America Is A Scam

I just came across this TikTok video on Twitter and it broke my heart. It's a woman crying, utterly dismayed at how unfair life is, begging the totally legitimate question "how do people overcome poverty in America?"

The comments are filled with stories like hers, lamenting the impossibility of that feat today, and they're not wrong. Many western countries are in decline and facing similar issues, but I'm singling out America here because those issues are amplified by a thousand there. It also has a disproportionate influence on the world. When America goes down, it bring the rest of us with it.

I think it also deserves special ridicule for its persistent claim to the moral high ground. American leaders talk incessantly about being a "beacon to the world", as though they should be held up as a model for the rest of us, despite being consistently the worst by almost every measure. That kind of rhetoric alongside videos like this woman's is so frustrating to hear I had to write this blog post.

Below is an explanation. I encourage you to click through the links and see for yourself.

America is a bad example

We all desperately need to get over the fantasy of the American dream and stop looking up to America as a model for how to run societies. By any objective measure America is consistently among the worst of the developed countries. Look at happiness, or life expectancy, or human rights violations, or economic inequality, or education, or life satisfaction, or anything else you can think of that matters. America is at the bottom. It is unique among developed countries in providing basically no social safety net for its citizens (despite spending more on healthcare per capita than any other country!)

It is not a "shining city upon a hill". It is a failed state and we need to disabuse ourselves of the delusion that it is a model country to emulate.

America would do well to start taking some planks out of its own eyes before worrying about the specks in everyone else's, but I don't see that happening anytime soon given its defunct political system.

America is a scam

There may be a credible case that at one time America functioned reasonably well for a small subset of people, but however glorious its past, America is now a nation in decline. For literally my entire lifetime, just about everything has been getting worse for everyone except the very upper classes. This graph shows income distribution in America over time:

Share of Total Income going to the Top 1%, 1913 to 2014

Since the 1980s more and more wealth has been accumulating among the top 1% of richest people in America, to the point where now income inequality is literally the highest it has ever been. It is now impossible to afford a college education and a house, let alone a family, on an average income in America. People go to extreme lenghths and take on exorbitant debt to just achieve a marginal standard of living. And no matter how hard they work, there is nothing to protect them from being bankrupted by a single medical emergency or crooked banker. There is no winning. Needless to say, this is an untenable situation.

So.. where from here?

I have no idea. I mean I do have some ideas about how I'd like things to change, but I have a much higher tolerance for societal upheaval than most people and if I got my way we'd end up with another Trump on our hands, pandering to all the dishevelled conservatives who no longer recognize the world and want it to just go back to "the way it was".

Realistically it will take a bold movement led by someone progressive but empathetic who can offer grace and compassion to the millions who long for the good ol' days to bring change.

It seems like that can't really happen until Americans decide what that change should even look like. Canadian politicians debate about how to fund the healthcare system or how much teachers should get paid, but nobody argues that people should have to just figure out healthcare or education for themselves. Americans are decades behind in this conversation and don't even agree on basic things, like what standard of living every citizen should be provided.

Jonathan Haidt and his collaborators are the clearest thinkers I've heard on the topic of how to unite people as divided as we are now. Steven Pinker and Yascha Mounk seem to have some good ideas about what the future could realtisically look like. They also have way more optimism than I do. I'm also particularly interested in the work the Center for Humane Technology is doing to steer the tech industry in a less destructive direction.

Change is coming, it's up to us what it looks like

Societies where the majority of people cannot survive collapse. Change is coming one way or another. It's like that saying "if you don't make time for your wellness, you'll be forced to make time for your illness." This is already happening. The day of the Capitol coup was also a record-setting day for coronavirus deaths, but that story didn't even make the news at the time. Problems pile up and compound and eventually we're in such a mess that just keeping the lights on at the hospital is too much to ask. Eventually, things will change, one way or another.

America needs to achieve revolutionary results through bureaucratic means, or else find themselves with another revolution on their hands.