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Americans are doomed to fail They feel too weak and stupid to make a difference

Credit: Getty


July 7, 2021   6 mins

There are hotels on the outskirts of Las Vegas that boggle the mind. You don’t visit them for the in-room Jacuzzi or the world-renowned steak restaurant. You check in because your life has blown up in your face: you have gambled and you have lost.

Lost everything. There is no Jacuzzi and no restaurant and if you want toilet paper, the sign in reception says, you have to pay 50 cents extra a night.

The place I am thinking of was on the edge of the desert, visible from the top of the fancy establishments on the strip if you squinted — not that anyone ever did. It was sand-blown and hot as hell. Breeze blocks and grimy windows. Cars everywhere, some functioning, many abandoned, windscreens thick with dust.

Our interest for a Today programme report was not in money, or lack of it, but the psychology. How did Americans cope with losing? Were they different from Brits? Were they conditioned to see life differently?

Until we were chased away by armed security (there is always money for armed security in these places) we had knocked on doors and found, as you almost always find in poorer parts of the United States, damaged but genial people who like your accent and are happy to talk.

Our main interview was with a family. The wife and two large-eyed kids were watching the TV in the single room they now called home. They had come to Vegas from Chicago, moving to one of the estates that surround the city. Dad had earned a living gambling for a year but made some mistakes. In Nevada when you stop paying your electricity bill you stop getting electricity. Pretty much that day. Same for water. Even before mortgage foreclosure, they needed to get out of their fetid, utility-less home.

But it was all going to be fine. He would find work. So might she. The couple managed wan smiles and hoped, earnestly, that we might have a nice day. He warned us before we left to be careful on the traffic crossings: “Lotta folks here not paying too much attention to the road, with their troubles and all…”

Somewhere deep down, almost all Americans feel guilty if they mess up. The European sense of guilt, post-religion, is incomparable. Most of us accept failure as inevitable and intuitively understand decline. Americans do not. And the further you fall in America the guiltier you personally are for the condition you are in. The reason of course is the cult of meritocracy: the all-American sense that hard work and talent gets you to the top, even when, pretty obviously, it often does no such thing.

And the lower down the scale you are, the more guilt you feel. A book called The Tolls of Uncertainty: How Privilege and the Guilt Gap Shape Unemployment in America, by Sarah Damaskea sociologist at Pennsylvania State University — is the latest to find, and be frustrated by, this phenomenon.

Damaske interviewed 100 people recently unemployed in Pennsylvania and found it was the working-class women — right at the bottom of the pile — who made the most sacrifices, because they felt they should. Their men were more feckless and their relationship with wider social networks, or the state, more tenuous. There was nobody else. It can be like that in America.

The biggest sacrifice, of course, is to go without health insurance to save money. Damaske writes:

“Repeatedly, I saw the women make the choice to insure their families but not themselves …  Women were more likely to go without necessary doctor visits, medicines, or medical treatments. Just over half the women said they were not treating conditions such as heart problems, asthma, and diabetes in order to prioritize family needs.”

The men, the blighters, kept their insurance. And the higher up the social scale they were, the more they kept for themselves. The author is surprised but I fear she’s spent too long in the sociology senior common room. A more grounded view of poor America — Chris Arnade’s Dignity comes to mind — will reveal that the conceit of American meritocracy is in part predicated on reducing the life chances, the self-esteem, the very soul of the poor. Arnade’s point is that a system that prizes economic success and education at the expense of community, integration and pride will have this effect: “those at the bottom,” he writes, “are guaranteed to feel excluded, rejected, and most of all humiliated.”

How frustrating it is, then, to be a reformer, a social democrat, a fan of European solutions to American problems. Damaske mentions Germany for its employment security, but Americans of a certain ilk look wistfully at Sweden too: all that solidarity and a flattened range of incomes. Bliss. But try as you might, people in the USA just won’t budge. They love the idea of it, but they don’t think it can be for them. When something as basic as health insurance is controversial (why should I pay for someone else’s illness?), getting Americans to give up on the individualism that has always been part of the national myth is a mug’s game.

But The Tolls of Uncertainty, for all its shock at things that really are not shocking, comes at a fascinating time in the history of American precariousness. Is this the moment that the European dream finally stumbles into reality?

On the face of it, this is indeed a happy time to be a campaigner for a gentler approach to American unemployment. Big government is back in the Biden era. So is support for childcare and for higher wages. Unionisation is on the agenda in several states. Heck, even paid maternity leave is being talked about.

The trouble is that the system, which teeters again and again on the brink, always seems to come good. In April 2020, soon after the pandemic forced the U.S. into almost total lockdown, the unemployment rate reached 14.8%, the highest documented since data collection began in 1948. Now it’s back near 6%. In fact, it is doing so well that an organisational psychologist called Dr Anthony Klotz has coined a new phrase: The Great Resignation. A quarter of American workers tell researchers they are looking for a new job when the pandemic threat is lifted. This is a positive thing, says Klotz: “The economy is seemingly doing very well. There are lots of job openings out there. So, if you’re an employee, that’s empowering for you because you have options.”

Restlessness is an American virtue. People like to change. So it’s nice that they have options — but so do their employers, which is not necessarily so nice. Many moons ago I was courted by the American broadcaster CNN with a decent offer to leave the BBC. (They wanted cannon fodder to send to Bosnia and I seemed up for it.) But it came with a catch in the contract: “CNN may dispense with your services, at any time, for any reason, or for no reason.”

Reader, I stayed with Auntie. But that clause is almost universally part of the American employment scene. It guarantees precariousness and you could argue (the author of Tolls of Uncertainty certainly does) that it hinders companies because it reduces employee retention and loyalty. Plenty of Americans would disagree, though: they see the current balance — employees free to go and employers free to fire — as a fit with their internalised sense of responsibility. An equilibrium: nobody owing anybody anything at the start of the day and at its end.

What does Joe Biden make of that argument? The President has hugely focused attention on the bottom rungs of the American ladder — with a singleness of purpose that few expected. And yet his strong sense of the needs of blue-collar America is tinged with that folksy meritocratic myth that that causes sociology professors to tear out their hair. “Instead of workers competing with each other for jobs that are scarce, employers are competing with each other to attract workers,” Joe Biden said approvingly the other day. Higher pay. More opportunity. Get ahead. Let the market do the work. And if you fall behind then there will be more help, but in your head you will still be a failure.

The most telling passage of The Tolls of Uncertainty comes at the end when Sarah Damaske is trying to get a woman called Tracy to tell her what her ambitions are. If she could have any job, what would it be?

Tracy doesn’t know. She doesn’t really care. She wants something with good pay.  The idea of betterment, ladders, glass ceilings, corner offices, is gobbledygook to many Americans at the bottom of the pile. The author manages a slightly reproachful explanation: “Tracy had not had a life that let her have such imaginings. She’d always needed to work ‘for the money,’ and that didn’t allow her to indulge in some fantasy with me about what she would want to do.”

Too right. I imagine Tracy raising her eyes to the ceiling when professor Damaske’s Toyota Prius had left the Dunkin Donuts parking lot: “What was she on?

There is, after all, another Great Resignation in the American psyche: people are resigned to their inability to make progress. The upper middle classes have successfully sealed themselves off (through college and inherited wealth and marrying only each other), so there is little real mobility on offer. For many Americans getting by is quite enough, thank you very much. They are not agitators for change.

It’s a state of mind that sees the world as infinitely malleable and your inability to make an impact on it as your fault. You didn’t listen in school. You are too stupid, too weak to make difference. Even if Joe Biden gets to reform American employment over the next few years, that mindset will remain. It is, for better or worse, still the American Way.


Justin Webb presents the Americast podcast and Today on Radio Four. His Panorama documentary “Trump the Sequel”, is available now on  Iplayer

JustinOnWeb

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J Bryant
JB
J Bryant
2 years ago

I feel the author’s view of Americans is a little behind the times.
Yes, there is a long and proud tradition in America of self-help and an entrepreneurial spirit that left people feeling, to some extent, like failures if things didn’t work out. Until the 90s, or thereabouts, America really was a country of opportunity and there was a realistic path upwards for those willing to work hard.
That was long ago. Americans now understand perfectly well that, for many, upward mobility is almost impossible. Globalization has seen to that along with, as the author notes, the hoarding of opportunity by the upper middle class.
I’m not convinced most Americans now feel shame when they don’t prosper in life. They know the deck is stacked against them and they’re angry and resentful. Hence the rise of extreme ideologies at the far left and right of the political spectrum. People will try anything that might, finally, improve their prospects.
These should be boom times for Democrats. They were the party of the workers and the workers are hurting. The Dems should, in principle, be able to muster huge support for initiatives such as free (or heavily subsidized) healthcare for all, or for a national apprenticeship scheme, largely funded by government, that trains young people for all the skilled jobs going unfilled. But Democrats long ago abandoned the working class in favor of identity politics and in so doing created much of the division in the US. This division prevents working people from effectively forming a coalition for their own benefit.
The story of struggling people in Las Vegas reported by the author is ultimately the story of globalization and the American elite who promoted it.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

And the coming tech automation of physical work and software replacing office work will be a tsunami compared to the river of Globalism.

But the writer is an Aunti Commie so sees an imaginary world rather than the real one, one which can be fixed by imaginary solutions.
A huge amount of USA’s social ills are the unintended consequences of social programs this guy would like. The Welfare Trap is the worst of them. Pay parents to have children they cannot afford, make all manner of provisions that they must remain poor, and also single, to keep the money coming in, and like in ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’, They are yours for life. And so are the children for generations, they took the bait and are trapped.

And BS on the mother giving up Medical Insurance so the Children get it. All children in USA can get some form of Insurance for children if the parents make less than middle class amounts. If they do not work they get Medicaid, if they work they get Obamacare. The Mother gets in too, in most cases – at least would under Obamacare.

But then both systems are a TRAP too. Take Obamacare, say a mother works and makes $30,000. The Health insurance is free for her and her children. BUT! it is paid in a monthly Grant to the Insurance Company AND at the end of the year when she does her income tax the grant is audited! AND so if her income went up the grant is retroactively REDUCED, and now she owe 12 months of paying a portion, or all, of the grant back.
If she wishes to get a second job, if she sells a rental house she had, if she makes more money she is scre wed. Say her child is on a $1200/ month grant for Obamacare, and she is on a $1300 monthly grant – then makes a windfall in December she has to pay the $30,000 BACK. Obamacare says – ‘OK, you make not much, here is VERY expensive health insurance, just be sure you do not improve your situation of you have to pay it back. Medicaid just says – ‘make money and get kicked out’.

The writer has no clue, he has an agenda, but no understanding of the deal in USA of being low income and low employability. It is like the Lebra Tar Pit, touch the system and get tangled up in a mess you may never untangle from.

Tom Krehbiel
Tom Krehbiel
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

I think it started changing long before the 1990s. I believe that it began when the number of farmers working their own land decreased slowly at first, and then mightily. And later, the reduction in numbers of small factories and stores in favor of larger ones. And finally, the closing of the frontier: as Turner pointed out, no longer did we have a safety valve for the dispossessed once that was settled. These all combined to make the US quite a different country by the time of WWI than it was at its founding, even excluding black chattel slavery.

Alan Thorpe
AT
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

The Democrats and the Labour Party both told the workers they were there to help. They have both used the workers to help themselves. That is what socialism is about.

D Ward
DW
D Ward
2 years ago

The vignette about not leaving the Beeb speaks volumes about the kind of people who work there.
Why we let these risk-adverse no-hopers dictate what we should think is beyond me. Still, as long as the Beeb employs more people of the same mindset but with “funny” names, “different” skin colours and a whole alphabet of sexual persuasion, they will convince themselves they are “diverse”.

Jon Redman
HJ
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  D Ward

I suspect part of the author’s reluctance to accept CNN’s terms was that if he did he’d be among people who thought those terms reasonable.
In other words, the CNN crowd would be quite unlike the BBC crowd, which all thinks the same about everything and certainly doesn’t think they are reasonable. It wouldn’t stop there, either. CNN might contain staff who were conservative – gasp! It might contain staff who were pro-Israel – shock! It might employ people who thought EU membership was disadvantageous – bring the smelling salts quick!
No, no, no. Stick to nurse, for fear of worse.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

In fairness, there’s no way I’d leave my current job for one with no employment protections either. I wouldn’t want to be working somewhere where I could be sacked at the whim of somebody else

Tony Buck
TB
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

CNN is as much a slave to the liberal agenda as the BBC.

If what you say were true, the US media would be full of independent-minded people indifferent to political correctness.

They aren’t – partly because job-insecurity makes people more conformist – witness the large corporations; ruthless, but full of yes-people.

DA Johnson
DA Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

What a pipe dream–that CNN could ever contain conservative staff!

Tony Buck
TB
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  D Ward

How, in that case, is CNN superior to the BBC ? It isn’t.

Risk-averse people tend to be the most intelligent, most sensible and most conscientious.

Choose the gamblers, and you’ll get the most stupid, most reckless and most unprincipled.

Enjoy !

Simon Denis
SD
Simon Denis
2 years ago

Silly dig at meritocracy here. Since it lurks within an even sillier dig at American capitalism, it seems futile to winkle it out and hold it to the light, but here goes. Meritocracy is not the same as cut throat competition. As in Britain, 44 – 65, it can live perfectly happily within a broadly social / Christian democratic settlement, comprising welfare, paternalism and “national plans” – witness grammar schools. Indeed, many Labour figures – yes, you read that correctly – LABOUR figures were grief stricken at the shenanigans of Crosland. Rightly so. And many Tories – to their eternal shame – backed the comprehensives, mostly from motives of sentimentality. And Webb’s little dig is an important straw in the wind. As a fully paid up Mr Beeb, he represents establishment opinion; and clearly that establishment is squaring up for another bash at merit. This time it’s even more serious – which, of course, thanks to the right’s utter failure to stand up to the first round, it would be. For once you start training brain surgeons irrespective of merit and in order to overcome perceived “injustices”, you get damaged, ruined lives resulting from professional incompetence. And this goes for lawyers, dentists, architects – even teachers, heaven help us. And yet, drunk, crazed, stunned with the far left moonshine so freely available today, Mr Beeb and his establishment chums are looking to deny all notion of merit. Whom the heavens wish to destroy…

michael stanwick
MS
michael stanwick
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

An interesting perspective for it does attempt to dig into the central conceits of the article. However, I would be interested in how ‘merit’ – as in ‘meritocracy’ – is defined for the purposes of the comment, what are its core axioms for example?

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
2 years ago

Many thanks. I suppose I would start by tearing the word apart – “ocracy” has nothing to do with it, because persons selected for suitability to function are not necessarily in charge. Even if they are well paid and highly esteemed as a body, they are not in charge – and there are ways and means to ensure that their influence is not preponderant – representative democracy for one. This would be even more the case were we to extend the process of selection to areas other than the academic. Germany selects and trains people for vocational purposes at an early age – hence the smooth working and tidy appearance of its cities, no doubt. And skills command good rates of pay. Finally, the esteem or resentment accorded to “intelligence” as a sign of worth are wholly misdirected, for intelligence is essentially about the speed and depth of disinterested apprehension, it is not about rightness, wrongness or wisdom. The slow-cogitating simple soul can, by a certain age, enjoy a store of “rightness” and wisdom denied to the slick, swift dealer in ideas. And it is often as well to have a bank of such stalwart supporters in a parliamentary party. Indeed, we badly feel their lack today.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

Yes, especially if they have the real-world experience that many of our politicians of today no longer have.

Charles Hedges
CH
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

The problem was that 1944 Butler Act was not implemented which called for Grammar, Technical Modern and Secondary Schools. Also the progressive education post mid 1960s removed banding according to ability, discipline, classical music, competitive sports and pursuits of excellence. The consequence was that Tories supported comprehensives when their children failed the 11 plus and the option was a Secondary or low grade private school.
The Direct Grant Grammars such as Manchester, King Edward VIth, Birmingham etc, were significantly superior to some very poor grammar schools where hardly anyone went up university.
If the Butler 19944 Act had been implemented and progressive education not brought in, the UK would have an education system similar to Switzerland’s.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

Merit isn’t just a matter of ability, but also of character.

You want a lawyer / doctor / estate agent who is honest and conscientious, not just clever.

In a post-Christian West, good character is inevitably and growingly rare. And the rot has certainly reached the professions – they are full of sharp, streetwise chancers. Whilst the good-natured ones are terrified, with good reason, of being sued out of business for even one mistake; you do thousands of things well, but are bankrupted when one goes wrong.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

When there is no heaven or hell to keep you in line, good character is not a marketable asset. I’m an atheist but even I can see that the collapse of a religion-like moral absolutes in favour of hedonistic individualism where anything goes, has been a terrible thing for our societies. Freedom is a wonderful thing and something to be treasured. But freedom without responsibility or boundaries is…
well… we can see it unfolding before our eyes. It’s not good.

Saul D
SD
Saul D
2 years ago

You can also look at the flow of people crossing the US border illegally, with literally nothing except hope, willing to put themselves and their children in danger, and to be outside normal legal protections. They seek the opportunity, not the handouts. It’s not just Americans who want the dream.
In contrast to Europe, where work is highly regulated and controlled, the US allows people to work – that hire and fire mentality, but also the ability to act on your own initiative to make, sell and hustle. The UK has some of this too – it makes Britain attractive for immigrants making perilous journeys from Africa, when they might only have needed to stop in Spain or Italy or France on the way. It is easier to ‘work’ in the UK.
For instance, high unemployment countries like Spain make work difficult. Jobs contracts are regulated. Business set up is difficult. Everything needs a licence or start up capital. Taxes are due even if you don’t have the income. Unlike the UK, no-one creates a kitchen table business in Spain.
The exception is the public sector, not the norm, where jobs are protected and no-one gets fired for failing their customers. This is the group that want the regulations and paperwork, because that protects them (and gives them work). it’s creating a division that is reflected in voting and party allegiance. The public sector party, versus the rest.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

People come to UK and USA for the English language (an international currency and lifelong asset) above all else.

The advantages of being Spain are
– you don’t have the terminal race and immigration problems that are destroying the UK and USA
-. Not having sold your national soul and identity to the Devil for the financial success of a minority, you still have a proud nation and a proud people; not internationalist dumps like the cities of UK and USA, full of helpless and often dispirited dweebs with no sense of identity, let alone patriotism.

Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
2 years ago

I guess that’s the question. Are the poor suffering because there isn’t enough welfare state, as Mr. Beeb here and his sociologist prof at a gubmint university say? Or is it because the welfare state has been a wrecking ball on lower-class culture, as guys like Charles Murray in Coming Apart argue?
Inquiring minds want to know. Either way: how much gubmint should do the job? 36 percent GDP as in the US, or 40 percent GDP as in the UK.? Or more? Hey, I know. Why not go to 100 percent GDP in a crash program to end poverty?

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

We spend well more than GDP, we live on National Deficit Spending and every year the debt grows, so why not 110% of GDP? Why not 180%? MMT theory says the Central Bank is not like an individual or business, it may print as much as it likes as it makes the money.

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Oh sure. And the interest doesn’t matter either under MMT which means money has no value. We see where that goes – rapid asset inflation, the market, now real estate. When the cards fall, those with actual tangibles will stay whole, the majority will suffer. Worse the contagion will spread as consumers can’t afford much but essentials. The great MMT experiment is underway. The Germans printed loads of money to repay WW1 debt and then what happened.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago

Both points of view are true; the poor are horribly oppressed in the USA, but that doesn’t mean Welfare is the answer – though it’s better than nothing.

The working-class have become the lower-class because of globalisation.

Which has also killed working-class culture, as has the decline of religion. And the ascent of millions of clever working-class people to the middle-class via education.

Mikey Mike
Mikey Mike
2 years ago

[T]he further you fall in America the guiltier you personally are for the condition you are in. The reason of course is the cult of meritocracy: the all-American sense that hard work and talent gets you to the top, even when, pretty obviously, it often does no such thing.


The proof of this ticklish hypothesis, our educated author claims, is the couple living in a by-the-week motel on the outskirts of Vegas who left their home in Chicago to make a living gambling. Not only is the scenario atypical, it is almost too weird for a Netflix series.

There is something really charming about that distinctly British posture of superiority. I think, as a southern American, I like this kind of essay because it does irreparable violence to the notion that people with an English accent are necessarily smarter than people with a southern accent.

Last edited 2 years ago by Mikey Mike
Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Mikey Mike

Atypical ? Increasingly typical, in a declining American society full of uprooted, semi-nomadic people and gambling addicts.

Mikey Mike
Mikey Mike
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

Tony, that comment would be even more entertaining (and probably a slightly more credible) in one of those thick, staccato Yorkshire accents.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

It guarantees precariousness and you could argue (the author of Tolls of Uncertainty certainly does) that it hinders companies because it reduces employee retention and loyalty.

You could also argue the opposite.
In the 1990s I lived and worked in the Netherlands. If a Dutch company wanted to fire somebody, they had to pay his salary partly to him and partly to the state for something preposterous like a year. This applied from pretty much day one. So in effect you couldn’t fire anybody. If they were no good or your business contracted unexpectedly you were stuck with their cost.
This was great for people in a job because it was so expensive to fire them, but terrible for anyone not in a job because it was so risky to hire them. It kept people in a job in that job and it kept people out of a job likewise out of one.
No such risk applies in America. So employers can take people on when they need them and lay them off again when they don’t. This is why US unemployment can go from 14.8% to 6% so fast: when the economy improves, the labour market reacts instantly.

Galeti Tavas
VS
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Also – how were those people paying for that hotel? How did that huge nugget get missed in his story. My guess is the BBC will pay you for life, but they Own you for that. You may never say another word again which does not belong to BBC, you are their bit* h. This guy sure is.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

A hell- hole motel a Hotel ?

Get out more.

Tony Buck
TB
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Just as the US labour market reacts instantly with massive unemployment whenever there’s even the hint of a downturn.

Matt B
Matt B
2 years ago

Interesting article, and Webb writes more than many, although our US friends are better placed to comment on the headline. But it is odd that many Beeb journalists seem to make attempts at Orwellian Wigan Pier worker insight only while abroad: with other Swiftian, Dickensian or de Tocquville flourishes overlying authors’ own likely lack of bottom-out labour experience to salt their Daily Bread – instead leavened by lifetime contracts and options to metastasise inflated state pay through side earnings and companies. Closer to home, insecure UK workers on low pay, often in sectors vultured by agencies, get scant such attention – and face a litany of sin bins or execution by Beeb ‘comedians’, for not ticking Aunty’s boxes (recently Brexit).

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt B
Galeti Tavas
VS
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt B

Really – maybe he needs to do a Leeds, Bradford, Rochdale story on the same lines. Get some controversial data, make lots of agenda selected interviews, and show how it really is in 2020 England.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt B

True. But there’s a better safety net here.

And fewer people who’ve been conditioned into believing that Poor = Bad.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

Being a much older country, I think the UK psyche realises that meritocracy is largely meaningless. We’ve had the class system for centuries, whereby if you were born poor you stayed poor irrelevant of what you did. The only difference between that and supposed meritocracy is that the new system is full of false promises. A poor kid on a council estate in a terrible school is almost always going to earn less over the course of their lifetime than somebody born to wealthy family with a top education, irrespective of brains, talent or work ethic. Britain has faced this reality since its inception, America is only now waking up to the fact

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago

“CNN may dispense with your services, at any time, for any reason, or for no reason.”
It is much the same for us in the UK who work in the private sector. A couple grand redundancy if you are lucky. We know and accept that as the economic reality of life.
Only the public sector and state funded organizations like the BBC offer any real security of tenure or can feather nest its employment contract because they can make the rest of us pay for it. These people have no self awareness

Michael Coleman
Michael Coleman
2 years ago

 The reason of course is the cult of meritocracy: the all-American sense that hard work and talent gets you to the top, even when, pretty obviously, it often does no such thing.”
Nonsense. While the opposite is sometimes true (a well-born sloth or untalented person may be given an undeserved well -paying position), I’ve never known or even read about any talented and hard working individual in the US that wasn’t at least modestly successful, with the exception of some who became drug addicts or made similar bad choices. I would include among bad choices moving to Vegas to become a professional gambler or marrying a such a man!

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago

What happens to the untalented ?

The fiends-in-human-form who dare to make a mistake ?

Indeed, anyone less perfect than yourself and your pals ?

No wonder the USA is going under.

With right-wing ____’s propping it up, what else can it do ?

Tom Krehbiel
TK
Tom Krehbiel
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

Yes, yes, yes! I may be particularly prone to upset about this matter because my late sister was mentally retarded, but I think it should bother anyone with a conscience. We can’t all be more intelligent than average, that’s a mathematical impossibility. So in what way are the failures of over half the population their fault?

Michael Coleman
Michael Coleman
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

“What happens to the untalented ?” – well that is another question worthy of its own article or two. My comment addressed the obvious flaw in this article.
The USA is going under because the left has captured all the powerful institutions (government, media, education, mega business) who collectively are pushing a false narrative that the values that made the country great (individuality, merit, capitalism, equal rights (not outcomes)) are evil and must be rejected.

Mark Falcoff
MF
Mark Falcoff
2 years ago

Please understand that Joe Biden is not focusing on anything except his favorite flavor of ice cream.

Matthew Powell
MP
Matthew Powell
2 years ago

“When something as basic as health insurance is controversial (why should I pay for someone else’s illness?), getting Americans to give up on the individualism that has always been part of the national myth is a mug’s game.“

It doesn’t help that large number of new drugs are brought to market first in America, where American consumers pay the costs of weeding out the good from the bad, and then, once the drug has been established in the American market and the price driven down, European healthcare providers swoop in.

The American consumer is effectively taking on a disproportionate amount of the risk costs to develop a new drugs, whilst Europeans wag their fingers at them for not having universal healthcare but are only able to pay for their own exploiting this situation.

pdrodolf
PR
pdrodolf
2 years ago

American employer here. It’s harder than the author states to fire employees, particularly in California. Also as an employer that offers 100% Medical, generous Profit Sharing and 100% Tuition/Books/Fees for both undergraduate and post-graduate degrees you would be surprised at how few employees take advantage of the educational assistance. Too hard I guess, which makes me think that the biggest obstacle to social mobility may well be desire.

Matt B
Matt B
2 years ago
Reply to  pdrodolf

Good point. Most in the UK are unaware of state variation of social provision and associated costs – and taxes. Notably Cal.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  pdrodolf

Studying while in a full-time job is tough.

DA Johnson
DJ
DA Johnson
2 years ago

Under the guise of compassion Justin Webb is sneering at low income Americans who are too “stupid” to know that European-style socialism is good for them, and actually believe in meritocracy. He lauds the high tax/high spending/forced unionization policies of Joe Biden, without considering how such policies damage small businesses and reduce job creation and prosperity in the long run. He absurdly asserts that there is “little real mobility” in American society–an idea seemingly based on interviews with a handful of people who have lost everything by gambling in Las Vegas–certainly a tiny and non-representative sample of Americans. Webb at least has the grace to realize that Tracy–who, like the vast majority of people the world over, needs to work “for the money”–would view the questions about “glass ceilings” as incomprehensible and just plain silly. It appears to me that Webb is desperately reaching for evidence to bolster the idea that Joe Biden understands the needs of blue-collar workers–even though most of these workers were Trump voters who understood far better than Webb whose policies could actually make their lives better.

Chris Milburn
Chris Milburn
2 years ago

Be careful what you wish for. If you get a society where people are NOT ashamed of living in a skanky motel room with their whole family because they thought that gambling was a good life financial strategy, you’ll end up with Canada. We have a permanent welfare underclass who are anything but ashamed of being at the bottom and living off the largesse of the tax purse.

Ceelly Hay
Ceelly Hay
2 years ago

Today, the West is facing systemic problems due to unobservable social structures. Such as moving the means of production, our factories, to China. Sure there were increased profits. However, in the real world, it made China into a superpower that rivals America and an underemployed workforce in the west with all the social problems that come with it.

James Chater
JC
James Chater
2 years ago

(Who comes up with these headlines and subheadings? Yes, the ‘bait’ is working.)
I am not a US citizen, have never lived in the US or even visited. But, I was married to a US citizen for seven years, so I feel qualified to comment.
I experienced firsthand that attitude of self-reliance & self-motivation supported by the fabled ‘Work Ethic’, combined with a contemporary (i.e. post ’60s), progressive outlook on the need for welfare provision.
I didn’t see or hear ‘self-blame’ as my ex-wife was successful but it’s clear how it fits together with self-reliance etc…
Yes, all potentially good and positive but if the wealthy employer strata do become increasingly anti-social and irresponsible as they are now, of course something has to give, doesn’t it?
But, as the author says ‘no’, not necessarily.
How lucky those ‘higher’ shallow strata are. They can get away with it with impunity. The Dream never dies.
(Going off at a tangent. The mainstream film Nomadland seems to me to portray much of this in contemporary US culture perfectly.)

Last edited 2 years ago by James Chater
Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

Globalisation and the state favouring anything non American are the problem. Government’s job is to create conditions that allow Americans to WORK. Trump was doing that – stopping illegal immigration, encouraging American manufacturing, rebalancing globalist trade deals. That’s why the liberal elite hate him. He’s pro deplorable and pro America, Clinton and her ilk think America and Americans are scum.

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
2 years ago

Wonder if the author has ever heard of Medicaid. If you are really poor in the US you will get access to medical treatment, especially children. My son started his Master‘s program in engineering in the US( he has double citizenship) and forgot to take out the student insurance. He collapsed of a heart problem, was picked up by an ambulance and got free treatment at the Hospital. All paid by Medicaid, and he later found out, that some of the treatment was paid by a charity, established by a rich family 30 years earlier. Many rich families in the US establish charities for the poor. The US psyche is different from the European, who expect everything from the State.
Even poor illegal Mexican workers in the US have clinics to go to, which were set up by charities.
Btw. I started my first job as an Industrial designer in a very small firm, and I also didn‘t have a contract. But I was over the moon to start my first job.

Jeffrey Chongsathien
Jeffrey Chongsathien
2 years ago

The unemployment figures are outright fraudulent and have been for many decades.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

I thought this essay was going to be a few paragraphs…. along the lines of the radical left has hijacked the Dems and the country is doomed.

Zorro Tomorrow
JK
Zorro Tomorrow
2 years ago

As soon as I hear “Biden is” doing something I become alert. His administration haven’t a clue and Biden is an old man who quite clearly should be enjoying retirement. Under Obama and Clinton USA began to falter. Trump’s administration were starting a recovery of sorts and, if not for Covid, may have continued. Only the blindest cognitively dissonant leftist or ill informed person cannot see the damage the Democrats are doing. Come the mid terms the two houses power balance will shift again; come the next presidential election the Republicans will be begged to return. The West vote for the least worst.

Gerard McGlynn
Gerard McGlynn
2 years ago

I had the pleasure of travelling across the USA in1984 on a Greyhound bus. I saw the people who could not afford to fly, or take the train, if it existed. I saw the decent, open-hearted, hard working, American “working class”, whatever working class is, being a dockers grandson?? I met the “pickers” moving from north to south to pick the next crop. I saw the derelict industrial sites in Gary, Indiana. I saw the same outside Chicago. even then. All caused by the greed of the elite who shifted their knowledge offshore instead of paying their employees a few dollars more, to keep it in the USofA, from their billions. Carnegie spin in your grave! No patriots they. I was perplexed then as to who the Democrats were supposed to represent? Certainly not the workers! Even then I could feel the resentment against the system. It was with no surprise at all that Trump won.