Sunday, November 7, 2010

Where Does America Go From Here?

In his 1931 book “Epic of America,” American historian James Truslow Adams wrote, “The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

The “American Dream” has not turned out as Adams envisioned. The Dream became materialistically a “dream of motor cars and high wages.” The Dream has benefited no one except those with the wherewithal to afford its pursuit. The “American Dream” became a promise of wealth creation by politicians and advertisers that sold Americans a bill of goods designed for their own political or profiteering purposes. Television game shows like “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and games as Monopoly help perpetuate that dream. It is a promise that every American through hard work, or determination, can achieve wealth; that every American can have a new car and own a home; that everyone can make it big in the land of riches. For everyone except those at the top, the “American Dream” turned out to be just that, an illusion, which for all practical purposes most Americans will never achieve.

America’s dream took the wrong path. The result: a credit-driven profligate America that is now debt-ridden, an economic collapse that has yielded erosion in the standard of living, and an income disparity that has undermined the promised dream. It even looks like America may have created a permanent class of the unemployed.

Fareed Zakaria’s November 1, 2010 cover story for Time Magazine, “How to Restore the American Dream,” writes, “There are solutions, but they are hard and involve painful changes — in companies, government programs and personal lifestyles.” Zakaria has offered proposals, which he says “are inherently difficult because they ask the left and right to come together, cut some spending, pare down entitlements, open up immigration for knowledge workers, rationalize the tax code — and then make large investments in education and training, research and technology, innovation and infrastructure.”

Zakaria has not offered any new proposal. Indeed, in our Zeitgeist, it is what needs to be done macroeconomically, but the real solution is long-term and more profound than that. It turns out that Greenspan’s phrase "irrational exuberance” is as applicable as it was when he addressed the “dot-com bubble,” because it is what got us into this mess, an overreach by Wall Street and Main Street over its lust for money. The solution requires a paradigm shift in thinking and changes in lifestyle, requiring every American to assiduously refocus and recreate themselves in order for America to move forward; to understand that things cannot change on the drop of a dime; to understand that what attributed to our current fiscal tribulations were self-serving interest and irrational behavior.

Beyond the Zeitgeist, the “American Dream” must be an epic world journey leading universally from a money-based to a resource-based economy, to world peace, and to advancing up the Kardashev scale to a type 3 civilization, where mankind has gained the knowledge to control all those things that economically, physically, and environmentally plague us, and we have, as Dr. Michio Kaku expressed, “colonized the galaxy itself, extracting energy from hundreds of billions of stars.” No matter how esoteric and utopian this may sound, it’s simple; humankind will not survive if we don’t change our ways.