‘America is neither dream nor reality. It is a hyperreality. It is a hyperrality because it is a utopia which has behaved from the very beginning as though it were already achieved. Everything here is real and pragmatic, and yet it is all the stuff of dreams too … The Americans, for their part, have no sens of simulation. They are themselves simulation in its most developed state, but they have no language in which to describe it, since they themselves are the model’
Jean Baudrillard, America (1988, p28)
‘Neoliberal economics favour the already rich and those rich in assets. This means, in an economy bulked out on the steroids of quantitative easing, older people. Meanwhile, for the young – whether of the precariat or those lucky enough to get into the stable workforce of corporate America – the debt accumulated while gaining the essential passport to middle-income status – a degree – serves as a lifetime drag on asset wealth.’
Reading this piece by Paul Mason on the US’s dwindling ‘middle-classes’ once the bedrock of the ‘Dream’ evoked these memories and provoked these musings.
Having worked at a private, fee-paying London-based US university for 12 years I witnessed first-hand the appalling debt-bind most of the students faced upon embarking on, doing and finishing their degrees. From approximately £5000 per term (three classes) to living arrangements (housing provided by the University was at least £2000 a term) the majority of students would leave close to $100,000 in debt, all by their mid-20s. And this is all before a new life of post-study is entertained, bills, taxes and financial misery awaits. Cogs in the machine forever looking over their shoulder for the wolf at the door.
In effect the system has got you for life, no hiding place, with data ever more harvested, collated and logged, there will be nowhere to disappear, if you wish to stay alive that is.
The same philosophy has been introduced in the UK, proffer the notion of higher education being a stepping-stone and a means of bettering yourself, charge extortionate amounts of money thus tying the individual for life. A bleak existence.
The academic standards have slipped as a result because monetisation means if you have the funds then regardless of levels of intelligence, aptitude and application then you will be accepted and given every opportunity to ‘pass’, the customer is always right. It’s no surprise that the students I encountered who came from hyper-wealthy backgrounds treated the whole time as one big party (and why not that’s what students do isn’t it?). This disparity is evident from the onset, an early warning of what lies ahead. The have-nots becoming the will-ever-nots.
Is this the American Dream? Stuff of nightmares more like. As Mason says, these conditions serve to create a ‘fragmenting consensus’, where once communities were united by industry, a sense of local pride, the collapse of certainties and security = divided peoples = open to exploitation and malfeasance. Hence the folk-devil Trump’s ascent, the stooge and front-man, for whom, remains to be revealed.
Anyone would think it’s connected and deliberate. As one of the comments below Mason’s piece astutely remarks ‘the ghost of Willy Loman hovers over the US’ and the rest of us.