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The Great American Dream

19 May 2012

The twentieth century was America's century. The US was the dominant capitalist power, as was Britain in the nineteenth. With America's dominance came a system of values and a propaganda machine to sustain belief in the state and, hence, capitalism. All US residents were told, 'here anyone can rise from poverty to prosperity. This is the best country in the world.' Although a tiny minority of the poor did rise to some wealth, these words have a more hollow ring today, especially when one examines recently-released statistics by The Center for the Study of the American Dream at Xavier University, Ohio.

Nearly fifty per cent of all US citizens live in households that depend on some government benefit. Twenty-four million Americans are officially out of work. In reality that figure is forty-three million as many unemployed have used up their unemployment benefits and are no longer on the relief roll. Only twenty-six metropolitan areas have seen employment return to pre-recession levels, three hundred and thirty-seven have not. Forty-eight areas are not expected to recover within a decade. 533 000 workers have been laid off by local governments since 2006

According to the US Census Bureau, there are now a record 46.3 million on food stamps, an increase of 19.6 million since 2006. To be eligible a person must have an income of no more than $14 088 per year. A person with a family of four must not have an annual household income above $28 688. The average payout is a magnificent $133 for individuals and $290 for families per month. The Census Bureau puts the poverty limit annually at $11 344 for a single person and $23 133 for a family of four.

This costs the government (the executive committee of the capitalist class) $75 billion a year. This has upset a lot of conservatives who contend the stamp recipients are mostly unemployed, and, therefore, contributing nothing to the country and shouldn't be receiving stamps. If they, the conservatives, are angry, imagine just how angry are the people who have no work, pensions, life savings, or homes. Furthermore, many angry people are hanging on to their homes by their fingertips. Twenty-five per cent of homeowners are underwater, owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Between 2006 and 2010 real estate prices dropped thirty per cent, losing $8.6 trillion in home equity. 2.2 million homes are now in foreclosure and the signs are it will get a lot worse. $800 billion in existing mortgages are ninety days delinquent. Two million construction jobs have been lost.

Confidence in the US economy is at a low not seen since the 1930s and even then American capitalism did not face the world-wide competition for markets that it does now. The US is losing two-thirds of all bids to land new job-producing facilities. A study has shown that more facilities have moved out of the US than have moved in. The media mouthpiece of US capitalism no longer plays up to patriotic feelings exhorting US workers to 'buy American.' By moving their production facilities to countries where they can purchase cheaper labour-power, the capitalist class reveals their own false colours where patriotism is concerned.

A recent survey conducted by the Harvard Business School shows American competitiveness is declining and expected to do so for at least three years with a consequent decline in living standards. Politicians can preach whatever phony baloney nonsense they want, but cannot prevent companies from moving out, nor can they solve the financial problems the federal and state governments have. It will take more than Mitt Romney saying his campaign is to, 'Save the soul of America.'

Ronald Wright, author of "What is America?" probably summed it up best, "I think America's pre-eminence in the world resulted from the twentieth century and two world wars and the cold war. That period of economic and political dominance is clearly ending." Whatever spirit the working class in America has of 'Let's tough it out and keep struggling and things will improve' has clearly declined. Fifty-seven per cent say they have lost confidence in the country's standing in the world and a mere fifty per cent has a positive reaction to the word capitalism. (That high!).

Every era produces its dominant power. Before Britain it was France and before France it was Spain. While Britain led the pack, American industry was advancing so rapidly it eventually became the world's most powerful country. Now, America's hegemony is seriously challenged by those rising industrial powers of China and India.

It is doubtful if the US will return to its previous prosperity and certain that, if it does, it won't be soon. What is also certain is that the working class has no stake in the contest between capitalist giants for world markets. There are times when it seems that prosperity is abundant for the worker and for the capitalist. A perfect example was the US in the 1950s. Inflation between 1953 and 1961 was a mere two per cent. Higher wages and mass production meant the working class could afford cars, appliances, and trips abroad that were previously the domain of the rich. Unemployment was low and home ownership high, but this, alas, didn't and couldn't last. With the pell-mell competitiveness of companies, countries, and power blocks for markets and the 'Take no prisoners' philosophy of the profit motive, prosperity is a fleeting illusion.

No tinkering with the economy has solved the problem. Throughout the world we have seen free enterprise, state capitalism, and mixed economies. We've seen wars we were told would secure us a better world. We've seen reforms that promised the earth and still the world is in a mess, particularly its (for now) leading power. This shows clearly that only a society where production is for use can make the population of the world prosperous and secure for all. This does not prove, though, that the great dream is dead. It is fact very much alive - as a nightmare!

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