Erosion of the American Dream

Erosion of the American Dream
September 28, 2011 Lainie Liberti

The American Dream


Once upon a time I woke up and realized the American Dream was our catalyst to knowing exactly what we DIDN’T want in order to focus on exactly what we DID want.

Not exactly what you expected to read, was it? But let’s back up just a bit….


The subject of the ‘American Dream’ has been a recent been a hot topic among many of our fellow family travel bloggers, we have decided to share our collective thoughts, with our own unique perspectives on the dream, so many base their lives chasing. What is the American Dream? Is it something that affects us, even to this day, over 2 years and 3 months after leaving America? And why does this concept still have an impact on our lives?


Before I get into this discussion, you should know I have no desire to explore or defend the virtues of the American Dream, an illusion we clearly don’t buy into. This is not an attempt to exemplify the illusion, which many view as the ‘promise’ to freely pursue happiness & prosperity within the United States. Nor have I included buzz words like achieving, acquiring, accelerating, owning, or succeeding, all language associated with that all-elusive-American-Dream.


What this is, is a frank exploration from the perspective of a mother and son, both whom have decided to reject in the so-called American Dream for an alternative lifestyle, a self-proclaimed life of global citizenship.


As I sit here in Peru, writing this post, I recall the conversation I had yesterday morning with another mother, as we watched our sons practice Tae Kwon Do together. The similarities between us are great. Both of us care deeply about our families, love our sons and support their choices. Both of us want to empower our sons to be individuals, but in the same breath, care for humanity. Both of us like nature and love the beach. Both of us are concerned about the pesky mosquitos and whether or not they carry dengue which could harm our families. Both of us love dogs as she tells me about the litter of puppies her momma dog just had.  Both of us are interested in eating and cooking healthy, as she shares tips on finding the best central market vendors for fresh fruits and veggies.

Her name is Lucia and I am so grateful we began our conversation, as her English is very good. I appreciate the many similarities between us and feel as if I made a new friend. I sum her up as sort of hippy mom, as she reminds me of  friends I had back in the states.

I asked Lucia where’s she’s traveled to, she replies, “Oh, I’ve never traveled outside of Peru, but hope to some day.” Then she added “I would love to go to India some day, but it’s very difficult for Peruvians to get visas to leave.” Then she told me when she was young, she always dreamed of going to the United States, but not anymore.

“Really?” I replied. Then I added, “Why, and why not anymore?”

She is  more or less 10 years younger than me, putting her somewhere in her mid 30’s. She told me about her impression of the United States, an impression developed through watching American television and movies while growing up. And what she told me, really, was the story of the American Dream.

Lucia continued, “I used to believe that in the United States, everything was new, everything was large, everyone had new homes and many cars and the women had lots of clothes. I wanted that too, and at one point I believed that was the only way to be happy. But it always wasn’t like that. But I remember clearly being a little girl and the day I looked around my village and realized we didn’t have all that stuff. Our home didn’t have a floor other than the dirt ground. Our walls were made from mud bricks, although very sturdy. Our roof was corrugated tin and our electricity came from large wires that dropped down into our house. We shared 3 walls with our neighbors and everyone lived as a community. Our family had a little money and we always considered ourselves to be very lucky. My mother and father were both teachers at the local school and my sisters and I always had enough of everything, food to eat, clothes without holes and books to read.

I remember how my thinking changed when my dad brought home a small television set when I was around 10 years old. Suddenly my world got larger and I remember not being as happy with what we had and wanted something different. I wanted what you had over there, over in the United States. I learned English and decided some day I too, would get the new house, the new car and all the wonderful clothes, and that too, would make me happy.”

I listened to her story, but sensed something had changed. Just then, her younger son woke up and she began to nurse him. As soon as he was content, she continued. “Then about 10 years ago, just after my oldest was born, my husband and I decided to turn off the TV. I spent 3 years of self exploration, making a conscious choice not to watch TV, not to look at fashion magazines, and to focus on myself, and my family. I am glad I did.

I realized I really wasn’t interested in going to the Untied States. I do not really want the things I used to want and I love my life here in Peru. Luckily my husband and think very similarly and we are both very happy”.

I thought about her words. I thought about her epiphany. I thought about the damage the American Dream must do to those people in countries that do not have the economic advantages that Americans do. I wondered how the American Dream must destroy the psyche of those who never have to the chance to pursue it.

But do any of us, really?

Even those of us who were born in the United States?

Then I had my own epiphany. American Dream is designed to never be attained. Keep people in a state of pursing and a state of wanting, WHICH IS NOT A STATE OF HAVING. Keep people preoccupied with attaining the unattainable and injecting fear with the promise that someone else can take it away from you.


The most powerful emotion to control masses, keep them preoccupied with something that really doesn’t’ matter.

I understand the American Dream better now that I’ve created some space between it and us. I understand the role the American Dream holds in the world, from the perspective of a parent, from the perspective of a traveler, from the perspective of a self-proclaimed world citizen.

But also I must add the perspectives of a former advertising & marketing professional who spend the majority of her adult life designing campaigns to sell pieces the American Dream, to perpetuate consumerism and to convince those exposed to the campaigns that something was missing in their lives unless they bought that product or service. Yes, the ad men of the United States have a tradition of communicating the personal inadequacy of the citizens.

  • You are less unless you buy.
  • You are unworthy unless you consume.
  • You are nothing unless you have.
  • Your value as a human being is measured by what you own.

This message is engrained in our culture and it’s something I believe most Americans are not even conscious of anymore.

But the veil is starting to drop as more and more cracks in the culture are revealed. We watch the unemployment in the United States soar to all time highs. We witness families loosing their homes. We see economies collapsing…

The American Dream is a destructive illusion.

If we no longer can value ourselves through what we have, where we live, what we own, how can we be happy? There are those who choose to live outside of a culture of fear, a culture of consumerism, a culture of me. Lucia is one example of someone who decided not to pursue the American Dream.

So are Miro and I.

In pursuit of the all evasive ‘American Dream’, what happens if we consider heading up to Canada or Europe? Is it better? Is there just more of the same there? Not really sure. Maybe all Americans should all pack up their things and head somewhere else to test the waters. Is is possible all we will all discover we have what we need if our families are with us? Who knows. It’s a long shot.

But when it comes down to it, it’s really about identifying your meaning of the ‘American Dream’. Are you ready to redefine the dream based on your ideals and stop buying into the spoon-fed values that may not reflect your own?



  1. Amy and Jarrad 13 years ago

    I love the take that fear holds us back from following our real dreams.

  2. Melissa Banigan 13 years ago

    Bravo. I also think the American Dream is a destructive illusion- one that is currently bursting. Shame it has to burst and hurt so many people at the same time!

  3. lisa 13 years ago

    Lainie, love the first picture!u00a0 So true that many of us no longer “buy” The American Dream.u00a0 Wonder what will happen to the US economy when that buy in reaches a critical mass.u00a0 Guess we better all figure out where else we want to be when that happens.

  4. PERFECTLY PUT…it’s exactly how we also feel about the “American Dream”! Thank you for your post!! u00a0I will be sharing this with friends today!u00a0

  5. Family Travel Bucket List 13 years ago

    Thank you for sharing the conversation with your friend.u00a0 I think sometimes, often times, it takes getting out of American to realize how flawed the modern American dream is.u00a0 Wow.u00a0 Something as simple and complex as TV changed this young woman’s life.u00a0 Great food for thought!

  6. Rebeca 13 years ago

    It’s always interesting to see how people from other countries perceive America. I’ve been in so many places where America is idealized, and been saddened that we seem to export the worst of American culture. What a refreshing conversation with your new friend. It’s wonderful when anyone, American or not, can see through the illusion.u00a0

  7. Anonymous 13 years ago

    How cool is that – meeting another Lady who has the same type of believes and views about living the American Dream.nWe no longer haveu00a0a TV. We dont have playstations, Wii, DS, or Computer games.nWe have given away what we could not sell. We are living the Australian Dream – which is to travel and see Australia. I like reading other stories about how to live the American Dream without having to own a huge house, lots of stuff, 2 cars, and heaps of things to tie you down.nnCheersnLisa

  8. Nancy Sathre-Vogel 13 years ago

    Very powerful post! I so agree that many people dream of having it all through what they see on TV. I’ve had a few people outright ask me if life in America is like they see on TV. At least those are the ones who think to ask. Most just assume it is – which is scary.

  9. Mary 13 years ago

    Great post! u00a0I also often worry about the damaging effects of the “American Dream” as it is portrayed to developing nations. u00a0In Costa Rica most of the young people feel the same way as your new friend did, they want to get to America. u00a0All the while having no real knowledge of the realities there. It is so sad and honestly hard to watch!

  10. Justin 13 years ago

    Awesome pics!nnThe way I see it you and Miro are living the American Dream.u00a0 Your family – the way you want it.u00a0Could you live so freely and purposefully in America?u00a0 That is a question.nnI wonder.u00a0 Can one live the American Dream in America?u00a0 nnGreat thoughts Lainie.u00a0 It is a tough game trying to avoid the ad masses and the constant competition.u00a0 But you turn off your TV, phone and and surprisingly you find out a lot more about yourself.u00a0 Thanks for giving us something to strive for.n

  11. The Nomadic Family 13 years ago

    Hello! What a joy to come upon your site. Our family of five is traveling the world, slowly! Love your take on the American Dream. Makes so many thoughts come to mind…… Thank you. Gabi http://www.thenomadicfamily.comnu00a0

  12. Marty 13 years ago

    Lainie, I love the Statue of Lainie Liberty in NY harbornnMarty of Marty and lisa

  13. Nalliah Thayabharan 13 years ago

    u00a0″Foreclosure of American Dream By Wall Street” – End of an Empirenn- Nalliah ThayabharannnnWall Street is a confidence trick, a dazzling edifice built on paper promises, gambling, bets and rampant speculations. Wall Street doesnu2019t manufacture or produce anything. u00a0Wall Street , however attractive it may appear, is built on paper.u00a0nWall Street speculation caused a 70% increase in the price of wheat from June to December 2010 and severed food crisis in more than 35 countries. However, there was no significant change in the global food supply or in food demand. The total value of Wall Street speculative financial derivatives reached more than $600 trillion u2013 about 10 times global GDP. Wall street’s peculative derivatives are virtually untaxed and banks often avoid paying tax on profits from selling derivatives. Every consumer is paying more for commodities including food and fuel due to the excessive speculation by Wall Street.nModern day bank robbers are at Wall Street but they wear grey suits and not masks. Rampant speculators, propagandists and financiers of Wall Street are all given some unfair advantage over the average consumers and taxpayers and the cumulative effect of the people watching selfishness prevail over the public interest has been an undermining of the publicu2019s trust in the present US government. Thereu2019s no question that Wall Street is rigged against the average consumers and taxpayers. Wall Street has a lot more information. Wall Street jerry-rigged the system so that Wall Street always win. u00a0If u00a0Wall Street loses trillions, the US Treasury will bail the Wall Street out so it can go back and do it again.u00a0n50 trillion dollars in global wealth was erased between September 2007 and March 2009, including 7 trillion dollars in the US stock market, 6 trillion dollars in the US housing market, 8 trillion dollars in the US retirement and household wealth, 2 trillion dollars in the US individual retirement accounts, 2 trillion dollars in the US traditional defined benefit plans and 3 trillion dollars in the US nonpension assets. Greed, arrogance and incompetence created a massive meltdown, cost trillions, and still Wall Street comes out richer and more powerful.nThere are trillions dollars of new money taken again from Americans to make deals and hand out outrageous bonuses. And when these trillions run out, Wall Street will come back for more until the dollar becomes junk. The value of the US dollar declined very significantly during the last 70 years. u00a0The value of the US dollar in 1940 was worth 2,000% more than the value of the US dollar now.u00a0nMany big US manufacturers are outsourcing to Mexico and China to increase their profits, adding more unemployment in the USA. Manufacturing jobs in the USA declined 37% between 1998 and 2010. Since manufacturing industries has declined in the USA, the US competitiveness in the global marketplace has also declined.nRobust financial markets donu2019t imperil capitalism. u00a0In the early 1980u2032s Wall Street began to escape reasonable important regulations of the marketplace. The US government gradually adopted a u201ctoo big to failu201d policy for the Wall Street, saving lenders with failing businesses from losses. The demise of Glass Steagall act helped spawn the credit crisis by allowing the Wall Street to create u00a0financial instruments that allowed them to escape reasonable limits, including constraints on speculative borrowing and requirements for the disclosure of important facts. The extremely lucrative hedge funds and other risk management derivatives including credit default swaps don’t u00a0fund or invest in successful growing businesses. The credit default swap market was the single biggest cause of the crash 4 years ago. u00a0nWall Street’s suicidal capitalism built on rampant speculation eventually posed an untenable risk to the US economyu2014a risk that culminated in the trillions of dollarsu2019 worth of the US government bailouts and guarantees that the US government scrambled starting in late 2008. But in 2008 the US government was compelled to replace private risktakers at the Wall Street with government capital so that money and credit flows wouldnu2019t stop, precipitating a depression. As a result, these Wall Street became impervious to the vital market discipline that the threat of loss provides. Wall Street lenders of the financial markets continue to understand that the US government would protect them in the future if necessary. This implicit guarantee by the US government harms capitalism and economic growth.nThe top 6 US banks had assets of less than one fifth of US GDP in 1995. Now they have two third of US GDP. The financial crisis was created by the biggest US banks to consolidate power. The big banks became stronger as a result of the bailout by the US Treasury. The big banks are turning that increased economic clout into more political power. Wall Street has undue influence on the US government policies and this situation reflects a failure of democratic representation for the other 99 percent Americans.nOligarchy is the political power based on economic power. And itu2019s the rise of u00a0Wall Street in economic terms, that itu2019d turn into political power.Wall Street will u00a0then continue to feed that back into more deregulation, more opportunities to go out and take reckless risks and capture trillions of dollars.u00a0nWall Street only has the lobbyists. Today more than 42,000 Wall Street lobbyists manipulate USA’s 537 elected officials with huge campaign contributions that fund candidates who support their agenda. It no longer matters who’s the President of USA. u00a0u00a0nThe political and economical leadership of the US has chosed to cartel profits and transformed the US economy to serve the colluding and unlawful oligarchy. u00a0The political and economical leadership of the US is bailing out failed paradigms with trillions of dollars while committing social injustice to its people. The political and economical leadership of the US including the US Congress have now become Wall Street’s “Trojan Horses”. The US banks are borrowing money at near zero interest from the US government, then lending it back to the US government at even mere fractions higher interest than they are paying. The net interest margin made by the US banks by lending the money back to the US federal government in the first 6 months of 2011 is 210 billion dollars. u00a0nDue to u00a0the oligarchsu2019 rapacious looting and their purchase of a politically protected luxurious lifestyle, the people of the US are on the road to permanent serfdom under a police state. The democracy was not given to the people of the US on a platter. It is not theirs for all time, irrespective of their efforts. Either people of the US organize and they find political leadership to take this on or they are going to be in deep trouble.u00a0nThe failure of governance to address the current critical issues have already produced catastrophic consequences. Now we are experiencing a major global paradigm shift and it is still unfolding. Thirty-two US states including California, Illinois, Nevada, Arizona, Florida, New Jersey and Michigan are on the brink of insolvency as their tattered and fading economy is now more dire than ever. u00a0Inevitably in very near future the US government will order police or military to martial law which may lead to a second American revolution.nnu201cThere is no calamity greater than lavish desires, no greater guilt than discontentment and no greater disaster than greedu201du00a0n- Laoziu00a0n”Greedy desire is endless and therefore can never be satisfied”n- Buddha

  14. David Urmann 12 years ago

    The American dream is the dream of the entrepreneur and the concept that you can define yourself with hard and dedication.  

  15. Scott 12 years ago

    Lainie, Miro . . . with every viewing of your site, you continue to inspire 🙂

    As for The Dream . . . Attaining The Dream runs contrary to the Way of The Dream: by default, we must never “reach it”, or The Dream’s engine (capitalism) would wither and die. In some weird way (thinking now of the continuous journey TO the Dream) it’s almost Zen: it’s the journey that matters, not the destination 🙂 Of course I have no illusion that this idea is anywhere implicated . . . just a kind of surreal-Zen joke 🙂

    I wrote in my travel book that I too was tired of The American Dream . . . preferred my own Dreams instead . . . and so we go 🙂

    Peace and Love to You Both, Lainie

    • Author
      ilainie 12 years ago

      Thank yo so much!I really appreciate your comments! As some point, we’ve gotta get together and make that documentary! Stay inspired, and looking forward to connecting with you again soon!

  16. Toni Moslemi 12 years ago

    Beautiful, Lainie! My oldest son, unschooled until about age 16 when he chose to attend school. In his first school, mostly farm kids, he was the king, sports star, drove a nice car, lacking for nothing, the American Dream Kid to the farm kids, 75% of whom were on the free lunch program. Then we moved to a “better school,” a “better town,” a house 3 times the size of the former with 4.5 bath rooms. We got a new family car, the boys got new school clothes, and they drove their nice car to the nicer school. That was when our nightmare began. At the new school it was not possible to have enough, you were never good enough unless you had more, more, more and absolutely the latest and best. He was still handsome, still a sports star winning the first tennis regional tournament for the school ever. His name is on the wall with other stars, but he didn’t drive the right car, his was a Subaru outback with the works, $36K, his peers drove $100K+ cars which still shocks me. They wore items of clothing that equaled a normal wardrobe for an entire season. If you didn’t have the latest $600 phone and $500 head phones you were a loser, even in middle school which is where my 2nd son was. If you were a football star you were a God, and got away with murder with the teachers, American football makes money for the school, it’s all about the money. My 11yo son was #2 on the High School tennis team right behind his brother but could not please his teachers no matter how hard he tried.

    They both tested very well, if you wondered. Their test scores on what the schools thought American kids should know put my mind at ease about whether or not unschooling was working. Their new peers resented that they had been free for so many years. I still wonder why such wealthy kids submit to the school system. Their new peers spent their weekends on their parents’ yachts, or in exotic locations, they used heavy drugs and they tortured the less fortunate. My younger son returned to unschooling at home, but my oldest suffered through almost 2 years of high school by his own choice for that coveted American dream college scholarship which he was offered many and chose one. That also turned in to a 10 mo long nightmare, where he learned that on scholarship the school/teacher/coach owns you. You do exactly as they say or “you will be kicked out!” It is a sick way to live. He gave up the scholarship for his second year and attends community college on his own terms. My sons are very strong individuals, I can see how not living up to the American dream in school would break many kids and it almost broke my oldest.

    We found out that the American dream is an American nightmare. We loved the house, fenced yard, security system, the garden tubs, two story windows, million $ views, electric garage doors, the false security of the American Dream Neighborhood. Our little girls called it The Castle. It only took us two days to pack and leave the American Dream and no one has asked to go back, no one has said that they miss the house or the neighbors or the town. We were there for a reason and we survived and we are stronger for it. But we found out we are simple, we would rather be outdoors exploring, barefoot, hair wild from the wind. Our neighbors are all still in the nightmare and we just don’t fit there any more. Waking up from the American Dream to realize it is a nightmare is just one of the reasons we are back on the slow traveling/world schooling road, planning to travel even farther from the “dream.”

    • Author
      Lainie Liberti 12 years ago

      Toni, thank you so much for sharing your story. I think sometimes it takes an entire lifetime to realize what you have! I think you sum it up beautifully “The American dream is a an American Nightmare”. I can’t wait for our paths to cross someday and for us to sit and talk for hours about family, love and the world. So many blessings to you and your tribe, Toni!

    • Robert Cymbala 12 years ago

      “hair wild from the wind” … love it! as a teenager, i owe a lot to jim morrison, who wrote poetry and songs that dispelled the illusion of the American Dream for me, even though I wasn’t heading in that direction anyway since i come from a “white trash” family (high class meets low class, actually, a “mongrel”)… the last album, American Prayer: “i want roses in my garden bower, dig, royal babies, rubies, must replace aborted strangers in the mud, these mutants, blood meal for the plant that’s plowed” (there’s a 2nd ed. of it with new stuff at the end).

  17. Cassie 12 years ago

    Beautiful story, thanks for sharing it! I’ve felt for a long time that the American Dream no longer exists, as it is out of the reach of most people in the US–but I never thought of the psychological impact it has on people around the world! Not to mention the environmental destruction it causes as we destroy the planet in pursuit of it.

    • Author
      Lainie Liberti 12 years ago

      So true. There are so many aspects to consider. It seems to me that overall, the American Dream is a grand illusion. That gives us all the permission to redefine it.

  18. Sarah 11 years ago

    WOW! Love this entry! I came across your blog earlier today, or maybe it was yesterday. I can’t seem to pull myself away from it. Thank you for making your journeys public!

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