The American Dream:
Then and Now
A long time ago, a million years BC,
The best things in life were absolutely free,
But no one appreciated a sky that was always blue,
And no one congratulated a moon that was always new.
-Arthur Johnston, “Pennies from Heaven”
It is 2020. Baby boomers have settled into a ripe maturity, and the millennial generation, the cohort that played such a key role in the election of Barack Obama, has reached a youthful middle age. A European-style 12 percent VAT tax has been law for six years. Carbon caps and carbon taxes have tripled the cost of a family’s monthly power bill in inflation-adjusted dollars compared to 2011. Taxes to discourage driving, save us from our dangerous dependence on foreign oil, fund universal health care, and promote the use of mass transit have likewise tripled the cost of a gallon of gas. Most of those who can afford a car, and afford to drive it, own a hybrid or matchbox-like electric car. There actually is no choice as to type of car because these are the only cars the US government allows car manufacturers to make. The average age of a family car is well over ten years; new cars are budget-busters for most middle-class Americans. Football has begun to be phased out at many schools because of concern about concussions and lawsuits. Official unemployment has finally stabilized at 14 to 16 percent. Unofficial unemployment is much higher. Globalization and unfair trade have continued to put downward pressure on real wages. High health care costs and carbon taxes have compelled many businesses to flee the country and, with the exception of windmills, manufacturing in the United States has virtually ceased to exist. People with college degrees now compete with high school graduates for a variety of low-wage jobs, such as convenience store clerks, hair stylists, lawn maintenance workers, and car wash hops. Wal-Mart has long been the largest private-sector employer in the United States.
A vast lower middle class has replaced the once-thriving middle class. A sixty-hour work week is common. With declining wages and a tax burden roughly four times what it was in 2000, spending on anything but the essentials is out of the question for an average family; as a result, consumer spending and the US economy have tanked. The GDPs of China, India, Japan, and Brazil are now larger than the US GDP. Unabated, welfare-state-style spending has expanded total public debt to 110 percent of US GDP. China, which holds most of that debt, has annexed Taiwan and dictates US foreign and economic policy via weekly conference calls with the president and his cabinet. The birthrate has declined to one child per woman, meaning the population of the United States will be cut in half in less than forty years. With educated Americans leading the way, there is now a net emigration out of the country as people seek better pay and opportunities in low-tax, business-friendly hotbeds, such as Ireland, Montserrat, and Cameroon. Many of the Americans remaining in the country have resorted to living in large extended-family clans to help defray costs, restoring a way of life lived by their great-great-great grandparents a century and a half before, thus achieving one more outcome favored by liberal-progressives, who have been arguing for decades that extended-family living is healthier.
Hyperbole? If it is, it is hyperbole with a precedent. It is essentially what has happened to the British, French, and Spanish empires. In his book The Rise and Fall of the British Empire, Lawrence James notes that in 1924, “Britain was the only global power.” Thirty years later, while planning and executing foreign policy, Britain’s government “had constantly to heed the demands made by its partner, the United States,” which, with a flourishing post-World-War II economy fueled by manufacturing and exporting, had overtaken Britain’s power on the world stage. And while the coffers of the US Treasury were overflowing, Britain was struggling to repay its debt, interest payments on that borrowed money eating up 44 percent of the British budget.
Niall Ferguson, a Harvard professor, says if America doesn’t change its policies soon, it will face the destiny of other declining empires: “If you’re trying to borrow $9 trillion to save your financial system, and already half your public debt is held by foreigners, it’s not really the conduct of rising empires, is it?” Ferguson says the United States must come up with a credible plan, not just to reduce the budget deficit, but to restore the federal budget to balance over the next five to ten years:
We will need more than good luck. We will need a battle plan to retake the country. One needn’t have an over-active imagination to be alarmed. The scenario depicted above is unfolding right in front of our noses. As personal income shrinks, unemployment metastasizes, debt and the trade deficit swell and a McJob becomes the new, realistic career aspiration of tens of millions of Americans, it is metaphorically akin to watching the Statue of Liberty being dismantled and shipped to China. The allusion may seem extreme, but the ultimate endpoint of a venture that has been in the works for several decades is legitimately foreboding: the end of the American Dream.