Land of the free.
The Big Apple.
Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles.
The list could continue. The point is, we’ve all heard of these American brands. So much so that before one even lands, treads on American soil, you’re already super-saturated with respect to America’s soft power. One of the greatest adverts of this soft power is the “American Dream”, so it’s with quite a surprise what you see when your feet are on the ground.
I’ve just recently returned from a late summer trip to the States. It’s always interesting when I do go away because ever since I lived in Bangladesh, I always look forward to smelling the air. So I was pleasantly surprised to smell nothing new. Jersey didn’t smell different. Parts of New York did and there were some smells I wasn’t anticipating but on the whole, New York’s air didn’t smell noticeably different.
However, what I was shocked about was the level of poverty. It’s interesting how something as visceral as the American Dream can become so distorted. Walking around Manhattan, at first the destitute look like homeless in any other country. Yet as time goes on and I continued to pound the pavements, I noticed that these just weren’t homeless. There was a common theme. They were all mentally-ill. This was like a sledgehammer hitting me full on in the chest! Homelessness in most OECD countries – a club of mostly rich countries – is predominantly made up of men. So there was nothing knew in New York but the common denominator amongst them was.
I spent a few days down in Washington DC and when coming back to New York, I see a veteran. He’s sat outside Madison Square Gardens with his cardboard requesting either $75.00 or $75,000 to visit a doctor. He has MS. Essentially, it looks like curtains for this gentleman. A veteran of the US military and on the streets. From a Europeans perspective, the American Dream has failed these people. I can’t see a way out for them. Sure they could get lucky but that’s a big role of the dice in their favour. Why do we hold America up as the paragon of the West? Personally, I prefer my European home-comforts. Free health care. Taxpayer paid for social safety nets. And general social welfare.