The American Dream before it moved to Canada.
I was mowing the lawn first time this year. It occurred to me that I am living the American dream. The idea of an American dream was originated in the early thirties but took shape after the Second World war. American and Canadian boys were coming back from the war and settling down for life of peace. The duty to the country was done, and now it was time for the rewards.
What was the American dream? Most men were going to marry their sweethearts, buy a house, often with a front lawn, have a garage, a family car and a job that would take them into retirement. The girls who worked during the war in men’s industries, were quite happy to have and raise kids, look after the family and enjoy the freedom granted by new appliances that performed the traditional women's duties with electricity instead of muscle power. Guys worked in industry during the week, cut the lawn and waxed the automobile on the weekends. On Sunday the family dressed up and went to church. Most people found ways to enjoy their holidays. TV became common and people began watching sports, soaps, and news. With that came tempting commercials.
Most of the boys, GI’s they called them, had “free” healthcare and the ability to obtain “free” college education, as a reward for their service. Roosevelt’s New Deal provided a new infrastructure, new access to electricity, roads, rail, and schools, hospitals and other amenities that didn’t exist for the masses during the prior great depression. In other words, people had jobs and money, sold and purchased things, and the economy roled well right till the seventies or early eighties. This was the great America that people today are dreaming about getting back. Colored people were mostly excluded from the dream, and some blame them for the loss of the American dream.
Inflation threatened to change the balance, but a combination of unionized workers and government regulations kept the relationship between those with capital and the majority of workers healthy. Still, people had jobs, pensions, homes with garages and lawns and a chicken in every pot. Americans, even while paying for wars and starting to include minorities into the American dream, were on top of the world. In 1981 President Reagan was elected in the US and in 1984 Brian Mulroney became Prime Minister of Canada.
People had to work for what they had, strikes were happening and the Cold War was a constant reminder that if the many millions of workers don’t do well, revolutions may happen. There was a healthy fear of Communism in the air. At the end of the eighties, the Soviet Union was collapsing and people were sold on the idea of Supply-Demand economics or Reaganism, as many prefer to call it. Now it is known as the Trickle-down Economics.
Another notable change was the invention of credit cards which gave the masses the ability to purchase more then they could afford. The average people began to improve the American dream without saving. Now people were looking for ways to afford more, and the idea of “fly now pay later” became common. Folks who traditionally were reasonable about expectations looked at their credit limits as the new ceiling of their buying power.
The new ideas were causing people to view the success of big business as the savior of the working class, which it wasn’t. All efforts shifted from protecting the working public and consumers towards making “big business” prosper, waiting for the wealth to spill down upon the rest. Taxes on big businesses were reduced, bringing a decline in services and infrastructure, wages remained stagnant and the corporations took their incentives and capitalized on new opportunities. They move manufacturing to countries with lower labor costs. For many millions of Americans, the American Dream became more of a dream and less a reality.
Banking institutions took advantage of new freedom from regulations and reduced healthy competition by amalgamating. In 2008 the big crush caused millions of Americans to lose their homes and jobs. Canada was spared due to brilliant action by Jim Flaherty the finance minister of the time and the economist Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
I watched an interview with Scott Gilmore, a Canadian diplomate who studies statistics. As it stands, here is the latest. College graduates in the US are 46% and in Canada 59%. Home ownership in the US is 63% and in Canada 68%. Life expectancy 78.7 years and in Canada 81.2. Canadians enjoy more vacations, don’t go bankrupt for being sick and have better access to education. The best feature is the fact that here there is better social mobility. In Canada, your chances of improving your social status in one lifetime are twice as good as in the US.
People in America do not enjoy the equal opportunity that we do and often work two jobs. They view us as a socialist country, but in their case, they have more socialism for the rich and less for the average people. The huge army is protecting corporate interests all over the world; energy corporations get incentives, banks and industries get bailouts and so on, while social services, education, and medical programs are being cut. The latest was just announced, a cut in the program that provides food stamps.
All together I am glad to cut the lawn in the spring here, which is later than spring in most States, and know that we are doing something right. I don’t gloat in our success but hope that people who believe that our neighbors have a better system will take a long second look. The American dream moved north and Americans are trying to get it back by force instead of following what we do.