‘This House Still Dreams the American Dream’
Oxford Union, January 24, 2013
Madame Comrade President, comrades … the implication of this motion before us is that the Oxford Union has been dreaming the American Dream up to the present day, and is now considering whether to kick the habit.
If so, it’s about time, because anyone who still dreams the American Dream must either be fast asleep or high on drugs.
The American Dream became one of the great myths of the 20th century. It has been assiduously promoted by the multimillionaires whose fortunes have been made – or more often inherited – in a system based on exploitation, discrimination and gross inequality.
The myth makers, who own most of the mass media in the United States, must keep everyone on the treadmill, trudging after that bunch of carrots being dangled before them.
The multi-billionaires, of course, have shedfuls of carrots, many of which they would rather let rot than share with those who actually labour to produce them.
The reality is that, for the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st, according to the OECD, the USA is one of the most unequal societies in the world.
The wealthiest 1 per cent of the population own one-third of all the country’s personal wealth and more than 50 per cent of the stocks and shares.
The wealthiest 10 per cent own two-thirds of the wealth. The poorer one half of the American people own just 2.5 per cent of the country’s wealth and 0.5 per cent of the stocks and shares.
More than 20 per cent of US children are officially classified as living in poverty – twice the level of those in Britain and France.
The average company chief executive takes home 343 times as much money as the average worker, and for decades that gulf has been widening.
None of these figures are seriously in dispute. Indeed, because the wealthy hide so much of their wealth, they probably under-estimate the extent of inequality in Real America.
In real-world America, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the value of wages has not increased in 50 years. One hour’s work today will buy you no more for your dollars than it would have done in 1962.
Where has all that productivity gone? Well, you’re bright people – you work it out.
The hard-working American family is not a myth. But the idea that they reap even a small share of the fruits of their labour – that’s a myth, sustained by the American Dream.
Because a dream is all that it will ever be for most people, in a ruthless system dominated, distorted and corrupted by giant monopoly corporations.
A system, by the way, in which corporate fat cats preach the virtues of ‘free enterprise’ and ‘standing on your own two feet’, while the US public underwrite a $21 trillion bailout of that system’s giant corporations and markets.
That’s what US governments spend on Federal welfare programmes over a period of 50 years.
The real cost of college tuition in the US is five times higher today than it was in 1978. The average cost of tuition fees, room and board at America’s private universities has risen to $37,000 a year – that’s more than£23,000.
Meanwhile, 17 million graduates are doing jobs that don’t even require a college degree – and McDonald’s now turn away a higher percentage of applicants than Harvard.
Healthcare costs account for 16 per cent of household spending in the US, more than three times the cost of paying for the NHS in Britain. More than one-third of working age Americans are struggling to pay their medical bills or debts.
But here’s the beauty of the American Dream for the private healthcare profiteers … the billionaire mass media has convinced a substantial proportion of the US population that even a statutory medical insurance system is a symbol of socialist tyranny!
Britain’s NHS must be full-blown communism!
This is an example of how big business and right-wing fanatics have debased the currency of political debate in the USA.
But the corruption runs far deeper. No candidate can hope to become President unless he or she is either a multimillionaire or relies upon corporate sponsorship.
Exceptions to this rule are rare even in the US Congress.
No wonder that only 28 per cent of adult Americans voted for the winning candidate in last year’s presidential election. Forty-four per cent of them either could not vote or wpuld not vote at all.
Perhaps they’ve rumbled the fact that the US is a one-party state run by two parties, both committed to the interests of big business at home and abroad.
By the way, best not mention the American Dream to the peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan, Panama, Cuba, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Greece – countries where US military intervention has killed more than five million of their citizens since 1945.
And let’s not forget, that defending and promoting the American Dream was also a major pretext for installing and sustaining military dictators, their torturers and their death squads across large parts of the Third World for most of the 20th century.
Comrades (perhaps some of you are by now) … reality itself is killing the American Dream.
With some of the highest crime rates in the world, and among the lowest rates of upward social mobility, many of America’s own citizens have stopped believing in fairy tales.
Most black and Native Americans never swallowed the myths in the first place.
Many millions of US citizens know that – in a system dominated by corporate liars and crooks – hard work does not guarantee a safe family, a secure home, a decent job or a retirement in dignity.
But building a system which does – now that requires new, fresh and courageous vision, not the regurgitation of threadbare cliches from the past.
Madame Comrade President, I’d like to end not with a quote from Marx or Lenin, but one from the First Book of Corinthians, Chapter 13, Verse 11, with aologies for the sexism:
‘When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things’.
This Union can show its solidarity with the struggles and aspirations of the decent, hard-working majority of Americans by voting down the childish, deluded, discredited proposition now in front of it.
Robert Griffiths is general secretary of the Communist Party and an contributor to 21centurymanifesto