The American Dream
By Larry Romanoff, July 26, 2022
The US has one of the most deeply-ingrained nationalistic ideologies of any nation. Accompanying the grand mass hysterias of patriotism and freedom, one of the most pervasive links in the ideological chain that creates the American sense of identity is a belief in “The American Dream”, an imaginary ideal that offers a rags-to-riches path to prosperity. In this mythical universe, all opportunity is equally available to every citizen, in a land where even those with no credentials, education or experience can accumulate untold riches and even rise to become the president of the country. In this context, America is a fantastic utopian myth promoted by the propaganda machine as an idealistic Shangri-la concept of opportunity and hope, where even the most disadvantaged have a fair chance at wealth and fame.
Americans almost universally believe they are unique in this regard, the US virtually defining itself as the land of opportunity, but this has always been a delusion. While it may be true that the US has accumulated comparatively more wealthy individuals than other nations, and which status has been broadcast to the world as evidence of virtue, this is much more an indictment of the predatory and anti-social nature of American-style capitalism than of equity and opportunity. It is true that the uniquely predatory form of American capitalism will create some kinds of opportunities that do not exist in other countries, but we can develop a very strong argument that those kinds should not be permitted to exist. Let’s not erase 2008 from our memories too soon. Moreover, there have been precious few large personal fortunes created in the US that were not accompanied by the commitment of even greater crimes, and the executives of a great many US multinationals from the Rockefeller’s United Fruit Company and Standard Oil to Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart should have faced trial and been executed for crimes against humanity.
The US does indeed have a large number of billionaires, but this is directly offset by the vast decline of the middle class and the huge and increasing number of impoverished. The elite 1%, the bankers and industrialists who control the government, forced legislation that freed them from taxes and regulation to permit that free accumulation of wealth. The fact that other Western nations have fewer of the extreme rich is also directly offset by their corresponding lack of poverty. One need only examine the data on income inequality to realise that opportunity in America is increasingly reserved for the privileged few and that the masses are not only excluded by design but are being plundered by that same privileged few.
As with almost every other American claim of supremacy, the few examples offered of anything are virtually the only examples that exist. Americans will proudly point to a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffett as evidence of the truth of their conviction, but Gates (William H. Gates III) was third-generation old money whose family was connected at the highest levels and not, as the myth would have it, an unknown computer geek who dropped out of Harvard and struck gold with a good idea. In any case, Gates and Buffett are two individuals of 300 million, and the brutal truth that seems to escape the consciousness of Americans is that these two accumulated their wealth while tens of millions of others were losing their homes and jobs. Americans will point proudly to Apple, with its accumulated offshore profits of $300 billion as evidence of America’s limitless possibilities, but are apparently unable to see the millions living in tent cities and sleeping in the sewers of Las Vegas as one inevitable result of the accumulation of that same $300 billion. And they are also unable to see the criminality of firms like Foxconn in China who produce those Apple products in what are essentially forced-labor concentration camps. The rich in every nation do not become rich because they are smarter, but by taking advantage and almost always by brutalising those less fortunate.
We can easily create an almost perfect analogy to the American dream: “All Americans have the opportunity to learn to fly. Not in an airplane, but like Superman, cruising through the air on mystical superpowers.” Of course, if we examine the landscape, we find precious few individuals who seem to have taken advantage of this great opportunity, but this lack of evidence in no way invalidates our premise. In precisely the same fashion we can claim that all Americans have the opportunity to become rich and successful. Again, when we examine the landscape, we find precious few individuals who have actually managed this, but again the lack of evidence does not serve to invalidate our premise. Of course, the entire argument is just nonsense. The success of Warren Buffett is indicative of nothing but one fortunate and talented individual who was in the right places at the right times and who is remarkable only for his rarity. We have a few Elon Musks and others like him, but again this is indicative of nothing. If the American dream as stated is real, we need at least many tens of millions of individuals who have achieved some reasonable measure of this dream. But they don’t exist, and the reason they don’t exist is that the entire narrative of the American dream is a fraud.
While the US government, controlled by its bankers and financiers, its multinational corporate elite and the FED, has been working for decades to eviscerate the middle and lower classes and to effect a continuous and massive transfer of wealth to the top 1%, the bottom 99% have been singing the praises of the ‘democratic’ capitalist system that has been progressively abused to facilitate this transfer. In truth and reality, they are praising the very components of their system that are dragging them further into poverty with each passing year. I can think of no greater tribute to the power of propaganda than for a nation of increasingly impoverished, uneducated and unemployed to not only be blinded to the deliberate manufacture of their own misfortune, but to worship the system that permitted it and venerate the individuals who caused it.
It is noteworthy that religion plays a significant supporting role in the propagation of this fraud. The simplistic and simple-minded American versions of Christianity, with their two-dimensional and heavily moralistic view of the world, encourage a belief in the eventual triumph of virtue, hard work of course being characteristic of virtue and success being one measure of its practice. In this context and under this indoctrination it is perfectly plausible that the blame for one’s failure to ‘succeed’ should be attributed to one’s own shortcomings, and indeed it is seen as whining to blame the system rather than ourselves for our lack of progress. The entire myth, the foundation of the American Dream, is that US-style capitalism will automatically enrich anyone who works hard, filling individuals with an illusory hope that seldom comes to fruition while encouraging them to blame themselves when they fail.
One author wrote that, like most everything else in the US, the American Dream is a lie, but this myth is “so psychologically seductive to those who are ambitious and harbor hopes for a better future that the propaganda itself creates devoted followers even in the absence of all evidence”. This is truly one of the great tragedies of human life in America, that so many millions of people believe fervently in what is simply a fairy-tale, telling themselves that “there are always possibilities” when a clear-headed look around them should send most of them scurrying for the door. And it is always the most innocent and gullible, the ignorant and uninformed, the most vulnerable, who are the most susceptible to this vicious propaganda, as evidenced by companies like Amway.
It sometimes seems that half the content of US bookstores consists of what we call ‘self-help’ books, meant to give us ‘the real secret’ to success and riches. Of course, if one book ever did do that, there would be no need for a second. The secret contained in these books is mostly limited to some variation of “You have to believe”. And when you fail to strike gold, as you inevitably will, then your belief just wasn’t strong enough.
The reality is that opportunity and the path to riches exist today only for the well-connected, with few of the brilliant, industrious, and well-educated ever achieving either wealth or fame, yet most Americans are still deluded into believing these goals are actually attainable. It was once an axiom that a rising tide lifts all boats, but in the last 50 years only the luxury yachts have risen, with the top 1% aggregating most of the income and assets to itself while the middle class has consistently lost ground and been virtually gutted. With the increased financialisation and de-industrialisation of the US economy, with the FED repeatedly engineering booms and busts, each with its corresponding massive wealth transfer, the mountain to riches has become a very steep climb indeed for the average citizen. Many authors have noted that a distinguishing feature of American society is the increasingly greater social stratification, whereby those from the lower class have almost no chance to rise even into the middle class, much less aspire to riches or high society. Among all developed nations, the US has become the country in which economic and societal status are most likely to be inherited and that individual effort or even genius are unlikely to achieve anything remarkable.
It must also be noted that peoples in all nations harbor hopes of progress, of improvement in their lives, of increasing prosperity, of freedom from want and need, Americans not being unique in this regard. And it must also be noted that opportunities for such progress have never by any means been limited to the US, and indeed the US has never been unique in this regard either. In fact, many nations have higher standards of living and much more compassionate societies than does the US, and it has always been as easy to ‘succeed’ in Canada or Germany or Italy as in America. American exceptionalism and jingoism notwithstanding, the path to success or the top has never been notably easier in the US than in many other nations.
And finally, of all nations in the world today, it is China that offers the most opportunity for progress and increasing prosperity and, most importantly, that provides this offer to virtually the nation’s entire population. While it may be true of China as of all nations, that only good connections and good breeding will get you an invitation to an embassy dinner party, it is also true that in China as in no other nation in the world today can such a high proportion of the people harbor hopes for the future with such a high probability of fruition. It is China, not America, that has created an environment for true and almost universal potential for progress for all. And, while many Americans will refuse to believe this, it is the quality of China’s leaders, the fact of China’s one-party government system, and China’s unique version of socialist capitalism that have made this possible. The very factors that Americans have credited with the presumed success of their nation are in reality the same elements that are destroying their American dream. The signs of both these statements are obvious wherever one cares to look, but by the time the Americans clear their minds of the clouds of propaganda it will be too late. I am not so much worried for the Americans, but it concerns me greatly that too many Chinese will also fail to clear their minds of the propaganda and false branding until it is too late.
Mr. Romanoff’s writing has been translated into 32 languages and his articles posted on more than 150 foreign-language news and politics websites in more than 30 countries, as well as more than 100 English language platforms. Larry Romanoff is a retired management consultant and businessman. He has held senior executive positions in international consulting firms, and owned an international import-export business. He has been a visiting professor at Shanghai’s Fudan University, presenting case studies in international affairs to senior EMBA classes. Mr. Romanoff lives in Shanghai and is currently writing a series of ten books generally related to China and the West. He is one of the contributing authors to Cynthia McKinney’s new anthology ‘When China Sneezes’. (Chapt. 2 — Dealing with Demons).
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Copyright © Larry Romanoff, Blue Moon of Shanghai, Moon of Shanghai, 2022