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Forum Post: The American Dream is Dead and Capitalism has Failed

Posted 5 years ago on June 15, 2012, 5:49 p.m. EST by PeterKropotkin (1050) from Oakland, CA
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

The problem, in a nutshell, is this: The old economic model has utterly failed us. It has destroyed our communities, our democracy, our economic security, and the planet we live on. The old industrial-age systems -- state communism, fascism, free-market capitalism -- have all let us down hard, and growing numbers of us understand that going back there isn't an option.

But we also know that transitioning to some kind of a new economy -- and, probably, a new governing model to match -- will be a civilization-wrenching process. We're having to reverse deep and ancient assumptions about how we allocate goods, labor, money, and power on a rapidly shrinking, endangered, complex, and ever more populated planet. We are bolding taking the global economy -- and all 7 billion souls who depend on it -- where no economy has ever gone before.

First video Richard Wolff explaining the problem


Shift Change to the solution




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[-] 7 points by francismjenkins (3713) 5 years ago

I'm afraid more than 80% of America would disagree with this contention, and for good reason. When I drive down the street I see a highly organized society. I see traffic lights, nice roads, a neatly manicured landscape, stores and restaurants and bars serving our every whim, great technology, advancements being made in the life sciences that promises to radically change our world in the not so distant future, a water delivery system second to none, electricity, refrigeration, computers, an internet, hospitals with fantastic equipment (unimaginable only a few short decades ago), and I could go on and on.

For most people, these facts do not scream 'we need radical change' --rather more targeted and less dramatic change. Participatory democracy isn't such a leap compared to what we have today. A right of recall, more robust civil participation, and adjusting our society in smart ways. Inner cities, outlying areas, and agricultural communities would benefit from a greater presence of cooperatives. In poor communities, where its residents have much more contact with police, we should have community boards of local residents who shape how their community is policed, who have the power to address abuses and injustice.

So really we have two America's.

[-] 1 points by geo (2638) from Concord, NC 5 years ago

What you describe in your first paragraph is infrastructure. Yes ours is indeed intact.

The death of the American Dream is not about a failing infrastructure. Its about a failed political system, a failed society that believed in equality, and providing equal opportunity to its citizens. Equal opportunity to move up in the income brackets is no longer a truth. The hope to own ones own home was destroyed in 2008. Most of us live paycheck to paycheck, or perhaps just a little bit better if we are not in absolute poverty. 80% of America is accepting this as the new norm.

[-] 2 points by francismjenkins (3713) 5 years ago

I mean, yes and no (but mostly yes). American style capitalism (which can hardly be defined as free market anything, if there really is such a thing) is cyclical in nature. Go back to the late 19th century, the guilded age, and we see wealth inequality on a scale far worse than what we have today. We had various forms of, call it, central banking (the First followed by the Second Bank of the US), then we abandoned the idea of central banking completely (the Free Banking Era), which was also a mess, then we finally we create a central bank (1918). However, that doesn't work to cure our problems, the economic roller coaster that defines the American economy continues, until the New Deal. Finally, something that "sort of" works ... but conservatives have been working to break it down since its inception (and beginning with Reagan, their ideas finally begin to gain traction). Slowly, we go from creditor to debtor nation. We go from exporter to importer. Not to ignore all the extrinsic factors at play. In the wake of WWII the rest of the world was literally reduced to rubble. We were the only game in town, the only developed nation with an industrial infrastructure left standing. But as the rest of the world rebuilt, we became complacent in our success.

Now we wonder how the little guy can have a voice in our giant and complex system? I've sat in occupy wall street meetings and stood in amazement at how even the simplest decision would take hours of debate, infighting, ridicule, and at the end of it, nothing was accomplished. People were more angry and confused than they were beforehand.

What will work to change this mess? I really don't know, but I am learning one thing, if people are unprepared and unfit for participatory democracy, maybe they are better off being led by leaders who are fit. Trying to impose a utopian idea that requires an intellectual society, on an anti-intellectual people, is most likely a waste of time.

Call me an elitist, but as much as I want this idea to work, I can't deny the obvious just because I wish it wasn't true. Some parts of OWS are working remarkably, other parts are an utter failure, and guess what, the parts that are working well, are working because the people involved are well educated, experienced, and overall, very good people. In fact, we can probably plot this on a graph. The level of success corresponds with the type of people involved.

[-] 2 points by geo (2638) from Concord, NC 5 years ago

The American Dream became accessible to most when that cyclical nature of capitalism you describe was forced to level out for 60 years.... when the banks were cuffed.

Capitalism is designed to operate at full throttle... the greater the expansion the greater the growth... then it blows itself up, crashes and burns with carnage everywhere.

When the banks were cuffed during the 1930's the growth became throttled and more controlled. When we needed large scale growth during WWII that was achievable, but then cut back without a depression or large scale inflation.

With the banks cuffed, our citizens could develop personal savings without predatory practices taking those savings away. It was the unleashing of the banks that turned us into a consumer based, debt laden society. The institution of usury debt instruments like credit cards, subprime lending, derivatives are the result of this.

Putting the genie back into the bottle is going to be much harder this time around, if at all possible. It should be one of our primary goals.... along with money out of politics, and the end of Free Trade.

These are the corrupting factors of our system. Our system can work. We need some serious house cleaning. The incumbents are not going to clean house themselves. Serious outside pressure is needed for them to do the right thing.

[-] 2 points by francismjenkins (3713) 5 years ago

Dude, you're preaching to the choir .... I agree 100%. Glass Steagall was slowly weakened over time (beginning in the late 1970's, culminating with Graham Leach in 1999), the dual mandate of the fed was implemented in the 1970's (before that ... the fed's sole mandate was inflation), tax cuts, loopholes, special treatment for capital gains, corporate welfare, and ultimately, militarization (and not exclusively what we think of as our military, the bigger problem in my view is the militarization of our homeland). Participatory democracy is a great idea, but to think we can implement it abruptly, is asinine (and only guarantees its failure).

[-] 1 points by JadedCitizen (4277) 5 years ago

Even though I've never stepped foot out of this country, I don't think I actually view everything from an American perspective. We live in a global economy and have only one planet. Just the other day, I read a report about photoplankton, the basis of of the ocean food chain, having declined 40% in the last 60 years. Europe is a mess. Things are so bad in Greece, I hear people are killing themselves. I could go on and on. Should I not be alarmed?

Globally, how many people do you think see a need for drastic and radical changes?

[-] 4 points by francismjenkins (3713) 5 years ago

Yes we should be alarmed, but American apathy is still strong (I'm just trying to highlight some reasons why I think this is so). It's a hard problem, I mean, just look at what happened in Wisconsin. Walker outspent his opponent 7 to 1, and 3 donors provided more money to Walkers campaign than his opponent was able to raise in total.

Yet Americans remain apathetic. Speaking for myself, I think people should be freaked out by the prospect that our democracy is for sale, or more accurately stated, we really don't have a democracy anymore (or at least we're letting it slip through out fingers).

[-] 2 points by JadedCitizen (4277) 5 years ago

I think mainstream media plays a huge role in creating this apathetic state of mind. Maybe OWS should have its own version of the Emergency Broadcast System to alert the people that we have a democracy crisis in this country.

[-] 1 points by francismjenkins (3713) 5 years ago

Yes, I was reading an interesting article in the Economist earlier. Here's an excerpt:

Because the participatory democracy of OWS is an ideological endeavour, it can avoid the hard problem of liberal society: the ineradicable diversity of moral belief and the impossibility of consensus. Consensus-based communes composed of individuals who opt in specifically because they already agree with the commune's founding values can work precisely because the people who would make consensus impossible—people with very different opinions and values—stay away. But not only does the OWS experiment skirt the problem of pluralism through self-selection, the ideological homogeneity of self-selection may make deliberation tend toward extremism, as Cass Sunstein's important work on deliberation and group polarisation shows. He writes: "When like-minded people are participating in 'iterated polarization games'—when they meet regularly, without sustained exposure to competing views—extreme movements are all the more likely."


This may be a real (or fabricated) problem, but in my experience, I think there may something to this article. I mean, the way I see it is problems like this can be overcome, but the failure of the General Assembly model tells us we have our work cut out for us. Meetings are starting on the subject of revitalizing the general assembly model, and I think it's vital that we have this. I mean, if we can't make it work on a small scale, then we can't reasonably expect to convince our city, state, and ultimately nation, to adopt it on a broader scale.

The first thing we have to do, I think, is be brutally honest with ourselves. Without honest self-reflection, we're not going anywhere, except for away.

[-] 3 points by JadedCitizen (4277) 5 years ago

Could we have an online GA?

[-] 1 points by Builder (4202) 5 years ago

I imagine it would be possible. First, advertise starting times and dates.

What kind of format would you propose?

Submit motions, with a time limit for submisions?

Set the parameters for time on discussion of issues.

Call for votes on each issue.

Anything is possible, as long as we have agreement.

[-] 1 points by JadedCitizen (4277) 5 years ago

I have very little idea how the GA works, that is one of the reasons I asked.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

"Hamilton’s financial system had then past. It had two objects. First as a puzzle, to exclude popular understanding and inquiry. Secondly, as a machine for the corruption of the legislature; for he avowed the opinion that man could be governed by one of two motives only, force or interest: force he observed, in this country, was out of the question; and the interests therefore of the members must be laid hold of, to keep the legislature in unison with the Executive. And with grief and shame it must be acknowledged that his machine was not without effect. That even in this, the birth of our government, some members were found sordid enough to bend their duty to their interests, and to look after personal, rather than public good."

Thomas Jefferson in "Anas" dated February 4, 1818 http://occupywallst.org/forum/none-are-more-hopelessly-enslaved-than-those-who-f/

The Republic has always been up for sale.

[-] 1 points by francismjenkins (3713) 5 years ago

You don't get much argument from me on this count, Jefferson was the real deal, a real lover of democracy (and he understood what the word means perhaps better than any of his contemporaries, notwithstanding some of his personal contradictions).

[-] 2 points by JoeTheFarmer (2654) 5 years ago

I think it is pathetic that people in Greece think they have it so bad. Killing themselves? Are you kidding? Greece has been rated the least hard working country on the planet. Censequently they have the worst credit rating in Europe. They are upset because Germany won't give them more money to fund their bloated social programs so they can retire at 59. How dare they be asked to work to 61!

Tell me about the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Madagascar, Angola or Ethiopia and I will have some sympathy. Those people actually need help. They would be happy with a bowl of rice each day.

Greece is dragging the EU down.

[-] 0 points by JadedCitizen (4277) 5 years ago

You're disgusting.

[-] 2 points by JoeTheFarmer (2654) 5 years ago


I think it is silly that you think that what I said is disgusting.

The poor Greeks want to retire at 59 and if they can't you tell me they are killing themselves.

My point is I would rather see Germany give the money to people that are really struggling and starving in Tanzania, Madagascar, Angola or Ethiopia.

I hope the Greeks do vote themselves out of the EU. They really won't be missed all that much.

[-] 0 points by JadedCitizen (4277) 5 years ago

It does not matter how you rationalize it. Laughing about people committing suicide is disgusting.

[-] 2 points by JoeTheFarmer (2654) 5 years ago

I did not laugh at anyone. I said it is pretty pathetic.

Someone killing them self over government austerity measures is out of touch with reality and that is sad. That person has no concept of how many people are much worse off then he or she is.

[-] 1 points by beautifulworld (22863) 5 years ago

I don't know. I think superficially things seem okay to a lot of people but when you dig deeper it becomes evident that things are not good at all. Average household net worth has decreased almost 40%, 40%!!!! from 2007 to 2010.


And, we all know wages have been declining for 40 years while the cost of living has been increasing. One half of all Americans earns less than $26,300 per year. 1 in 7 are on food stamps. 49 million Americans are without health insurance, 22% of American children live in poverty, 42% of African American children live in poverty, etc. etc.

Now, blind nationalism does interfere with people seeing things for what they really are. But, once they take off the rose colored glasses they will see exactly what Richard Wolff outlines.

[-] 2 points by francismjenkins (3713) 5 years ago

I guess I'm just saying, yes Americans see a problem (I suppose we wouldn't see such a low % of people who think we're heading in the wrong direction if it didn't), but they don't view the problems as extreme as we seem to think they do. Believe me, I'm not disparaging anyone, just trying to offer what I think is a broader dimension to this whole thing.

One thing I've had the fortune (or misfortune, depending on how you see it) of experiencing, is all different regions of America. I went to undergrad in the mid west, the army took me to the south, southwest, and west. Being from NY, but living in all these different places, I think it gave me a broader perspective into how Americans think.

I've also been overseas, but that doesn't count really (I don't think I was in any position, as a soldier, to accurately describe how Iraqi's think). I mean, I was the outsider in an armed conflict. I have been to Europe a bunch of times, but you can only glean so much (particularly when you don't speak German, Italian, or French) :)

I personally feel badly enough about our circumstances that I'm willing to do just about anything I can to try and change our crazy trajectory. I'll march, I'll sing in the streets (although I have no singing skills), whatever (with the exception of violence). I just don't want to see us get stuck in a group think mentality that detaches us from how the average person really thinks. I would think that we should welcome all perspectives, we hear, we listen, we learn, we grow, and when needed, we adjust. Sort of like the old marine played by Clint Eastwood in Heartbreak Ridge, improvise and adapt :)

[-] 2 points by TitusMoans (2451) from Boulder City, NV 5 years ago

While I agree with your premise that most Americans don't see the need for any earth-shattering solutions, much of that comes from daily indoctrination, not only from the mainstream media, but from nearly all public forms of communication and entertainment.

Marx noted this phenomenon in German Ideology and wrote, "The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force."

That doesn't mean this cultural hegemony is all-encompassing, but many people are deluded into believing everything is just hunky dory, even the perpetual wars in which our nation is engaged.

As beautifulworld points out everyday America, the nitty-gritty place where most of the working class lives, especially the ones in the "less than..." category, don't have easy access to all the wonderful medical technology, or the manicured landscaping; no, most of them live with graffiti-painted walls as their landscaping.

I know you get the point. You're willing to peacefully change our society, but I and others believe that the time has come for drastic action and a drastic change. Violence cannot succeed, but all of us can start to educate workers, pointing out how their lives can get better, and promoting a more just system in which the dollar isn't the absolute monarch.

[-] -1 points by beautifulworld (22863) 5 years ago

I don't think we disagree at all. We have America as it really is, and we have Americans walking around with their heads in the sand. You are right that most don't "think" there's a huge problem, but just because they "think" it doesn't make it true. This is the conundrum. How do we get these people to wake up?

[-] 2 points by shadz66 (19985) 5 years ago

As to why "The American dream is dead and Capitalism has failed" ...

e tenebris lux ...

[-] -2 points by beautifulworld (22863) 5 years ago

That's a great site. Thanks.

[-] -1 points by Stambody (0) 5 years ago

--Average household net worth has decreased almost 40%

But it was artificially inflated during previous 5-10 years. So may be it just returned to "normal" perceived value.

More important sign of capitalistic failure is 700 trillion debt. When this domino unfolds this would be complete chaos. 700 trillion is 10-15 times more than one year global production.

[-] -1 points by beautifulworld (22863) 5 years ago

Add that to the list.

[-] -1 points by DKAtoday (33487) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

Exactly - the truth may be ugly - but it can also be improved upon.

Denial gets you nothing but a bigger mess.

[-] 2 points by flip (7101) 5 years ago

richard wolff - very nice

[-] 1 points by shadz66 (19985) 5 years ago

Thanx for your great post & heart warming 'commondreams' link, further to which - I append :

fiat justitia ...

[-] 0 points by tofree (5) 5 years ago

So we can make Obama to a King. and start with a kind of Monarchism.

[-] 1 points by tofree (5) 5 years ago

even george bush i would say votes for that.



[-] -1 points by secnoot (-14) 5 years ago

If they want to ditch the current economic system, they owe it to us as our servants to give us some idea of what the new economic system they plan to put into place will be. I doubt a majority of Americans would be in favor of the economic system that is planned to be imposed on us.