactly what I’m talking about (in stages) and pay for it out of their profits, without raising prices at all. (If everybody raises their prices we’re going to start having a problem with inflation. Profitability would seriously return, I suspect, after a few years anyway.)

    If you put the profit a company makes (one of the big ones) together with the money they pay their employees—like it was a partnership, which it certainly ought to be considered—and put that in a pie graph, you can see that the ratio of profit for the employer to profit for the employee isn’t right. Out of every dollar an employee makes, too much of it goes to the employer. Way too much. It would be good to try to fix the problem here, where it begins.

    Other miscellaneous points:

    Getting the corporations who can afford it to do this first would put money back into circulation that’s currently doing little, according to what I’ve read. That would help the economy improve and make it easier to do more.

    We could stop raising the retirement age, and Social Security would be on a much better footing.

    It won’t work for all jobs. Teachers, for instance, would continue to work M-F. The manager of a restaurant or other business wouldn’t change anything. An archivist. A farmer. A business owner.

  8. mulp says:

    Seems the author thinks the president is a dictator able to highhandedly direct all of US government power.

    Instead, for presidents from all eras, all required willing Congresses, and for even LBJ who had overwhelming Democratic majorities in Congress, he could not have passed his landmark legislation without Republican support. President Bush required Democrats to support his favorite initiatives even with Republican majorities in Congress.

    Obama has faced total opposition from Republicans from day 1, who totally rejected everything he proposed, even when he took Reagan and Romney laws as his proposals.

    Republicans have moved further and further right because Obama has moved further right than Reagan in efforts to get Republican votes. Reagan hiked taxes 125% on Jan 6 1983 to create jobs when unemployment was at 10.8%. Today Republicans oppose tax hikes, oppose government spending to create jobs, and oppose government spending to fix the highways, fill potholes, replace bridges, because Republicans will not let Obama sign a bill that is identical to the bill that Reagan would sign today, because the Reagan of 1983 is a radical leftist socialist today.

  9. “Obama Killed It”

    i can’t understand how people believe this shit….Obingo is taking orders, just like bush 2.0 did.

    sheesh, when will the sheep wake up??

  10. “60 percent say fire every member of Congress”

    and come November 97% of the scumbags will win re-election…go figure

  11. @interesting

    When these…sheep do wake up, it won’t be the prescient ones like yourself to whom they listen. It’s never what you say, but you do that gets merit, and the doomsayers, all the armchair political analysts bleating to each other in their own echo chamber, are a dime-a-dozen.

  12. 1. It is impossible that Obama kill the American dream when it was always a nightmare for people of his similar hue and he was not even alive when it was created.
    2. Obama turned 50 and the GOP was pissed off because they weren’t informed, or the US Constitution did not say it was OK for him to turn 50, or they did not see the Executive Order that he was turning 50.
    3. That is where we are today with stipid sh*t. That is the main reason the dream was only for some people and ‘to hhe with the rest.
    4. Only the US Congress has the power but they use it for their benefit only and POTUS never crossed the road as his pals own it. Actually, it is his ancestors’ road (the European side that links with the previous US Presidents) and he can do what he wants

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