Rap. Hip hop. Bling bling. gas guzzling SUVs. Wall Street. Power lunches at 500USD degustation restaurants. Texas. Oil hungry. Gay marriages. George Bush. White picket fences. Rednecks. Homeless beggars. Meritocracy. The American Dream. Ivy Leagues.
There are many images of America to us Asians and many of these images are conflicting juxtapositions of old ways and new ways, generation Y and boomers, old money and new money, riches and popverty. So when my friends back home ask me what’s America, I often find myself tongue tied.
I spent the whole day browsing books at the Harvard Co-op and was reading Tamara Draut’s “Strapped: Why America’s 20- and 30-Somethings Can’t Get Ahead” and I was just kinda bewildered by her analysis of why young Americans are not “getting ahead” (itself being such an American concern)
Ms Draut asserts that it’s becoming increasingly hard for young americans due to higher cost of living, higher debts and less job security. She explains that the combination of high debt and low job security/wage increase crushes young americans’ upward mobility, creating a crisis where they have to work harder to have an education, buy a house and have children. I was reading the book in the comfortable settings of the Harvard Co-op, surrounded by (old money) rich students running around in their designer wears, perennially holding a cup of Starbucks coffee, shopping at chic chic “neighborhood” stores before running back to their 2000USD/month studios and I was just really amused.
To me, this whole debate about how America’s youth is being threatened by globalisation is rather indulgent (or “liberal whinefest” as some Amazon.com reviewers call it). True, global competition is tough and American companies are finding it harder in the global market but isn’t that the market system so beloved by America? And if you’re not “getting ahead” fat enough, isn’t it a case of simply working harder and not spending so much money?
I feel for the working class American in middle america losing his/her job to Chinese workers but I’m short of sympathy for upwardly mobile young Americans who incur ernomous student debts but still feel entitled to have a glamorous city loft, eat out at fancy restaurants and buy a gas guzzler Hummer.
It’s telling that the adjective “happy” seldom comes up when people are asked to described America. I have been reading the Dalai Lama’s book on happiness and a new book “Happiness: Lessons from a New Science” by Richard Layard. It’s very interesting to see the similarities between Dalai Lama’s buddhist teachings and Layard’s scientific analysis. Both advocate the importance of family, community, values, meaningful employment and others.
Walking around world famous universities nowadays and being surrounded by all these talk of getting ahead, it’s obvious why happiness is the last thing on many young Americans’ mind.