Most of us envision acquiring the ‘AMERICAN DREAM’. The Dream of an individual getting a quality education, having a good car, owning their own home and moving up the social ladder.
Actually, the American Dream began with the Declaration of Independence. The idea inspired early European Settlers that “every man and every woman shall, regardless of their birth, achieve what they can do”. It was a message of freedom, of enjoying a happy and fulfilling life that embraced faith and equality. The American Dream emerged from noble roots and inspired a nation; its impact so profound that its influence was felt in many countries all over the world.
How the decades brought about change. For many the noble intent of the American Dream soon metamorphosed from the Dream of enjoying a happy and fulfilling life that embraced faith and equality into the desire to become wealthy and the belief that one could achieve this if they worked hard enough and took on debt.
According to the political analyst Ted Ownby there are four consumerist “American Dream”:
- The “Dream of Abundance”, with a cornucopia of material goods making Americans proud that their society was the richest in the world.
- The “Dream of a Democracy of Goods”, where all products were accessible to all, independent of race, class or gender.
- The “Dream of Freedom of Choice”, where abundant variety meant people could fashion their own lifestyle.
- The “Dream of Novelty”, where constantly changing fashions and new products made consumers eager to possess and skilled at acquiring the very latest of them.
The birth of “the Joneses” had begun. The constant need for more, to outdo each other in gaining material things, was on the rise.
The only way to possess the material things that the Dream promised was suddenly to take on debt. Yes, we were working hard, but we needed more and more debt to feed this lifestyle.
The new religion was unstoppable upward mobility, and governments that freed the banking and investment system from so-called constraining regulations encouraged it.
Industry and banks were more than happy to help. Many people were speculating with property; trading the stock market was on the rise; and many individuals took out loans or used their credit cards to help facilitate this.
The saying was “Anybody could get credit”. House prices rose and, feeling enriched, many people borrowed money secured by their rising property value.
Working in financial sectors in London and New York provided business graduates with three times the income of their peers who worked in other sectors. Trading in derivatives was far more lucrative than making things.
From 1987 to 2007 economies boomed. The feeling was that it could never end. It had to end, and it did, astonishingly rapidly. 2007/08 was a period we all remembered. The stock market tumbled, top firms went bankrupt and property prices were negatively affected. Many people lost their jobs, and some even lost their homes.
The reason it all happened is simple. The American Dream (remodelled on debt), whether it is the collective Dream of the nation or the Dream of the individual, foundation was built on sand and the inevitable 2007/08 crash was bound to happen.
What does the future hold? We can make changes starting with introducing sound monetary principles;
- Living within our means
- Staying away from debt or keeping it to a minimal
- Saving towards buying an item/service
- Having a stable currency
- A Sound interest rate policy that benefits both borrowers and savers
Governments, companies and we the people on both sides of the Atlantic have got to stop believing in debt as a salvation, as a way of solving the economic problems we face. Our empty high street stores are just an indication what happens when companies take on TOO much debt.
The original concept of the American Dream was noble; it started off intending to pursue purpose and destiny but ended with the pursuit of money and material wealth.
Have we really freed ourselves of the mistakes made back in 2007/08 of too much debt? Are we as a nation able to embrace the save now, pay later mentality. We need resurgence back to the ORIGINAL “American Dream” concept: a message of freedom, of enjoying a happy and fulfilling life built on a solid monetary foundation.
We should pursue fulfilment through saving, investing wisely and spending diligently.
Getting this message into our educational system, media outlets and using it to shape our government policies would go a long way in helping build a lasting financial framework.
The message is simple: spend what we can afford and live within our means. This is the answer that individuals, our country and the global world needs to hear or does another financial crisis face us as the global debt bubble looms bigger than ever before.
Written by Neala Okuromade
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