September 18, 2014
American dream is getting further out of sight for the poor living in USPosted in Irish Independent · 74 comments ·
I am sitting in a hipster Californian café, surrounded on all sides by young men with luxuriant beards, tasteful tattoos and piercings, who are intensely scrolling through single-geared bicycle websites. They are sitting beside bronzed, very skinny, yet muscular women, who haven’t eaten since St Patrick’s Day. It’s an uneasy experience.
If you want to feel like a different species, a hybrid version of humanity which has managed – like the appendix – to sidestep the cleansing, improving process of evolution, then this is the place for you.
We really look different to Californians. Last night I was trying to put my finger on it – and it has to be something to do with perfection. Take their faces – everything is in the right place, in the right proportions, no ear bigger than the other, no “sticky-out” ears and no bent noses. Meanwhile, the teeth are just an expensive work in progress which never ends.
Even ‘Gimme Shelter’ sounds better in this Californian cafe than it does at home. As does anything by The Eagles, which sounds naff in rainy Ireland, but listening to ‘Life in the Fast Lane’ while driving in the sunshine towards San Diego allows you to get the whole California dreaming thing. Similarly, “LA Woman” on the M50 doesn’t quite match the Lizard King on the Pacific Coast Highway.
I find myself working in Hotel California for a few days which, unlike Don Henley, I will be able to leave on Friday.
Being here gives you a snapshot of why America recovers economically and why, despite its problems, there is still a vibrancy here.
Flying into John Wayne Airport last night, to the home of Governors Ronald Regan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, I wondered could any other people be so enchanted by Regan’s sun-kissed, political slogan “It’s morning in America”.
This is what it’s all about. It’s about the dream that tomorrow will be better than today. This is what drives the Americans. Unlike Europeans, they believe. They believe in the future. They believe in the story that the underdog has a chance and the good guy wins in the end. This is a storyline invented beside me here in Hollywood.
When the new nation went looking for someone to tell the story of America, it turned to screenwriters in the film business and they delivered a version of American history that served to reinforce the original notion of a special country with a special destiny, constantly pushing the boundaries.
The pioneer story of settlers and pioneers pushing further west and south is still strong among many Americans, as is Reagan’s notion of the “shining city on the hill” – borrowed from the Bible – that holds America up as a shining beacon for the rest of the world to follow.
Irrespective of how truthful this narrative may or may not be, it feeds into the regenerative narrative that if you just work hard you can get there. But we know this isn’t actually true.
Children born into poor families in northern Europe have a much better chance of upward social mobility than do American children.
The rest of the world is catching up with the US economically and at least here in California, the middle class, chilled-out lifestyle is bolstered by a huge illegal immigrant Hispanic underclass, who beaver away under the radar making the place tick over.
And the place does tick over.
It is easy to forget how big California is. This is the State that gave us Apple, Google, Facebook, McDonalds, theme parks, Barbie dolls, Frisbee, the Beach Boys and the contraceptive pill!
The gross state product (GSP) is about $2.05 trillion – 13.2pc of the United States’ GDP. The state’s GDP grew 2 per cent in 2013 after having grown 2.7pc in 2012 and 1.7pc in 2011.
California’s economy is the 8th largest economy in the world – it is bigger than Russia. LA alone has a projected gross product of $830bn, an economy larger than that of the Netherlands.
Similarly, San Francisco’s projected gross product of $336bn trumps that of the Thai economy. California is the only US state with a “minority majority”. Some 58pc of the population is Asian, Hispanic, Native American or other groups.
At this moment an astonishing 43.5pc speak a language other than English at home, compared to the national average of 20.5pc.
But California and America are getting more unequal.
Today, the Federal Reserve – the most important economic institution in the US – will reaffirm polices that will just make the rich even richer.
Keeping interest rates at zero, after years of printing money has enriched owners of companies and shares at the massive expense of workers.
Central banks all over the world are full of people who believe rises in real wages are inflationary, but rises in share prices that are mainly of benefit to them in the long run are not.
Worse still, central bankers all over the world have chosen higher share and house prices as the desired way to kick-start the economy.
But this only suits the “already rich” who own these assets.
As a result we are seeing monetary policies throughout the world – from the US, to Europe and Japan – that are designed explicitly to make the rich richer in the hope that they will spend more and ‘live up to their incomes’, producing the rising tide that lifts all the boats.
Sitting here looking out at Newport Beach harbour and beyond to the Pacific, as poor Mexicans slave away in the heat, bringing cold water to the beautiful ones doing early morning Pilates on the beach, it’s hard to decipher a ripple on the water, let alone the mythical rising tide.