What kind of place is America in 2011? Sadly, it is one giant sea of conformity. If you traveled across the United States 40 or 50 years ago, you would encounter a vast array of cultures and you would meet a wonderful mix of people. But today America is slowly but surely becoming standardized. It seems like wherever you go you will find a Wal-Mart and a McDonald’s. Thanks to Hollywood and the mass media, people all over the country dress the same and look the same and talk the same. Sure there are various subcultures out there, but even many of those subcultures are virtually the same on one coast as they are on the other. The things that gave flavor to our local communities are dying off in favor of greater conformity and greater profit. Today, most retail stores and most restaurants are corporate owned. Most small businesses that attempt to go up against the Wal-Marts, the Targets, the Burger Kings or the Home Depots of the world have already been stomped out of existence or are in the process of being stomped out of existence. Eventually, if we are not careful, corporate conformity is going to dominate everything from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Some may view this as “progress”, but is this really what the American Dream is supposed to be all about? Is this really the “America” that we want to pass down to future generations?
Our society has become so homogenized that we don’t really question it anymore. We all watch American Idol, we all buy the same boring looking cars we see advertised on television and we all buy the same mass-produced corporate products down at Costco.
For many Americans, doing something “exotic” means going out to Applebee’s on Friday night.
If you are under 40 years of age and you have never been out of the country you should really make it a point to do that. Today there are millions upon millions of young Americans that have no idea what “another culture” even looks like. All they know is how America does things and they have been taught that the American way of doing things is always the best.
Sadly, sometimes we think our way is so superior that it should be forced upon the rest of the world.
When this nation was founded, our founding fathers were extremely suspicious of large concentrations of power. Corporations did not dominate early America. Instead, millions of individuals and small businesses worked together to make this country great. Back in those days a “family store” could be started without fear that a corporate giant like Wal-Mart would come waltzing in to crush it.
When Wal-Marts started to spread across the United States, almost everyone loved them. The prices were lower, the selection was much greater and Wal-Mart brought jobs to the community.
When I would visit family or friends they would always excitedly talk about the new Wal-Mart that was going up somewhere nearby. They saw Wal-Mart as a sign of progress and something that would make their lives better.
Unfortunately, we now know that all of that corporate conformity comes at a very high price.
When Wal-Mart moves into a community, often dozens of local businesses can’t compete and are forced to close.
Wal-Mart does bring jobs, but they are really crappy jobs. A very, very small percentage of Wal-Mart jobs will even come close to enabling someone to support a family.
But Wal-Mart is making a ton of money. So where does all of that money go?
It goes out of the local community and into the pockets of the Wal-Mart shareholders.
Wal-Mart is like a giant vacuum cleaner. It sucks the wealth out of our local communities and it transfers it into the hands of the very wealthy.
But don’t all of the products sold at Wal-Mart support American businesses and American jobs?
Just go into a Wal-Mart some time and start picking up products. You will notice that the vast majority of them are made outside of the United States.
Americans love to buy stuff made in China. And the big corporations love that because they are more than happy to pay slave labor wages to workers in places like China and India.
But I don’t want to just pick on Wal-Mart. The vast majority of our retail establishments are now owned by huge corporations. They all crush small businesses and they all suck wealth out of our local communities.
Most of us have enjoyed the “low, low prices” that the mega-corporations have brought in, but as inflation has gone up faster than our wages, large numbers of Americans have had to go into debt in order to enjoy all of these cheap products.
Today, what the average American family owes is equivalent to 136% of what an average American family makes each year.
We have a national addiction to debt. To the corporations and the banks we are viewed as “consumers” and the goal is to drain as much money out of us as possible. They want us to be completely dependent on them so that we will be snared in the trap of “consumerism” forever.
The fact that corporations have become so dominant in our society is a huge reason why wealth has become so concentrated at the top. Today, the bottom 50 percent of all Americans own just 2.5% of the wealth. In a true capitalist society this would not happen because individuals and small businesses would be able to compete fairly in the marketplace and would be thriving.
But unfortunately, our system greatly favors giant corporations today. In fact, what we have in our country today is much more aptly called “corporatism” rather than “capitalism”. The vast majority of Americans work for either a giant corporation or for the government. We even teach our children that they should go to college and study hard so that they can “get a job” rather than telling them that they should endeavor to “start a business” someday.
If nothing changes, wealth and power will continue to become even more concentrated in the hands of the few. Meanwhile, America will just continue to become a giant sea of corporate conformity and a very boring place.
“America 2011” is not nearly as interesting as America was 50 years ago. We are becoming defined by our greedy corporate overlords. We just blindly conform and we let others do our thinking for us.
If our founding fathers could see us today, they would be absolutely horrified.