American Dream.

What is it all about?

After WWarII, the States became the leader of the whole world, strong economy is so attractive that people all over the world go there to fulfill their American Dreams. (Statue of the Liberty)

American Dreams was an American television drama program broadcast on the NBC television network

The American Dream is about forging a better life for yourself through hard work.

Hi Conchita,

I’m afraid I haven’t read your link, but to what extent is the American dream (based on “hard work”) different from achievements in Japan, Romania or Colombia?

Hi Ralf,

I think your rights as a citizen are better protected in the US than they are in Romania or Colombia. You might be working hard in Colombia without having a fair chance of being rewarded appropriately. The US has become the most powerful nation in the world because they follow a number of basic principles that rather foreign to other nations.[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, photographs: A keep fit class[YSaerTTEW443543]

Actually, I asked myself that question, too, Ralf. Now, maybe we can talk about a Japanese Dream, but Romanian or Colombian Dream? There wouldn’t be so many Romanian and Colombian immigrants in Spain if such a concept existed, don’t you think? We know that hard work isn’t rewarded as equally everywhere, if the opportunity for hard work is given at all.

Maybe the term ‘American Dream’ doesn’t have the same sense now as it used to have in the hard times of the Irish potato famine…

By the way, my link was just a dictionary definition.

Ok. But what are the main components of this dream?
House, car, sucessful children, freedom…?

Hi Torsten,

I don’t think I agree that today’s standards in the United States have much to with the initial ‘American Dream’. These are probably a result of what you could be called a long established system, but it’s not much different in countries like let’s say Germany, Britain or France. When talking about “The American Dream”, you have to go way back. In my opinion, the American Dream once used to be what could not be achieved anywhere else in the world. There used to be a country in which you could claim your stake and live freely. As long as you weren’t killed by any force of nature or Native Americans. The latter were unltimately taken care of.

Hi Conchita,

Actually I think so, too. Those Romanians and Colombians emigrated to the United States to fulfill their individual idea of freedom. Back then they did have the same concept. And they succeeded by playing a vital role in shaping the American nation. The reason why it is not possible for them to do the same in today’s Spain or America are different. In any given country today it is more than unlikely that the majority of immigrants might reach a standard similar to the offspring of their great grandfathers overseas. And that’s precisely the point; the American Dream has changed. Today it is what Konstantin calls “house, car, successful children, freedom”, and this dream exists everywhere. The right preconditions given, it can be attained in Spain, America or Japan. And for some prestigious people in Russia, but only if you measure things by a conventional western yardstick.

To push it a little bit more, I think the aul’ American Dream could be revitalised if they found a way to urbanise the Moon for all those desperately hard-working Romanians, Colombians and Nigerians. But please don’t quote me on that :?

The American Dream, as they call it, whatever it is, is possible in other places, of course. However, people from Latin America and some other countries say they work and work but never get ahead financially. A close friend of mine couldn’t achieve her Iraqi dream, because any good job offer she received required her to join the Baath party, which she refused to do, because it was something like the Nazi party. So, in some places you can do it, and in some places you can’t.

I’m sure the things that people think make the “American Dream” possible are present in other countries, but not in the same combination.

Germany, France, the UK, Sweden and other countries have strong rule of law, protected property rights, and well-regulated securities markets. If you own a business, a building, or an idea, you actually do own it. The financial system is relatively stable. The powerful may have more power, but they don’t have rights that ordinary people don’t have. The only problem is that the bureaucratic and legal and regulatory hurdles to starting or expanding a business are huge in those countries, and, along with the taxes, they can impede a little guy from even getting started. They may or may not completely stop it, but in many cases it becomes more difficult than it has to be.

Many developing countries have a sort of Wild West atmosphere, and people can do all kinds of things that would be restricted in most EU countries. However, there’s less rule of law, and people’s property rights aren’t protected. Because property rights aren’t protected, people can’t use their property as collateral to finance a business. Even if they succeed in starting a business, if someone’s relative wants to take it away, the entrepreneur can lose it and even be arrested on a phony charge like “falsification of papers” or on no charge at all. People from such countries tell me that they can’t use financial securities to save for their future, but have to put their savings into real estate, sacks of beans or some other thing that’s less affected by financial manipulation. Due to all this unpredictability, a lot of business that would grow large in the US has to be kept on a small scale and done on a handshake basis.

Plus, in many countries, if you’re an immigrant, the people, the bureaucracy and the legal system play all kinds of “us versus them” games with you, and they drop even more obstacles in your way.

In some countries they restrict the amount of education a person can get even if he wants it. They waste a lot of intelligence this way. My classes are full of intelligent people who had been shut out of their own country’s educational system and wanted to come to the US partly or mainly in order to get a university education.

Anyway, you’ve got the entrepreneurial freedom in some countries but not stability or rule of law. In other countries you have the stability and rule of law, but they put too many taxes and other obstacles in your way. Many people think the US has the right combination of entrepreneurial freedom, stability, lower taxes and rule of law. However, if the Democrats get both the White House and a majority in Congress next year, and politicians like Sarkozy get their program through in Europe, the situation could be reversed.

Also note that at any given time in US history, most people in American didn’t achieve the American dream, but that all depends on how you define it. And there are people in any country who overcome the disadvantages of their local system.

Hi Jamie,

Thanks a lot for your concise and comprehensive explanation of the origins of the “American Dream”. Konstantin asked what the “components” of that dream would be and I think you summed it all up by saying that the US provides the best combination of ‘success factors’: entrepreneurial freedom, stability and rule of law. As I see it, in the US you can find the best balance of freedom and security. As Jamie mentioned, there are some countries in which you will find no security and no freedom and other countries in which you can find either security or freedom but not both (I mean in comparison to the US).[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, photographs: Working in a muddy field[YSaerTTEW443543]

When I think of this situation, I think of a Mexican man I see who rides from a poor neighborhood to a rich neighborhood on a bicycle that is dragging a lawn mower for cutting people’s grass. This is a typical entrepreneurial beginning for someone who comes to the US with nothing. He started his business just by knocking on people’s doors and asking for the work. When he saves enough money, he’ll buy a used truck, and he’ll be able to carry more equipment and provide even better service. If his service is good, and he is honest, he will attract so many customers that he’ll have to hire another person or two and train them to give his style of service. At this point, since he has employees, he’ll have to protect himself from a personal injury suit, and he’ll have other needs that make it better for him to form a limited liability corporation. He can do this by filling out some papers and paying a processing fee of about $35 or $50. Now he is up and running, and chances are he’ll employ still more people. I know a Russian lady whose cleaning business developed the same way.

I often think about what this man would have to do in order to start the same business in some European countries. Once his income from cutting grass reached a certain level, he’d have to go to the labor office to obtain a business permit. To do this, he would have to provide several papers from several government agencies, including papers showing that he owed no taxes, and maybe even that he had completed a training program or apprenticeship in gardening and lawn-cutting. He will have to list every line of business he plans to engage in, and each one will cost about $50. If he sees another business opportunity, he’ll have to amend his papers and pay more fees before he can legally take advantage of it. He will also have to provide a copy of his police record, or an official letter that says he has no police record. He’ll have to provide the same type of paper from his own country, and that will have to be translated by someone officially approved by the government to do that. Since he’s a foreigner, he’d have to convince a citizen of the country to be the cosigner on his business permit, for no logical reason other than that they don’t want a foreigner signing such documents by himself. While his papers are being processed, he won’t be allowed to operate his business and get paid for it, so he’ll have to have the customers he already serves hold off on paying him until the papers are issued. His business will have to get much bigger before he can provide employment to other people, because the state will require him to provide them with various kinds of insurance, ensure them employment for a certain number of years, and do other very expensive things that a small, struggling business can’t afford to do. He may also have to prove that the people he hires are “qualified” to cut grass. If he wants to protect his small personal assets by forming a limited liability corporation, he’ll have to have a reserve of at least $15,000 to protect his creditors, of which he has none. While his incorporation papers are being processed, he won’t be allowed legally to serve and be paid by his existing customers, even though he already has a personal business permit for this.

Basically, the guy would either have to stay small, or he’d have to do everything on a cash basis below the radar of the labor authorities for a long time.

Here in Germany a lot of services, which are probably very common in the US or other countries, simply don’t exist. For example, the vast majority of Germans clean the interior of their cars themselves. There are lots of car wash stations but they are mainly operated by machines and consequently the car owner has to clean the interior themselves. Some larger stations do offer manual interior cleaning but the prices are so high that the average car owner can’t afford this type of service.

Of course you can get the same service from people (mainly foreigners) who will come and clean your car at a very reasonable rate but those people don’t pay any taxes and have no official permission to actually work that way. It’s exactly as you describe it, Jamie. Many of the people operating that way do want to run their business officially but this is almost impossible due to the vast amount of red tape and regulations.

On the other hand, your Mexican friend might be able to start his business rather easily back home in Mexico but once it reaches a certain level he will get a visit from some people who tell him they’ll “protect” him from his competitors for which they charge him. He’ll end up paying most of his revenue to the bagman and will either lose interest in the business or engage in the racketeering business himself.[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, photographs: Parked bicycles[YSaerTTEW443543]

This racketeering problem can go up to the very highest levels in some countries. There’s an article in a recent issue of Forbes about a Mr. Veremeenko who has become a billionaire in Russia. The thing that stunned me was how much the business world there operates like organized crime. Veremeenko had to choose his lines of business very carefully so that they didn’t compete with other companies favored by the Kremlin. That’s the complete opposite of free enterprise, where many people start businesses precisely because they think they CAN compete. It was like reading a Mario Puzo novel, right down to the man’s wife just happening to win the Mrs. World contest in St. Petersburg.

You know, that bureaucratic system of licensing businesses in Germany has its defenders, Torsten. I was once trying to explain to a German accountant the reasons why our US system is more flexible. For one thing, employers should not be obligated to provide permanent full-time employment for people who want only temporary part-time employment. The employer shouldn’t be obligated to provide health insurance to someone who is already fully insured by his or her spouse and doesn’t need or want the insurance. Not all employees want all the risk removed from their lives, so they are happy to get employment flexibility – and plentiful employment – in exchange for a larger risk of losing their jobs. This German accountant thought this system was “stupid” and told me that anyone who won’t assure permanent full-time employment, full health coverage and the other things German law requires “doesn’t deserve to have a business”. It almost seemed as if he didn’t care what he workers themselves want.

Another interesting thing happened when I told a German guy just getting his MBA that if he didn’t find the job he wanted right away, he could sell ice cream or do something like that for a while. He looked shocked, but then realized there was a cultural difference in our mentalities. In the US, if you leave the profession you were trained for and open up an ice cream business – or a coffee shop, like my neighbor who was a financial manager at Ford did – this looks good on your CV, even if the business failed. Employers think it means you’re willing to take risks and go outside the box. They may also think you’re coming to them with some new ideas. Germans tell me that in their country a stunt like this hurts your job search, because people will think you’re impulsive or “a loser”.

Recently a German intern at a company asked me about something he’d seen in the news about some millionaire adventurer who’d gotten into some trouble out in the wilderness. He couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard about the situation. We got talking about it, and I started to realize that when I lived in Europe I saw that people had a different type of interest in business millionaires than they have here in the US. In Europe, people’s interest tends more toward vicarious thrills over the lives of glamorous celebrity millionaires. The media show their risky adventures and treat them like rock stars. In the US there is some of that, but people’s interest, and what the media feed them, is more along the lines of how-to information for those who also want to be entrepreneurs. Warren Buffett is a big celebrity in the US, as is Bill Gates. Europe also has people like this, but the European media seem to concentrate more on the Richard Branson type. I attribute it to the idea that most Americans think they actually have a shot at achieving a fraction of what these guys have, if they know how, whereas typical Europeans don’t see their lives that way and view these millionaires more as royalty. Maybe someone will disagree with me on that, but I think that for the most part it’s true.

oh, i thought it was about having a big house with a big garden in suburban area, driving a fancy car, owning a beautiful dog, and of course, having a beautiful wife~

well, come to think of it. this is the good life you guys talked about isn’t it?

Torsten, you’ve put a different spin on something that’s been on my mind for some time. I have run into a lot of Germans – many of them with business degrees – who think that the US employment rate is higher than Germany’s right now because, “There are a lot of jobs in the US that don’t exist in Germany.” Unlike you, they don’t perceive these as useful services that are prevented in Germany by red tape. They seem to think of them as some kind of big socialist make-work program, some kind of “brigada”, that is somehow established just for the purpose of giving people jobs. They point to the fact that US stores have a lot of employees who frequently greet customers and ask if they’re able to find what they’re looking for. These Germans often call this a “useless job that wouldn’t exist in Germany”, and they somehow don’t figure out that these employees also have other duties in the store, such as stocking shelves or taking inventory. Some of these Germans even get irritated with those workers because they’re not used to being spoken to while they’re shopping. However, I have been in many situations where that person walking up and asking to help me made the difference between me buying what I wanted and just walking out without buying anything. One of the Germans who thought this type of job was useless went so far as to tell me that, “If a customer can’t find what he wants in a store, that’s HIS PROBLEM! It’s not the store’s problem!” (Believe it or not, he was a businessman, and even so he didn’t realize that if a customer can’t find something in a store, he’ll never buy it and the store has lost potential revenue.)

Anyway, the Germans who talk to me about this seem to see the whole US labor market as a big socialist make-work project, or what you’d call an ABM-Maßnahme in German. When I ask them who’s creating the useless jobs, they can’t explain it, because they know it’s not the government, and that efficient, profitable businesses wouldn’t do it either. Nonetheless, it’s still hard for them to comprehend that the jobs actually serve an economic purpose.

That part about the beautiful wife is something you added. Many people achieve that “American Dream” with their ugly wife – or their ugly husband.

The interesting thing about it is not THAT the people achieve that “dream” but HOW they achieve it. A lot of immigrants who’ve achieved it complain to me that their relatives back home think it just happened by magic, or that maybe everybody gets all that stuff just because they live in the US. This causes them to write their relatives in the US and beg for things. The immigrants complain that their relatives back home are always asking them to buy cousin Ihor a car, or sister Tanți a ball gown, as if they can just conjure money out of nowhere, as if no work were involved.

In fact, when I worked in Europe, I frequently met people who thought that I somehow received a big salary in the US just for being American, even though I didn’t work here.

I had an interesting discussion with an American whom I was working with here in Germany. Our job was to ‘teach English’ to a group of unemployed people from a run-down area in East Germany. When the participants started to introduce themselves in German many of them would say something like “… and now I’m unemployed” or “I have been unemployed for 3 years” etc. At some point one the participants asked the American how to say “I’ve been unemployed” in English. The American answered “You just don’t say it.” The group stared at the American and then at me asking for an explanation. Well, the American said in the US you will rarely find a person who would define themself as “unemployed”. In Germany it’s the official status of lots of people although they often modify the term to “I’m looking for work”. The Germans then went on to ask the American what an American says or does if they don’t have a regular job. “Well”, the American said, “how about ‘self-study’, ‘self-employed’, ‘working on a project’, etc.?” In East Germany the concept of “self-initiative” has yet to be developed. It’s much more common here to wait for the government to create jobs. Many engineers would rather sit and wait than do a job that is “below their qualifications”. If you can’t find a job as an engineer then selling ice cream might be the job that perfectly fits your current situation. At any rate it’s much better to do something other than sit and complain because through any activity you gain more experience. Selling ice cream is not just a low paid job but it can be a vital part of a very complex business.

In Germany (especially in the Eastern part) millionaires or any successful business person is looked upon rather suspiciously. Many people here believe that in order to ‘get rich’, you have to ‘exploit’ others. They don’t understand that the principle works just vice versa. You can only become rich if you enrich others. So the German public views millionaires as either crazy celebreties are shady business people.

Well, since the Germans are used to regulations and control they think that the government is responsible for creating jobs and to a certain extend, the German government does create jobs by funding all those labor and training projects for unemployed people. The problem with those jobs is that the vast majority of them are indeed “useless” because the people doing them don’t like to do them. The jobs are artificial which means there is no real demand for the services provided through them. That’s where I see the difference between a person greeting customers in a US store and an unemployed German who is completing a “work placement” organized and funded by the government. Germans have a hard time understanding how jobs are created. They think that this is the responsibility of an institution rather than an individual. If a store employs people who great and communicate with customers, then how can this be a useless job? Provided the people working in that store work there because they love to work with people, provide service and learn how a business is run, it’s an excellent concept that will generate even more jobs and business ideas. If the people working there are placed into the store and paid by the government, then it’s a concept that will fail. It’s as simple as that.[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, photographs: The young football players[YSaerTTEW443543]

I Underdog,

In order for a large part of the population to have the material things you’ve mentioned, you have to create a system that provides many intangible things such as rule of law, civil rights, an education system, national security, etc.

Before you can get a fancy car and a big house, you have to understand that you need to make useful contributions to the society. This is a basic principle that many people in the world neither comprehend nor accept.[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, photographs: A pit stop[YSaerTTEW443543]