What Has Become of the Land of Opportunity?

By Ravi Logan

The great national myth that binds the allegiance of the American people to capitalism is that America is “the land of opportunity” — that its economic system equitably empowers citizens to achieve affluence, if only proper effort is made.

The hold of this mythic belief is rapidly breaking down. As more and more people experience the reality of their economic disempowerment, and as communities become impotent to determine their economic futures, collective faith in capitalism is waning. People see the rich grow richer, the poor poorer — and those in the middle rushing to join the “race to the bottom”.

“PROUT is positioned to contribute
to a compelling post-capitalist vision.”

Discontent is erupting. And the growing chorus of discontent is having an impact, evidenced by President Obama’s major policy speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, earlier in the year. Economist Robert Reich characterized this address as “the most important economic speech of [Obama’s] presidency” and wrote a lengthy analysis of it for the Huffington Post.

Note how Obama opens his speech, how he sets out the national predicament:

“For most Americans, the basic bargain that made this country great has eroded. Long before the recession hit, hard work stopped paying off for too many people. Fewer and fewer of the folks who contributed to the success of our economy actually benefited from that success. Those at the very top grew wealthier from their incomes and investments than ever before. But everyone else struggled with costs that were growing and paychecks that weren’t — and too many families found themselves racking up more and more debt just to keep up.”

Obama went on to point out:

“. . . [in]equality also distorts our democracy. It gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions, and runs the risk of selling out our democracy to the highest bidder. And it leaves everyone else rightly suspicious that the system in Washington is rigged against them — that our elected representatives aren’t looking out for the interests of most Americans.

“More fundamentally, this kind of gaping inequality gives lie to the promise at the very heart of America: that this is the place where you can make it if you try. We tell people that in this country, even if you’re born with nothing, hard work can get you into the middle class; and that your children will have the chance to do even better than you. That’s why immigrants from around the world flocked to our shores.”

America is no longer the land of opportunity. Hard work no longer pays off, no longer empowers people to get ahead. Even the President must admit it. It is now out in the open: Capitalism cannot do the job. It cannot manage the fundamental requirement of an economy in a democratic society; the “basic bargain” with the people has eroded.

If capitalism cannot do the job, what is there to replace it? This now emerges as the central question of the day.

This is a question Prout is uniquely positioned to answer. Its economic theory, long on the peripheries of political discourse in America, now has currency. It is now positioned to contribute to a compelling post-capitalist vision of a decentralized, universally empowering economy that can bring equity, create opportunity for all, and buttress America’s rapidly decaying democratic system.

Ravi Logan is the Director of the PROUT Institute (www.proutinstitute.org) and author of PROUT: A Solution-Oriented Paradigm of Development.

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