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Author Topic: The American Dream  (Read 19 times)

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The American Dream
« on: February 11, 2020, 08:40:48 am »
Not sure Yves Smith is "naive."

Developing Countries Showing America Up

Posted on February 11, 2020 by Yves Smith

A cynical school of thought holds that one reason America makes borders so unpleasant is to deter US citizens from traveling so as to preserve our sense of exceptionalism in the face of countervailing evidence. For instance, one colleague, a former city planner, came back from a vacation in the south of France and raved about how terrific the roads were. The Gilet Janues would assure him that in rural areas, they were neglected, but my contact’s point was that even in affluent parts of the US, you couldn’t find ones on a par with the ones he drove on his holiday. And I suspect that even the roads that are impediments to safe, fast driving in the depopulating parts of France are still better than those in Michigan.

But America is slipping even further. It used to be that it would come up short in infrastructure and social well being indicators compared to most European countries. We now have readers who are looking at what they see in the better parts of the developing world and are finding America coming up short.

Costa Rica has admittedly long been depicted as the Switzerland of Central America. It has become more and more popular with expats for at least the last 15 years. I visited there briefly on a client project in 1997. While the downtown section of San José looked worn, even there, the people on the street were neatly if modestly dressed. And when you went out to the suburbs, the country looked comfortable to prosperous, and it seemed as if citizens made an effort to keep their neighborhoods well kept, even in non-tourist sections. Oh, and the food was terrific, particularly the fish.

A more recent sighting from Eureka Springs:

Just returned from deep southern rural Costa Rica to rural N.W. Arkansas. Peace and quiet almost everywhere I go now. Unless it’s my own noise (music) which could not bother another.

The entire trip was quite the reminder of just how third world we the peeps are nowadays.

Internet was so much better there. No satellite dishes, except as modifications to them for use as roadside trash receptacles. Still no rural wired net in the U.S.. Cell signals were strong everywhere, yet I never saw people glued to a phone.

Public trans, brand new buses all up and down the countryside. Even many miles down dirt roads. Fantastic bus stops. No such thing as public transit in rural U.S.

A lot of people drive efficient 150cc motorcycles. The large bus stops seem intentionally oversized by design to co-serve as a place to pull under during rain. How civilized.

Grocery stores with real food everywhere. No chain stores best I can tell. Unless in larger cities. And a shockingly smaller amount of trash packaging. I would say for the same amount of weekly grocery consumption I generate at least three if not five times more trash in the U.S. Seemingly every few hundred people, never more than a mile, usually much less, have a store with produce and meats. I’m seven miles from a dollar store, two more miles to actual groceries. About the same population density in both places.

And then there is health care for all vs give me all you got, we don’t give a fk.

Don’t know but would wager their water tests much better across the board as well. Nobody consumes plastic water bottles. Even very remote beaches had little shards of plastic all along the water line though. No escaping it.

Schools did not look like prison at all. Kids were kids, with cookie stands, a work ethic, bicycles, laughter, no apparent phones, lots of soccer, some dirt on their fingers and toes. And laughter.

Poor to middle working class people did not look miserable, unhealthy, guarded and or afraid.

The chickens, dogs and cats were abundant though not overly so, well fed, healthy, roaming free.

Police were calm, not dressed to kill with body language fitting the peace officer description. CR has no military.

We have a choice and we are making so many bad ones. I feel like so many of my fellow US citizens don’t get this fact. And it’s a shortcoming of Sanders types by failing to paint this vision/picture. Even they are trapped in the downward spiral, knowing no other way from experience.

And Expat2uruguay seems to have adapted well to her big relocation. Ironically her big lament seems to be the cuisine isn’t terribly inspired and fish is hard to come by, but other advantages of living there seem to more than make up for it. From a recent report:

Since relocating to Uruguay I was diagnosed with Stage 2B breast cancer. There was no bill whatsoever for the surgery. The entire cost of my entire treatment, including my monthly membership fee of $60 a month, was under $2,700.

That total includes 16 months of the monthly fee and all of my treatments, including six months of chemotherapy, 6 weeks of daily radiation, co-pays for medications and tests, $7 co-pays for doctor visits, and additional testing and consultation for heart damage caused by the chemotherapy. I also had a couple of problems during the chemotherapy that required visits to the emergency room, a four day hospital stay because of ultra-low defenses, and consultation in my home a couple times. They did a really good job, and they’re very good at cancer treatment here.

But the very best thing about Uruguay is the peacefulness, the tranquility, the laid-back approach to life. My stress levels are way down from when I lived in the US.

Several factors are likely at work. One is, as we’ve pointed out from the very outset of this site, that unequal societies are unhappy and unhealthy societies. Even those at the top pay a longevity cost due to having shallower social networks, having a nagging awareness that most if not all of their supposed friends would dump them if they took a serious income hit (can’t mix with the same crowd if you can’t fly private class, can’t support the right charities, can’t throw posh parties) and having to think about or even building panic rooms.

Another is the precarity even at high but below top 1% levels: job insecurity, the difficulty of getting kids into good colleges and then paying for it when they do, along with attempting to save enough for retirement. Even with steering clear of costly divorces and medical emergencies, the supposed basics of a middle or upper middle income lifestyle add up in light of escalating medical, education, and housing costs. And then some feel they are entitled to or need to give their kids perks in line with their self image of their status, like fancy vacations.

And we don’t need to elaborate on how hard it is for people who are struggling to get by. But it’s not hard to see that the status and sometimes money anxiety at the top too readily translates into abuses of those further down the food chain to buck up their faltering sense of power and self worth. Anglo-style capitalism is often mean-spirited and that tendency seems particularly strong now.

Specifically, which developing countries that readers know well give the US a lifestyle run for the money? And I don’t mean for for US expats bearing strong dollars but for ordinary people. And where do they fall short?


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Happiness and The American Dream
« Reply #1 on: February 11, 2020, 08:44:35 am »

That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964gc2smFrom the keyboard of Surly1 Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666 Like us on Facebook

Illustration by Anthony Freda

Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on February 9, 2020

“It’s not primarily a measure of whether one laughed or smiled yesterday, but how one feels about the course of one’s life."

― Jeffrey Sachs, co-creator, World Happiness Survey

What is happiness? Like the judge who couldn't define **** but said he'd know itn when he saw it, most of us don't have a specific definition of happiness; we know it when we feel it, and often use the term to describe a range of positive emotions, including joy, pride, contentment, and gratitude. If someone asks you on a scale of one to ten how happy you are in six different areas, would you be able to accurately respond? That's what we're discussing this week. We're not talking about global temperature measurements, or oil exports, GNP, P&L, or anything that can be measured, mapped and plotted on a spreadsheet; we're talking about how people report satisfaction in their lives.

You wouldn't think a subject like "happiness" could be contentious. Happiness might seem an elusive concept to quantify, but there is a science to it backed by thousands of individual assessments and statistical analysis.

Last Tuesday, I published an article in the Doomstead Diner Daily: Finland's millennial prime minister said Nordic countries do a better job of embodying the American dream than the US. In the article, Sanna Marin, the 34-year-old prime minister of Finland, was quoted as saying her country and other Nordic nations were actually the best equipped to provide citizens with a chance to achieve "the American dream." This as recently told to The Washington Post on the sidelines of the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Sanna Marin

Sanna Marin

“I feel that the American Dream can be achieved best in the Nordic countries, where every child no matter their background or the background of their families can become anything, because we have a very good education system,” she said. “We have a good health-care and social welfare system that allows anybody to become anything. This is probably one of the reasons why Finland gets ranked the happiest country in the world.”

She is justifiably proud, as this is the second year in a row Finland has claimed the top spot in this UN survey, followed by Denmark, Norway and Iceland. These assertions caused as minor uproar in the Diner Forum. One respondent harrumphed,

Doesn't know **** about the American dream.

Finland is a country with a population smaller than Greater Houston……..and……. a lot of recent immigrants……and…… a birth rate for native Finns that is falling through the floor. Let's see how they look in 30 years.

Well, it's true that Finland doesn't have a military that consumes 58 percent of their national budget to defend the prerogatives of a crust of global profiteers, munitions-exporters and bloodsuckers. Let's see what WE look like in 30 years.

Mr. Carlin would like a word:

The mass of Americans are two-three paychecks away from an economic abyss, which may have something to do with the fact that in the same survey, since 2013 Americans have plummeted from 13th to 19th place. It would be convenient to lay this at the feet of Trump, because, as the study's authors note, "unhappier people seem to hold more populist and authoritarian attitudes." But it also corresponds with an increasing amount of time US adolescents spend interacting with electronic devices, contributing to increased anxiety and declines in happiness, as well as increasing rates of addiction (more on that below.)

The report states that from 1946 to 1970, the U.S. was quite literally the world's model for happiness, with gross domestic product ranking climbed steadilyand a burgeoning American middle class.

Testifying to Congress in the Clinton years, which now seem as remote as medieval China, Fed Chair Alan Greenspan explained the success of the boom economy he gratefully took credit for as being based on “growing worker insecurity.” Thus was born "the precariat." In Greenspan's terms, insecure working people are unlikely to make demands. Cowed, compliant workers are good for business, good for investors. For happiness? Not so much.

Noam Chomsky summarized:

… If working people are insecure, if they’re part of the precariat, living precarious existences, they’re not going to make demands, they’re not going to try to get better wages, they won’t get improved benefits. We can kick ’em out, if we don’t need ’em. And that’s what’s called a “healthy” economy, technically speaking.

Not much of a recipe for happiness. Results of the World Happiness Report fly right in the face of the "Team America: **** Yeah" crowd because they put the lie to the myth of American exceptionalism.

The World Happiness Report 2019 is an annual publication of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. It grades 156 countries in categories including generosity, social programs, freedom, corruption and income. The Report contains articles, and rankings of national happiness based on respondent's ratings of their own lives.

The most commonly cited economic statistics — GDP, household income and unemployment — focus on work product economic output, and consumption: their output, what they spend, how much they make and whether they have a job. None of these metrics tell us anything about people's happiness.

The Report is a survey of the state of global happiness that ranks countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be. This year’s World Happiness Report focuses on happiness and the community: how happiness has evolved over the past dozen years, with a focus on the technologies, social norms, conflicts and government policies that have driven those changes.

Gallup also collaborates on this report. Why bother? Why is this report important?

Leaders can no longer assume that the lives of those in their countries improve with a rise in GDP, as was shown in the Arab Uprising countries where GDP was increasing but the ratings of their lives trended downward ahead of the unrest.

Leaders need to follow much more traditional metrics to effectively track and lead the progress of their nation. The World Happiness Report is the first report to rank countries by how their populations feel.

Of course, if you are in charge of a country and you tendency runs towards the authoritarian, calling on your domestic, heavily armed freicorps to intimidate your domestic opponents, none of this will matter.

Let's not forget that this survey is reported out by the people themselves, not some external analysis.

The rankings are based on answers to the main life evaluation question asked in the poll. This is called the Cantril ladder: it asks respondents to think of a ladder, with the best possible life for them being a 10, and the worst possible life being a 0. They are then asked to rate their own current lives on that 0 to 10 scale.

The UN uses a sample size of 2,000 to 3,000 per country, and claim it is large enough to give a good estimate at the national level. The scores are instead based on individuals’ own assessments of their lives, and a reasponable person should assume people by the tens of thousands can report accurately about the happiness in their own lives. Jeffrey Sachs, co-creator of the World Happiness Report and a professor at Columbia University, writes

The surge of interest in happiness and public policy owes much to the case of the United States. Professor Richard Easterlin (1974) famously noted 45 years ago that happiness in the US had remained unchanged from 1946 to 1970 despite the significant rise of GDP per person. This finding became known as the "Easterlin Paradox." It has continued to hold true until today. Indeed, the average life evaluation in the United States, as measured by the Cantril ladder, has declined during the past dozen years, from 7.2 in 2006 to 6.9 in 2018, despite ongoing U.S. economic growth.

As I noted in last year’s World Happiness Report (Sachs, 2018), the long-term rise in US income per person has been accompanied by several trends adverse to subjective well-being (SWB): worsening health conditions for much of the population; declining social trust; and declining confidence in government. Whatever benefits in SWB might have accrued as the result of rising incomes seem to have been offset by these adverse trends. This year, I propose a common driver of many of America’s social maladies: a mass-addiction society

This year's report provides sobering evidence of how addictions are causing considerable unhappiness and depression in the U.S…. Addictions come in many forms, from substance abuse to gambling to digital media. The compulsive pursuit of substance abuse and addictive behaviors is causing severe unhappiness. Government, business, and communities should use these indicators to set new policies aimed at overcoming these sources of unhappiness.

There is more, much more to this report, and the curious should follow the links below to explore the report and its methodology, the full analysis of which will require a far better statistician than me.

But it is important to remember that, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, "People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."







banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere. He lives a quiet domestic existence in Southeastern Virginia with his wife Contrary. Descended from a long line of people to whom one could never tell anything, all opinions are his and his alone, because he paid full retail for everything he has managed to learn.


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Re: The American Dream
« Reply #2 on: February 11, 2020, 05:14:59 pm »
As your post correctly exposes, the so-called "American Dream" has hitherto been a pro-Capitalism propaganda device cleverly disguised as a "social justice motivated promise of society wide reduction of harmful inequality in a democracy" .

... Abraham Lincoln, "People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."

Lincoln's quote is interesting. Upon reading it I thought of the fact that he was an excellent lawyer that knew quite well how to make the best of a bad case.

For too many who, despite their honest and sincere hard working efforts to improve their lot in life, have experienced nearly (and often totally) insurmountable difficulties due to being the victims of work place tyranny in an unjust, greedy and uncaring Capitalist system, Lincoln's words sound too much like 'blame the victim" sophistry.   

I will give Lincoln the benefit of the doubt and hope that he would not have included slaves and other abused individuals in society in the group who could could be happy or not by the "force of their will". 

This year's report provides sobering evidence of how addictions are causing considerable unhappiness and depression in the U.S….

The above statement makes the assumption that addictions are a CAUSE of considerable unhappiness and depression without recognizing the fact that considerable unhappiness and depression is the major CAUSE of addiction.

Of course addicts make life miserable for themselves and those around them. The major underlying cause of addiction (and many other social woes) is a society that values greed more than altruism. American society is generally uncaring by Capitalist DESIGN.

Greed is the CAUSE. The American epidemic of diseases of despair are all part of the EFFECT.

Rob not the poor, because he is poor: neither oppress the afflicted in the gate:
For the Lord will plead their cause, and spoil the soul of those that spoiled them. Pr. 22:22-23


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