Navel Gazing – Happy Birthday U.S.A. Edition
As I sit here downing my whatever number Miller High Life and munching on some celebratory beef jerky and pretzels, I can’t help but ponder some of the things I’ll miss about the good ‘ole U.S. of A. on this, her 234th birthday. Of course, the Grim Truth, is that I really won’t miss many of the most significant things about my homeland. Here’s a few:
- Jamie Dimon
- Wells Fargo
- Capital One/Richard Fairbank
- The Pete Peterson Foundation/Pete Peterson
- Stephen Schwarzman
- Fat (like, Orca fat) People
- Annoying Foursquare Facebook updates (Are you really that proud of your consumption habits?)
- Larry Summers
- Timmeh Geithner
- The American News Media
But I’ll admit that there are things about the U.S. that are pretty fucking cool. Here are a few:
- The First Amendment (Ironic, since our news media sucks)
- Native English Speakers
- Taco Bell (are they global yet?)
- Miller High Life
- Ummmm, other stuff too…probably
The simple fact is that the U.S. has gone off the rails. But what’s different this time – and, of course, the U.S. has gone off the rails before – is the almost absolute inability of individuals to remake themselves. We have a massive overlevering of American households, but no right to fail. Collection company databases used to forget, but they don’t anymore. As much as I love the Internet, a single ill-advised comment under your real name can doom you forever. Credit reports are necessary to get a job, and if you declare bankruptcy, everyone knows by typing the few letters that correspond with your name into Google.
In the U.S. the frontier is dead. 150 years ago, if you were a failure in Boston, you could move to St. Louis and try again. And if you failed in St. Louis, move to San Francisco and try again. And your debts? Fuck ‘em, leave ‘em behind.
It may be nothing more than the inevitable result of the march of technology that the frontier dies, and the right to fail with it. But I don’t quite believe that. It’s just that the frontiers of opportunity aren’t in America anymore.