How The American Dream Ended

dreamsIt feels as if every media outlet has lamented 21st century America’s declining fortunes and crisis of confidence. Still, it’s interesting to read German paper of record Der Spiegel‘s outsider perspective on the death of the American dream. The United States comes off as a rotted, moribund shell:

Florida was the finale of the American dream, a promise, a symbol, an American heaven on earth, because Florida held out the prospect of spending 10, perhaps 20 and hopefully 30 years living in one’s own house. For decades, anywhere from 200,000 to 400,000 people moved to the state each year. The population grew and grew — and so too did real estate prices and the assets of those who were already there and wanted bigger houses and even bigger dreams. Florida was a seemingly never-ending boom machine.

America has long been a country of limitless possibility. But the dream has now become a nightmare for many. The US is now realizing just how fragile its success has become — and how bitter its reality. Should the superpower not find a way out of crisis, it could spell trouble ahead for the global economy. By SPIEGEL Staff

It was to be the kind of place where dozens of American dreams would be fulfilled — here on Apple Blossom Drive, a cul-de-sac under the azure-blue skies of southwest Florida, where the climate is mild and therapeutic for people with arthritis and rheumatism. Everything is ready. The driveways lined with cast-iron lanterns are finished, the artificial streams and ponds are filled with water, and all the underground cables have been installed. This street in Florida was to be just one small part of America’s greater identity — a place where individual dreams were to become part of the great American story.

But a few things are missing. People, for one. And houses, too. The drawings are all ready, but the foundations for the houses haven’t even been poured yet.

Apple Blossom Drive, on the outskirts of Fort Myers, Florida, is a road to nowhere. The retirees, all the dreamers who wanted to claim their slice of the American dream in return for all the years they had worked in a Michigan factory or a New York City office, won’t be coming. Not to Apple Blossom Drive and not to any of the other deserted streets which, with their pretty names and neat landscaping, were supposed to herald freedom and prosperity as the ultimate destination of the American journey, and now exude the same feeling of sadness as the industrial ruins of Detroit.

Florida was the finale of the American dream, a promise, a symbol, an American heaven on earth, because Florida held out the prospect of spending 10, perhaps 20 and hopefully 30 years living in one’s own house. For decades, anywhere from 200,000 to 400,000 people moved to the state each year. The population grew and grew — and so too did real estate prices and the assets of those who were already there and wanted bigger houses and even bigger dreams. Florida was a seemingly never-ending boom machine.

Could the Dream Be Over?

Until it all ended. Now people are leaving the state. Florida’s population decreased by 58,000 in 2009. Some members of the same American middle class who had once planned to spend their golden years lying under palm trees are now lined up in front of soup kitchens. In Lee County on Florida’s southwest coast, 80,000 people need government food stamps to make ends meet — four times as many as in 2006. Unemployment figures are sharply on the rise in the state, which has now come to symbolize the decline of the America Dream, or perhaps even its total failure, its naïveté. Could the dream, in fact, be over?

Americans have lived beyond their means for decades. It was a culture long defined by a mantra of entitlement, one that promised opportunities for all while ignoring the risks. Relentless and seemingly unstoppable upward mobility was the secular religion of the United States. Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, established the so-called ownership society, while Congress and the White House helped free it of the constraints of laws and regulations.

The dream was the country’s driving force. It made Florida, Hollywood and the riches of Goldman Sachs possible, and it attracted millions of immigrants. Now, however, Americans are discovering that there are many directions that life can take, and at least one of them points downward. The conviction that stocks have always made everyone richer has become as much of a chimera in the United States as the belief that everyone has the right to own his own home, and then a bigger home, a second car and maybe even a yacht. But at some point, everything comes to an end.

The United States is a confused and fearful country in 2010. American companies are still world-class, but today Apple and Coca-Cola, Google and Microsoft are investing in Asia, where labor is cheap and markets are growing, and hardly at all in the United States. Some 47 percent of Americans don’t believe that the America Dream is still realistic.

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  • Butter Knife

    Nite Owl: “What’s happened to America? What’s happened to the American Dream?”
    The Comedian: “It came true. You’re lookin’ at it.”

    Alan Moore 1, Roald Dahl 0

    • Ironaddict06

      I love that scene of the movie. You have every minority group demanding their right, the majority trying to hold on, new generations demanding change, baby boomers demanding what they were promised, working class angry at everyone, elites wanting more, a republic trying to stay together, and a wave of socialism. It’s hard to see how the U.S. stays on top with so many competing factions.

      • Hadrian999

        yeah people finally realized there isn’t enough dream to go around
        and it’s turning into the American war

      • Brawny Bronson

        Where’s this wave of socialism? I getta get my board waxed and my tan on

      • dogandopium

        A wave of socialism? Huh?

  • Butter Knife

    Nite Owl: “What’s happened to America? What’s happened to the American Dream?”
    The Comedian: “It came true. You’re lookin’ at it.”

    Alan Moore 1, Roald Dahl 0

  • http://richardprins.com RichardPrins

    Der Spiegel isn’t really a ‘paper of record’ like the New York Times (a moniker often associated with the latter). It’s more like Newsweek, a weekly news mag.

  • R!P

    Der Spiegel isn’t really a ‘paper of record’ like the New York Times (a moniker often associated with the latter). It’s more like Newsweek, a weekly news mag.

  • Synapse

    Florida is where people go to DIE. It doesn’t surprise me that they have a negative population. Old people aren’t having kids and they’re near death to begin with. They moved there in huge droves and are dying off, not really newsworthy.

    It also makes sense that the numbers for the impoverished have increased. We’ve paid poor people to have many babies through welfare, and not provided any particular help to those kids for them to escape their situation, which caused them to stay poor. What else would you expect?

    One more note, companies like Apple and Google are investing in Asia for production, not for sales. The labor there is cheap, but they need to be able to sell the rich in America stuff to keep their companies going.

  • Synapse

    Florida is where people go to DIE. It doesn’t surprise me that they have a negative population. Old people aren’t having kids and they’re near death to begin with. They moved there in huge droves and are dying off, not really newsworthy.

    It also makes sense that the numbers for the impoverished have increased. We’ve paid poor people to have many babies through welfare, and not provided any particular help to those kids for them to escape their situation, which caused them to stay poor. What else would you expect?

    One more note, companies like Apple and Google are investing in Asia for production, not for sales. The labor there is cheap, but they need to be able to sell the rich in America stuff to keep their companies going.

  • Other Mr. T

    Schadenfreude, vielleicht ?

  • Other Mr. T

    Schadenfreude, vielleicht ?

  • Ironaddict06

    I love that scene of the movie. You have every minority group demanding their right, the majority trying to hold on, new generations demanding change, baby boomers demanding what they were promised, working class angry at everyone, elites wanting more, a republic trying to stay together, and a wave of socialism. It’s hard to see how the U.S. stays on top with so many competing factions.

  • Brian_The_Realist

    The “American dream” was always a myth, a lie.

    It was a white, heterosexual, Christian construct built on the idea that “Godly white people” would live a life of leisure subsidized by others, with their family needs paid for directly and indirectly by others, a life of guaranteed employment, and then a life of decades of leisure as a senior paid for through a Social Security ponzi scheme.

    Gays and blacks and immigrants need not apply, and they were written out through “marriage protection laws” and Jim Crow and various other predations. Of course, they also paid higher taxes as a result of their “legal status” while getting cut off from all that government cash that fed the “dream.”

    Finally, it ended. Jobs disappeared, people weren’t willing to subsidize the leisure class anymore, and the leisure class drained too much blood out of the beast.

    Now they’ll have to work for a living and discard their “dream” of a life of leisure on the backs of others. They’ll have to work, earn and save like everyone else — no more “exotic finance” or “immigrant labor” or tax redistributionism to ease their way.

    It didn’t come soon enough.

    • Willysfla

      Are you out of your mind? That is absurd. Who pays for who? You got it backwards. The so called american dream “was” reward for hard work and life well lived. Opportunity for all

      • Laws456

        Yeah right, what about his post is absurd. Is that not the way it was in America up until 2 decades ago??

  • Brian_The_Realist

    The “American dream” was always a myth, a lie.

    It was a white, heterosexual, Christian construct built on the idea that “Godly white people” would live a life of leisure subsidized by others, with their family needs paid for directly and indirectly by others, a life of guaranteed employment, and then a life of decades of leisure as a senior paid for through a Social Security ponzi scheme.

    Gays and blacks and immigrants need not apply, and they were written out through “marriage protection laws” and Jim Crow and various other predations. Of course, they also paid higher taxes as a result of their “legal status” while getting cut off from all that government cash that fed the “dream.”

    Finally, it ended. Jobs disappeared, people weren’t willing to subsidize the leisure class anymore, and the leisure class drained too much blood out of the beast.

    Now they’ll have to work for a living and discard their “dream” of a life of leisure on the backs of others. They’ll have to work, earn and save like everyone else — no more “exotic finance” or “immigrant labor” or tax redistributionism to ease their way.

    It didn’t come soon enough.

  • Hadrian999

    yeah people finally realized there isn’t enough dream to go around
    and it’s turning into the American war

  • Hadrian999

    yeah people finally realized there isn’t enough dream to go around
    and it’s turning into the American war

  • Hadrian999

    yeah people finally realized there isn’t enough dream to go around
    and it’s turning into the American war

  • Hadrian999

    yeah people finally realized there isn’t enough dream to go around
    and it’s turning into the American war

  • Hadrian999

    yeah people finally realized there isn’t enough dream to go around
    and it’s turning into the American war

  • Hadrian999

    yeah people finally realized there isn’t enough dream to go around
    and it’s turning into the American war

  • Brawny Bronson

    Where’s this wave of socialism? I getta get my board waxed and my tan on

  • Anonymous

    A wave of socialism? Huh?

  • Willysfla

    Are you out of your mind? That is absurd. Who pays for who? You got it backwards. The so called american dream “was” reward for hard work and life well lived. Opportunity for all

  • Forandb

    From nations inception to 1970 a continuous rate of labor growth in proportion to production value grew progressively together. Agriculture society thru industrial evolution maintained a uniformed rate of distribution of productivity. Info Technology evolved from 1970 to present with labor running flat in prosperity where as productivity continued to accelerate. Dispersion of value to labor became disproportionate with grater profits to be assimilated by corporations. They in turn maintained a flat progression to labor. Corporations discovered that additional profits could be distributed by lending at interest to labor. Disproportion of productivity profit to benefit the corporations. Consumers decline, stimulates recessions. Greater the proportion of difference of productivity to the corporations in relation to labor will determine rate of unemployment and lack of consumers. Visualize a snake devouring itself from the tail on up to its demise through past failed systems of monarchies’, imperialism, fascism, in short dictatorial small minority to majority evolution.
    Systems failure can only be addressed by reorganization of the head of our society and its abilities to administer to the rest of the body of society in proper dispersal of labor and its productivity value to the consumer. Until such time we will continue to recycle red herring scenarios of the minorities to the majorities.
    What is owed to the people of this democracy is the restructuring of our capitalism strategies and their responsibilities to the collateral damage that they produce upon our society. Ideologies of all systems is subject to corruption and requires constant vigilance for our proper use of them.

  • Forandb

    From nations inception to 1970 a continuous rate of labor growth in proportion to production value grew progressively together. Agriculture society thru industrial evolution maintained a uniformed rate of distribution of productivity. Info Technology evolved from 1970 to present with labor running flat in prosperity where as productivity continued to accelerate. Dispersion of value to labor became disproportionate with grater profits to be assimilated by corporations. They in turn maintained a flat progression to labor. Corporations discovered that additional profits could be distributed by lending at interest to labor. Disproportion of productivity profit to benefit the corporations. Consumers decline, stimulates recessions. Greater the proportion of difference of productivity to the corporations in relation to labor will determine rate of unemployment and lack of consumers. Visualize a snake devouring itself from the tail on up to its demise through past failed systems of monarchies’, imperialism, fascism, in short dictatorial small minority to majority evolution.
    Systems failure can only be addressed by reorganization of the head of our society and its abilities to administer to the rest of the body of society in proper dispersal of labor and its productivity value to the consumer. Until such time we will continue to recycle red herring scenarios of the minorities to the majorities.
    What is owed to the people of this democracy is the restructuring of our capitalism strategies and their responsibilities to the collateral damage that they produce upon our society. Ideologies of all systems is subject to corruption and requires constant vigilance for our proper use of them.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah right, what about his post is absurd. Is that not the way it was in America up until 2 decades ago??