Thursday, August 18, 2005

Everywhere Around the World, They're Coming to America...

"Why do you want to live here and not in Europe?" I asked a young woman from Ethiopia, who tipped back her Seattle Mariners baseball cap and looked at me as if I were completely mad.
"Europe," she said disdainfully.
"What do they ever hope for in Europe? Here they have a law that you can dream to be happy."

The above excerpt from the BBC website (as well as the Neil Diamond lyric as a title) points out something very interesting: Despite the problems we have in this country, despite the current low estimation that we have in the eyes of most of the planet, many people still want to come here to live.

The young lady from Ethiopia isn't quite correct; there is no law that I know of in this country that says you can dream of being happy. Our Declaration of Independence states that the "pursuit of happiness" is one of the three inalienable rights (the other two being liberty and life), although it never says what "happiness" is supposed to be.

Up until the middle of the 19th Century or so the American Dream was the idea that you could be free; after that material gain became the American Dream. You know the mantra: A good job, a house in the 'burbs, 2.3 kids and the Loving Mate at your side. However, not everyone is equal, and not everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed. This causes something that criminologist Robert Merton called strain theory. He suggests that the strain of trying to succeed to the American Dream (material gain) causes people to act innovatively, unethically, corruptly, and finally criminally. While innovation is what made America what it is in terms of its business, technology, etc., the other steps are not.

What will probably come as a nasty shock for the lady from Ethiopia is the fact that the gap between those who Have and those who Have Not is growing wider and deeper almost every day. The true strength of the American economy, the middle class, is falling apart under the repeated blows of higher prices and dwindling expectations. The upper tier of the economy acts as if it doesn't care - the "let them eat cake" mentality, still alive and well (and ignoring what happened to the person who allegedly made that statement).

But people still come here. People crave the chance to at least have the opportunity to succeed.

I just hope they like it here.


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