What happened to the American Dream? It moved North.

September 29th, 2011

(This article was published recently in Trinity News – www.trinitynews.ie)

 

There are two prerequisites that must be met in order to have some career success in American political life. Firstly, you must profess, over and over, that the United States is the greatest and most exceptional country ever to have been conceived; secondly, you must regularly express your faith in a higher, celestial power.

What is remarkable about this double expression is that the former – an absolute, unquestioned loyalty to the American Dream – is far more faith-based than the latter – the public expression of religiosity, often for political gain. The nominally secular notion of the American Dream has millions of devotees, all trying to find heaven on Earth. Thus, to knock it is to sign your own political death warrant. The American Dream is a religion for theists and atheists alike.

Look around you. Where is the new wave of Irish emigrants heading? Most of the usual suspects (Australia, Britain, Canada) have lined up at their airports to stamp Irish passports and working visas, but in this recession – our first since the 1980s – the United States has taken more of a back role. More Irish graduates and unemployed persons are moving to Canada and, fortunately for them, they are the ones who will get a real chance of enjoying the American Dream.

The numbers support this claim. Compared to the U.S., Canadians work less, live longer and enjoy better health. With a lower unemployment rate, a stronger dollar (from a position in the 1980s when the Canadian dollar was worth 69 American cents) and less sovereign and individual debt, Canada is now a better place to make money. Canadians – traditionally seen as deferential to their southern neighbours as they sloshed around in deep pools of capital in an entrepreneurial paradise –now view that same land, with its tattered economy, bloated debt and paralysed political system, more with pity than in awe. In a recent Nanos research poll of Canadians, 86 per cent said that their country holds more promise for prosperity.

That prosperity has come with shorter working hours and more time off, allowing Canadians to enjoy themselves more. The Canadian news weekly magazine Macleans has found that in recent years as Americans toil away, working to pay mounting bills, Canadians are spending more time with friends or travelling. Canadians play more golf than any other nationality in the world and have more sex but fewer teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and divorces than their American counterparts. They also drink more but have fewer illnesses and live longer.

Median income for Americans and Canadians is almost exactly the same, but in 2005 it was found that in Canada the average amount of personal debt per person was US$23,460, as opposed to a whopping US$40,250 for Americans. This means that, although they may have slightly smaller homes, Canadians have a lot more real wealth. Those figures are from before the American housing market descended into chaos, likely making for an even greater disparity in per capita debt just half a decade later. Canadians have a different definition of freedom.

Meanwhile in the U.S., debate within the Republican Party in recent weeks has focused on immigration as potential presidential candidates fall over one another in a race to see who can build the biggest wall in the shortest amount of time across one of its two land borders. Green cards, once handed out like confetti to immigrants, many Irishmen and women among them, are now far harder to obtain. The post-9/11 decade has seen American politicians tending to view immigration through the lens of terrorism or national sovereignty rather than as an opportunity to add dynamism and flexibility to the labour market. The popular image of the penniless immigrant arriving on American shore and “making it” through hard work and bright ideas is redundant if the system won’t allow it. On the other hand, Canada now accepts more immigrants per capita than any other developed country.

During one of those aforementioned debates in Florida, fanatics in the audience shouted ‘let him die’ as Republican Senator Ron Paul of Texas attempted to justify his belief that a hypothetical 30 year-old patient with life-threatening injuries or disease should not receive care unless he was wealthy enough to pay hundreds of dollars per month for private insurance. This is the not-so-small print of the modern American Dream.

Look the headline above and note the capital ‘D’ in ‘American Dream’. Why is it so? More than anything, it is now a brand – an idea that can be sold to men, women and children; something into which they can invest their money and emotions, even if the winners are almost always those already at the top. Canada, meanwhile, is no longer a blander, watered-down version of the U.S., though that reputation will take longer to change than the reality. While Americans have been busy pursuing happiness, Canadians have been living it. If anything, it is the true land of opportunity in North America.

  • paulo1

    I don’t know what they teach at St. Andrews but at Blackrock College, where the cream of the southside were educated, a prerequisite was not a thing that could be had. Required, perhaps, but not had. Just sayin’ like, innit ?

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