Tuesday, September 23, 2014

America—the Grim Truth

[This is an old reader favorite. Guest post by Anonymous. It's a bit embarrassing really; this is the all-time most popular post on this blog, and I didn't even write it! It's something for you to ponder while this blog is on hiatus because I am out at sea... sailing away...]

Americans, I have some bad news for you:

You have the worst quality of life in the developed world—by a wide margin.

If you had any idea of how people really lived in Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and many parts of Asia, you’d be rioting in the streets calling for a better life. In fact, the average Australian or Singaporean taxi driver has a much better standard of living than the typical American white-collar worker.

I know this because I am an American, and I escaped from the prison you call home.

I have lived all around the world, in wealthy countries and poor ones, and there is only one country I would never consider living in again: The United States of America. The mere thought of it fills me with dread.

Consider this: you are the only people in the developed world without a single-payer health system. Everyone in Western Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia, Singapore and New Zealand has a single-payer system. If they get sick, they can devote all their energies to getting well. If you get sick, you have to battle two things at once: your illness and the fear of financial ruin. Millions of Americans go bankrupt every year due to medical bills, and tens of thousands die each year because they have no insurance or insufficient insurance. And don’t believe for a second that rot about America having the world’s best medical care or the shortest waiting lists: I’ve been to hospitals in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Singapore, and Thailand, and every one was better than the “good” hospital I used to go to back home. The waits were shorter, the facilities more comfortable, and the doctors just as good.

This is ironic, because you need a good health system more than anyone else in the world. Why? Because your lifestyle is almost designed to make you sick.

Let’s start with your diet: Much of the beef you eat has been exposed to fecal matter in processing. Your chicken is contaminated with salmonella. Your stock animals and poultry are pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics. In most other countries, the government would act to protect consumers from this sort of thing; in the United States, the government is bought off by industry to prevent any effective regulations or inspections. In a few years, the majority of all the produce for sale in the United States will be from genetically modified crops, thanks to the cozy relationship between Monsanto Corporation and the United States government. Worse still, due to the vast quantities of high-fructose corn syrup Americans consume, fully one-third of children born in the United States today will be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at some point in their lives.

Of course, it’s not just the food that’s killing you, it’s the drugs. If you show any sign of life when you’re young, they’ll put you on Ritalin. Then, when you get old enough to take a good look around, you’ll get depressed, so they’ll give you Prozac. If you’re a man, this will render you chemically impotent, so you’ll need Viagra to get it up. Meanwhile, your steady diet of trans-fat-laden food is guaranteed to give you high cholesterol, so you’ll get a prescription for Lipitor. Finally, at the end of the day, you’ll lay awake at night worrying about losing your health plan, so you’ll need Lunesta to go to sleep.

With a diet guaranteed to make you sick and a health system designed to make sure you stay that way, what you really need is a long vacation somewhere. Unfortunately, you probably can’t take one. I’ll let you in on little secret: if you go to the beaches of Thailand, the mountains of Nepal, or the coral reefs of Australia, you’ll probably be the only American in sight. And you’ll be surrounded crowds of happy Germans, French, Italians, Israelis, Scandinavians and wealthy Asians. Why? Because they’re paid well enough to afford to visit these places AND they can take vacations long enough to do so. Even if you could scrape together enough money to go to one of these incredible places, by the time you recovered from your jetlag, it would time to get on a plane and rush back to your job.

If you think I’m making this up, check the stats on average annual vacation days by country:

Finland: 44
Italy: 42
France: 39
Germany: 35
UK: 25
Japan: 18
USA: 12

The fact is, they work you like dogs in the United States. This should come as no surprise: the United States never got away from the plantation/sweat shop labor model and any real labor movement was brutally suppressed. Unless you happen to be a member of the ownership class, your options are pretty much limited to barely surviving on service-sector wages or playing musical chairs for a spot in a cubicle (a spot that will be outsourced to India next week anyway). The very best you can hope for is to get a professional degree and then milk the system for a slice of the middle-class pie. And even those who claw their way into the middle class are but one illness or job loss away from poverty. Your jobs aren’t secure. Your company has no loyalty to you. They’ll play you off against your coworkers for as long as it suits them, then they’ll get rid of you.

Of course, you don’t have any choice in the matter: the system is designed this way. In most countries in the developed world, higher education is either free or heavily subsidized; in the United States, a university degree can set you back over US$100,000. Thus, you enter the working world with a crushing debt. Forget about taking a year off to travel the world and find yourself – you’ve got to start working or watch your credit rating plummet.

If you’re “lucky,” you might even land a job good enough to qualify you for a home loan. And then you’ll spend half your working life just paying the interest on the loan – welcome to the world of American debt slavery. America has the illusion of great wealth because there’s a lot of “stuff” around, but who really owns it? In real terms, the average American is poorer than the poorest ghetto dweller in Manila, because at least they have no debts. If they want to pack up and leave, they can; if you want to leave, you can’t, because you’ve got debts to pay.

All this begs the question: Why would anyone put up with this? Ask any American and you’ll get the same answer: because America is the freest country on earth. If you believe this, I’ve got some more bad news for you: America is actually among the least free countries on earth. Your piss is tested, your emails and phone calls are monitored, your medical records are gathered, and you are never more than one stray comment away from writhing on the ground with two Taser prongs in your ass.

And that’s just physical freedom. Mentally, you are truly imprisoned. You don’t even know the degree to which you are tormented by fears of medical bankruptcy, job loss, homelessness and violent crime because you’ve never lived in a country where there is no need to worry about such things.

But it goes much deeper than mere surveillance and anxiety. The fact is, you are not free because your country has been taken over and occupied by another government. Fully 70% of your tax dollars go to the Pentagon, and the Pentagon is the real government of the United States. You are required under pain of death to pay taxes to this occupying government. If you’re from the less fortunate classes, you are also required to serve and die in their endless wars, or send your sons and daughters to do so. You have no choice in the matter: there is a socioeconomic draft system in the United States that provides a steady stream of cannon fodder for the military.

If you call a life of surveillance, anxiety and ceaseless toil in the service of a government you didn’t elect “freedom,” then you and I have a very different idea of what that word means.

If there was some chance that the country could be changed, there might be reason for hope. But can you honestly look around and conclude that anything is going to change? Where would the change come from? The people? Take a good look at your compatriots: the working class in the United States has been brutally propagandized by jackals like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. Members of the working class have been taught to lick the boots of their masters and then bend over for another kick in the ass. They’ve got these people so well trained that they’ll take up arms against the other half of the working class as soon as their masters give the word.

If the people cannot make a change, how about the media? Not a chance. From Fox News to the New York Times, the mass media in the United States is nothing but the public relations wing of the corporatocracy, primarily the military industrial complex. At least the citizens of the former Soviet Union knew that their news was bullshit. In America, you grow up thinking you’ve got a free media, which makes the propaganda doubly effective. If you don’t think American media is mere corporate propaganda, ask yourself the following question: have you ever heard a major American news outlet suggest that the country could fund a single-payer health system by cutting military spending?

If change can’t come from the people or the media, the only other potential source of change would be the politicians. Unfortunately, the American political process is among the most corrupt in the world. In every country on earth, one expects politicians to take bribes from the rich. But this generally happens in secret, behind the closed doors of their elite clubs. In the United States, this sort of political corruption is done in broad daylight, as part of legal, accepted, standard operating procedure. In the United States, they merely call these bribes campaign donations, political action committees and lobbyists. One can no more expect the politicians to change this system than one can expect a man to take an axe and chop his own legs out from underneath him.

No, the United States of America is not going to change for the better. The only change will be for the worse. And when I say worse, I mean much worse. As we speak, the economic system that sustained the country during the post-war years is collapsing. The United States maxed out its “credit card” sometime in 2008 and now its lenders, starting with China, are in the process of laying the foundations for a new monetary system to replace the Anglo-American “petro-dollar” system. As soon as there is a viable alternative to the US dollar, the greenback will sink like a stone.

While the United States was running up crushing levels of debt, it was also busy shipping its manufacturing jobs and white-collar jobs overseas, and letting its infrastructure fall to pieces. Meanwhile, Asian and European countries were investing in education, infrastructure and raw materials. Even if the United States tried to rebuild a real economy (as opposed to a service/financial economy) do think American workers would ever be able to compete with the workers of China or Europe? Have you ever seen a Japanese or German factory? Have you ever met a Singaporean or Chinese worker?

There are only two possible futures facing the United States, and neither one is pretty. The best case is a slow but orderly decline – essentially a continuation of what’s been happening for the last two decades. Wages will drop, unemployment will rise, Medicare and Social Security benefits will be slashed, the currency will decline in value, and the disparity of wealth will spiral out of control until the United States starts to resemble Mexico or the Philippines – tiny islands of wealth surrounded by great poverty (the country is already halfway there).

Equally likely is a sudden collapse, perhaps brought about by a rapid flight from the US dollar by creditor nations like China, Japan, Korea and the OPEC nations. A related possibility would be a default by the United States government on its vast debt. One look at the financial balance sheet of the US government should convince you how likely this is: governmental spending is skyrocketing and tax receipts are plummeting – something has to give. If either of these scenarios plays out, the resulting depression will make the present recession look like a walk in the park.

Whether the collapse is gradual or gut-wrenchingly sudden, the results will be chaos, civil strife and fascism. Let’s face it: the United States is like the former Yugoslavia – a collection of mutually antagonistic cultures united in name only. You’ve got your own version of the Taliban: right-wing Christian fundamentalists who actively loathe the idea of secular Constitutional government. You’ve got a vast intellectual underclass that has spent the last few decades soaking up Fox News and talk radio propaganda, eager to blame the collapse on Democrats, gays and immigrants. You’ve got a ruthless ownership class that will use all the means at its disposal to protect its wealth from the starving masses.

On top of all that you’ve got vast factory farms, sprawling suburbs and a truck-based shipping system, all of it entirely dependent on oil that is about to become completely unaffordable. And you’ve got guns. Lots of guns. In short: the United States is about to become a very unwholesome place to be.

Right now, the government is building fences and walls along its northern and southern borders. Right now, the government is working on a national ID system (soon to be fitted with biometric features). Right now, the government is building a surveillance state so extensive that they will be able to follow your every move, online, in the street and across borders. If you think this is just to protect you from “terrorists,” then you’re sadly mistaken. Once the shit really hits the fan, do you really think you’ll just be able to jump into the old station wagon, drive across the Canadian border and spend the rest of your days fishing and drinking Molson? No, the government is going to lock the place down. They don’t want their tax base escaping. They don’t want their “recruits” escaping. They don’t want YOU escaping.

I am not writing this to scare you. I write this to you as a friend. If you are able to read and understand what I’ve written here, then you are a member of a small minority in the United States. You are a minority in a country that has no place for you.

So what should you do?

You should leave the United States of America.

If you’re young, you’ve got plenty of choices: you can teach English in the Middle East, Asia or Europe. Or you can go to university or graduate school abroad and start building skills that will qualify you for a work visa. If you’ve already got some real work skills, you can apply to emigrate to any number of countries as a skilled immigrant. If you are older and you’ve got some savings, you can retire to a place like Costa Rica or the Philippines. If you can’t qualify for a work, student or retirement visa, don’t let that stop you – travel on a tourist visa to a country that appeals to you and talk to the expats you meet there. Whatever you do, go speak to an immigration lawyer as soon as you can. Find out exactly how to get on a path that will lead to permanent residence and eventually citizenship in the country of your choice.

You will not be alone. There are millions of Americans just like me living outside the United States. Living lives much more fulfilling, peaceful, free and abundant than we ever could have attained back home. Some of us happened upon these lives by accident – we tried a year abroad and found that we liked it – others made a conscious decision to pack up and leave for good. You’ll find us in Canada, all over Europe, in many parts of Asia, in Australia and New Zealand, and in most other countries of the globe. Do we miss our friends and family? Yes. Do we occasionally miss aspects of our former country? Yes. Do we plan on ever living again in the United States? Never. And those of us with permanent residence or citizenship can sponsor family members from back home for long-term visas in our adopted countries.

In closing, I want to remind you of something: unless you are an American Indian or a descendant of slaves, at some point your ancestors chose to leave their homeland in search of a better life. They weren’t traitors and they weren’t bad people, they just wanted a better life for themselves and their families. Isn’t it time that you continue their journey?


Mister Roboto said...

This author was kind enough to omit another fundamental truth: The USA is an extremely socially atomized society full of shallow and ignorant first-class douchebags. Though in fairness, much of the douchebaggery one encounters is a defensive mechanism for coping with the grim reality described by this post. When you put human beings in an insane situation with little visible hope of escape, it's not surprising that many of them will go existentially insane and that quite a few of them will go clinically insane.

And I'm no exception. I supposedly believe in all these spiritual values, yet if you listen to me talk, I can really come off as a very callous, very cynical dick. And that's merely because I'm not the sort who can just sit there and mouth syrupy affirmations while the social context in which I'm embedded just keeps getting worse and worse and worse.

It really scares me to imagine what people who have been worshiping phantom-money and willful ignorance their entire lives, will do once there is a major enough economic dislocation to start the economy permanently and irreversibly contracting.

George Mack said...

Canada is much more like the United States today than this author would suggest. We do have public health-care...for now, but the current government has refused to renew the federal obligations to the provinces to support it and it has been continually cut for almost two decades now.
Welfare and social housing are supported at levels actually lower than in the US and each passing year of inflation degrades it even more. The Prime Minister has just cut the meagre pensions by pushing the age of eligibility back to age 67 from 65...that's a flat rip-off of almost $30,000.00 against every citizen under fifty whom has paid premiums towards it all their lives.
Outside of the nominal health-care, every critique of the US in this article applies equally, and often more than it does there.
Canada is good place to be if you are wealthy because taxes are lower here than in the US...if you are not, it's a cold, mean place to live.

Larry Gambone said...

I would agree with George Mack that Canada has become a worse place since the far-right took over. It is still better than the US though. 1. much, much less violence or potential violence 2. more of a sense of community and the down towns of most big cities are still viable 3. less hate and bigotry and especially less influence by the Christofascists 4. a strong opposition to the right-wing policies of the govt.

S.Treimel said...

"It's a bit embarrassing really; this is the all-time most popular post on this blog, and I didn't even write it! "

Don't be concerned about the page view stats for this particular column. You provided a forum for it to be seen by many who can appreciate its message but would never see it otherwise. Your readers come here for the consistently high quality writing and unique perspectives you offer.

Ken Barrows said...

And America thinks drilling for oil and gas with a chronically negative cash flow will enable it to maintain its lofty position!

michigan native said...

Yes, I remember this one well because those of us who are aware of US military bullying and all the misery we have caused other people and are sick of the flag waving "USA, USA" crowd found it a rather appealing and well deserved kick to Uncle Sam's nuts.

Now the US has taken to blocking people from expatriating. Check out Jeff Berwick's update on this issue here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovKSQ7pGrKc

rapier said...

The citizens of no other country live in the certain knowledge that their country is the most powerful. Their countries military cannot enter any other in the world and kick some ass. No other country can bomb any other with impunity.

I am not being facetious when I say that this knowledge and the vicarious experience of power it brings is perhaps the most important and loved aspect of being an American for at least half of us. The lure of killing,usually by bombing any non American continues to grow and doubts about its legality or efficacy continue to shrink.

I am under no illusion that any other country or people somehow given the same power to act globally would act any differently. Would I trust Putin with the same power? Of course not.

The love of America,The Nation really an empire,and using its power is the glue that keeps its political economy together. No matter how senseless or non nonsensical our continued escalation of conflicts all over the globe may be, simply judged on the internal logic of our politis all this stocking of conflict makes perfect sense.

Marc L Bernstein said...

The author is suggesting exactly what Morris Berman has done. He moved to Mexico.

Secession movements in the USA should start to become more serious in the next decade or two. The eventual disintegration of the USA is very likely, given the current trajectory.

Mister Roboto said...

From CNBC: Record number of Americans give up citizenship

Nigwil said...

MH17. Sorry if it's off-topic, but Dimitry posted a very good analysis of the likely suspects in the killing of MH17 a while back.

The preliminary report on the crash is now out:

Figures 9 and 10 clearly show that the cockpit (which broke from the airfame first) was hit by high-energy particles entering from outside the aircraft. Importantly, the report shows that the these entered the cockpit from above the level of the cockpit floor (Fig 10), and through the cockpit roof (Fig 9).

This firing position above the MH17 airframe seems to me to be much more likely to be that assumed by a fighter aircraft, than by a rising ground to air missile.

Watch this space!

Energyflow said...

interesting article by glazyev proposing new just world order notunder western control.

Energyflow said...


read archdruid this weekto find out why situation is as it is. Brownnosers and weakling superrich like at end of rome.

our german pm is a master brownnoser as in above link. Most powerful woman on earth is likely to survive and take over global power ifeverything collapses. She will just switch to putin's side and dump her husband.

Paul said...

I was very pleased and heartened that the author simply omitted any mention of the UK among the European countries, presumably as its being beneath contempt as still an atavistic, crypto-fascist, recidivist lap-dog of the US.

How true the saying: sometimes, less is more. As if the post, in itself, were not sublime enough in every other way. For me, that silence, as if an implicit recognition of the UK's own unworthiness of recognition, was 'the icing on the cake'. I'd like to think that no other reader even noticed, but maybe that would be a little too much to expect at this point. Dmitry must have a very large readership.10512

michigan native said...

Thank you for that update, Nigwil. I have been posting a link to that Ukrainian/Canadian who was part of the international team and first on the scene "pock marked with holes from intense machine gun fire". Now I am really rubbing their noses in it with this preliminary report and they have no response. It's great to see the assholes of useful idiots pucker up.

Imagine the ramifications if the truth is ever allowed to come out?

I would like to think that Europeans would demand an end to NATO and opt out of the EU, but look at Germany, for instance. We stole a large quantity of their gold, we spy on all of them, and try to use them as pawns for WWIII, and they haven't revolted.

How much will it take for them to realize that Washington is their real enemy and Putin isn't Joseph Stalin in a judo robe? Compared to the US and its insane foreign policies, Russia now appears to be the most humane country on the planet. And to think Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. What a sick joke.

Gardengate said...

Molson, yuck...even this has been taken over, not what it use to be! No place to run, no place to hide.

Excellent read, thank you.

michigan native said...

Update on the plane crash heard around the world. Around 22:00 in this video, somehow the results of the investigation have been classified? That a 4 member nation, including Australia (gun ho on the US sanctions bandwagon, like the Brits, always eager bitch boys for the US), Belgium (who took on all that bad debt that Russia dumped...any wonder who lined their pockets), and the "Ukraine" (!!) have powers to veto the results of the investigation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gWlAARb0fN4

Smell a cover up yet??

beetleswamp said...

It's Wed already. Where's my doom crack?

Ezekiel said...

Healthcare: America could probably have European-style healthcare and even European-style government and culture... if we had a European-style population. We do not, and even Europe increasingly does not. What advantages that existed compared to the rest of the world, they are steadily withering away with the people who built them. Anyway, 99% of medical problems these days are what people in ages past would have called "getting old" and that's not such a scary proposition when your retirement package includes a shotgun.

As for healthier food? Eh, not really. I happen to help raise the shit-stained cows and salmonella-infested chickens that he mentions in this article, and the second-biggest market for both is Western and Central Europe. Second place used to be Russia before they decided to build their own farms (many staffed by expat Americans), and first place for as long as I can remember has been the Middle East and North Africa. God, have you ever seen what Egyptians will do to a KFC bucket? So Euros eat most of the same-quality slop that we do, just (admirably) not in the same quantity.

There are some other points I could raise, but... well...

You know that aging Hollywood celebrity who seemed to be blessed with eternal youth; somehow looking better at 45 than she did at 25, and still okay well into her 60's? Then the twilight comes, years of cocaine and surgery show up all at once to collect their due, her flesh starts falling off and you wonder why no one has the kindness of heart to put her out of her misery? I think Europe is a lot like that.

Articles like this must have seemed more tantalizing back before one European country almost voted in the Nazis and another one was actively given over to Nazis so they could be used as a club against Putin. Makes you wonder though, does it not, if the unaccountable Brussels bureaucrats allow that to happen to their own provinces, how will treat all the rootless foreigners amongst them when times get hard for everyone? Free train rides? And showers too? Lovely.

I think the reason this is the most popular article here is because of its escapist nature, though oddly not escapist in the manner that Dmitri and Anonymous may have wanted. For Europeans it provides a smug satisfaction that no matter how bad things are getting there, at least things are even worse in the place that shackled them with liberal capitalism and borged all their pre-Marshall Plan cultures. For Americans it provides the hope that no matter how bad things are getting here, at least there's some place where the lights are not winking out. We're both being lied to of course.

@benhazin: eh, why not? Seldom in history do formerly-oppressed peoples create regimes that are at least as bad as what they previously lived under. After all, Zimbabwe did okay.

@Marc L Bernstein: Panama and Argentina are also nice countries. I’ve had family in both and if I ever leave this continent I'm going to the one without nuclear weapons

Unknown said...

I'm an American living in Japan, and whenever I go back to the States I am amazed at how much it looks and feels like a third-world country.

Sure, there are bright spots of incredible wealth and advanced technology, but these are surrounded by dilapidated and dirty infrastructure and environment that I can't believe people put up with.

Lance M. Foster said...

It used to be seen as a fault back when this movie was made. Now it's NORMAL and it's a big part of why things are as they are, beginning in the 1980s, and by the 1990s, it was the way we were supposed to think. "Greed is Good."