Americans Agree America's Future Stinks (Duh)

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 5/05/2011 12:03:00 PM
Ah, the stench of American decay. Just a few hours ago, I heard Joseph "Soft Power" Nye--a worthy inaugural recipient of this blog's Carl Spackler Award for Cheneynomic analysis--outline his case that America's demise is much exaggerated. As you'll read below, I take issue with his argument that while the US may be in relative decline, it is not in absolute decline. But let's begin though with some decidedly non-rose-tinted analyses of America's prospects by regular folks. While deficits don't matter-style reasoning is nothing new as far as Americans academics are concerned, it's good to hear what Americans who live outside of ivory towers have to say instead of having USA#1 cheerleaders feed us a steady diet of Bush league bromides. Save it for the next Sarah Palin rally, buddy (as the Yanks would say).

Once again demonstrating you don't have to look far for IPE-relevant material, I came across this nugget on the Yahoo! homepage. A few posts back I used "green card" petitions as a gauge of just how much America stinks since skilled migrants are choosing not to go there in droves. No jobs, no future, no go. Well guess what: Americans themselves agree that America stinks. Due to a lack of jobs among other things, today's US youth is resigned to a living standard inferior to that of their parents'. The recent Gallup poll mentioned below is in a long line of polls asking basically same question "Will today's generation be better off than their parents'?" The headline says it all: "In U.S., Optimism About Future for Youth Reaches All-Time Low":

And here's the relevant accompanying text:
Forty-four percent of Americans believe it is likely that today's youth will have a better life than their parents, even fewer than said so amid the 2008-2009 recession, and the lowest on record for a trend dating to 1983.

Confidence in the traditional American dream--that each generation can work its way up in the world and have a better life than the previous generation--appears to be slipping away. Americans are less likely to believe this to be true today than at any time on record, including during the worst of the recent economic crisis.

Fewer than 4 in 10 high-income Americans--who presumably have the greatest access to opportunity and resources to gauge what the markets will do going forward--believe today's youth will be better off than their parents. This level of pessimism may also reflect the massive destruction of wealth that high-income Americans experienced from the economic meltdown.

Young adults, however, are mostly hopeful that today's youth will have a better living standard, better homes, and a better education than their parents. This optimism among youth -- their belief that tomorrow can be better than today -- is an important and hopeful sign, but it is possible that as they age, these young Americans will become more pessimistic, as their elders are today.
I've said this before and I'll say it again: The American dream is a fraud. (Perhaps criminally so in the case of the subprime crisis.) Now, there are three versions of this tall story: owning your own home, the land of opportunity, and a rising standard of living. First you have the idiotic "ownership society" variant which begat the housing bubble. As home prices keep tumbling with no end in sight, it's no surprise that homeownership rates keep falling, too. So much for that. Second you have the observation that intergenerational mobility is worst in Anglo-Saxon countries alike the US and UK [1, 2] where laissez-faire is supposed to promote more opportunity. No such thing, either. Third, Americans have good reason to be pessimistic about the living standard of future generations since median incomes have already been in decline for a decade. I learned about "extrapolation" in the fourth grade, and it's not a very difficult idea to grasp (unless you subscribe to mathlexic Cheneynomics, listen to Brooks and Dunn, or are a Tea Party acolyle, of course).

So there you go, Joe (Nye). The American dream, so central to its aspirations, is not supported by fact. Collapsing home prices, class immobility, and falling median income--if that's not outright decline, then my name's Abe Vigoda. Increasingly, Americans themselves don't believe in the American dream as it sinks further into Cheneynomic oblivion. Tell me this: where is the "soft power" of persuasion when your own people don't believe in this fraud? Few except the most deluded buy it, so you might as well consign it to the dustbin of history. The evidence is indisputable that America is in decline--and Americans are increasingly convinced of it, too.