James Brown, the infamous ‘godfather of soul’ crooned about Livin’ in America. “I feel good, eye to eye, hand in hand while living in the promised land” touted Brown in his 1986 hit song. But does it really “feel good” to live in America in the 21st century? For the past week, upon return from my recent travels to Denmark, Iceland, and Norway I have been contemplating this very thought in my mind.
I am an American, born and raised here my entire life. I am however, no economic major, nor have I ever really paid attention to politics or the state of the American union. I like to think of myself as a ‘typical’ American who goes about my day thinking only of myself and my immediate family, how hard we will have to work, how much money we will make, and how much money will be left after paying all the bills to spend on personal luxuries. As a ‘typical’ middle class individual, I rarely spend time thinking about those less fortunate than I, nor do I think about what I could be doing to help make the world a better place. I don’t have to, after all I am American and live in a capitalistic country where each citizen is clearly out for their own personal gain – including that of our government. We are raised to be a hard-working, money-making society, and those who have more money are in a higher class in society than those who do not. Money drives our daily lives and brings us happiness to those who have, and unhappiness to those who do not have. True Capitalism at it’s best!
Each year, the Wider Opportunities for Women compiles a report on the basic economic security tables in the United States.. This report “measures basic needs and assets for workers required for economic security in American households” (www.wowonline.org). In 2014, it was reported that 44% of Americans lacked basic economic security. It went on to report that those households with greater education levels scored somewhat higher on meeting basic economic security than someone without an education. This struck me as ironic since our country does not support paying for our children’s education, hence only those who can afford a college education can attend and those who don’t are obviously stuck without any means to gain economic security.
Personally, I think these capitalistic attitudes are draining, not only mentally, but economically in my pocket as well. I may fall into that ‘middle class’ society according to my tax returns, however it seems more and more as if I am left with less in my pocket, and more stress and worry than ever. With stress and worry comes a decrease in the happiness quotient, and an increase in dissatisfaction with my life as an American.
I have expenses, huge expenses that I feel would be taken care of in some fashion or another if I lived in an egalitarian country. Out of our monthly income comes expenses such as: food, gasoline for the cars (3 of them), household living expenses (such as electricity, water, sewer, etc), education (currently paying $2400 for tuition and $3000 for dorm fees, plus food per semester, approximately 4 months, for my son in college), insurance (car insurance for 3 vehicles is $6000 per year, health insurance is $14,400 in annual premiums plus $7,500 out-of-pocket before the health insurance pays a penny, homeowners insurance $2000 per year, disability insurance, flood insurance, etc). and if anything is left at the end we are advised to invest money into a retirement account.
Speaking of retirement account, “they” say social security benefits which I have been paying into throughout my adult life may or may not be available when I retire in the future. Americans are told we should not count on it as our only means of retirement income. Thus, 401-K came into being and now we must take what little disposable income we may have and invest it ourselves (and sometimes with the aid of an employer) with the hope that when we retire we can afford it. Based on the figures I demonstrated earlier you can see that I have little to any disposable income left, thus I worry about what will happen when I eventually retire. Worry and stress, stress and worry, it takes up a great deal of my life and leaves me with less and less quality of life and time to spend with family and friends as I am always worried about having enough money.
After returning home from Norway I began to look at and wonder how different my life would be if I were to live in an ‘egalitarian’ system such as in Scandinavia. From what I gather, egalitarianism focuses on low social inequality. There are no divisions between low class, middle class and upper class. One is not looked down upon for making less money than another. All citizens are treated same and/or similar in respect to what they have or don’t have. In egalitarian countries one works for the good of all. With this type of system, those individuals who work are taxed heavily and the government is responsible for giving out funds to help those in need. With this system comes health care and an education at no expense to any citizen. Norway in fact has a great deal of highly educated people for this very reason.
Because all medical expenses are paid for, as well as a full education, no one has to stop and think where this money will come from. Hence, the people who live in an egalitarian system have less stress, less worry, and have a higher happiness quotient. In fact, in Denmark I spoke to a gentleman in a coffee shop who said to me “I gladly give my money to the government because I don’t have to worry about anything.” With little to no stress or worry, Scandinavians work a moderate amount of hours per week, have something like up to 6 weeks paid vacation per year, have one year of maternity leave paid for, and have time left over to enjoy spending time with friends and family. I was amazed to see a great deal of people having a leisurely lunch with friends and I watched intensely at how much enjoyment they had on their faces. This would never be the case in the States as we are lucky to have a one hour break where we scarf down our food, pay the bill, and race back to work!
In my opinion, the United States capitalistic mind-set has created a huge disparity among its citizens whereby the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Self-satisfaction and personal gain are prominent features in our country. The leaders of our country abide by these principles and make decisions on our behalf with the underlying premise being what is politically best at the time these principles go into effect. I have never heard a political leader premise his/her actions by doing what is best for the citizens of our country, rather they act based upon once again – personal gain and how much influence their political power ensues.
On the other side, Egalitarianism means that all of one’s basic needs are met without question of who you are or where you fall in society. This type of government does not base their decisions upon who deserves what over another, rather it treats its citizens with respect and believes in honoring the basic needs of all individuals and not just the chosen few. If I lived in such a place, I would no longer have to pay out of my pocket for health expenses, nor would I have to worry about my retirement. My kids would have an excellent education and future. I would be living ‘the high life’ with an abundance of happiness and increased quality of life.
I am ashamed at my country for treating me and all other citizens with such disdain for human life and sustenance. I feel there is a better way for us all to live and it does not include the American way. I want my children to grow up in a land where all are treated the same – as human beings with basic needs. I do not wish my children to look down upon another simply because they have less than we do. It’s time our country steps up and takes care of the basic needs of its citizens! And I think it should begin with free education for all!
If only the United States would see to the betterment of its citizens, then and only then would James Brown’s song ring true! “Eye to eye, hand in hand, promised land!”
P.S. I would like to say that this was written from my personal perspective only and not necessarily the views of all Americans or of the United States. I am simply stating my thoughts and have no intention of offending anyone.