Thursday, August 21, 2008

Is the American Dream Killing You?

Is the American Dream Killing You?:
How the Market Rules Our Lives

by Paul Stiles

(Harper Collins / 0-060-59378-4 / 978-0-060-59378-0 / September 2005 / 320 pages / $24.95 / paperback $13.95)

This is one of the most significant books I have ever read. Paul Stiles rips through the overtly numerous ways our massive corporate sellout has methodically destroyed our economy, our culture, and the underlying spirit of our once great nation. The author spills the beans on every legal scam in America, from the advertised rebate prices hawked at Best Buy to the way our fast food marketers have made Americans wider. Paul Stiles does not waste any energy trying to name the exact year in which a recession or a depression has become imminent. He hasn’t wasted any time trying to define these terms to satisfy the egos of overpaid economists, either. What he has done is to explain to everyday Americans exactly what has happened to our once great economy.

I’ve been seeking out books of this sort for the last several years, and this one is certainly one of the best of its type. What type is that, you say? The title says it all. The ex-Merrill Lynch bond trader spills the beans on the corporate nightmare that we affectionately call America. The nightmare is terrorizing the citizens, and what Paul Stiles calls the Market is doing the economic terrorizing. I’m not sure why he doesn’t call it The Market. I’ve been referring to exactly the same monster as The Machine since the early ‘70’s. You might remember Pink Floyd singing, “Welcome to The Machine” back in ’74, and yes, we’re all talking about the same thing. Whereas my own Last Horizon explains exactly how we set ourselves up for the corporate powers to feed us a stupid pill for their own short-term profits, American Dream continues the reader’s education in the same vein by explaining all the many ways corporate America is strangling the very spirit out of its citizenry. Mr. Stiles and I obviously have one thing in common: we both have spent our careers in the financial industry, but our hearts reside within the realm of the social sciences.

The first thing I want to say specifically about Mr. Stiles’ book is that its weakest element is when his premise sort of drifts into the spirit world of religion as it drives the reader so adeptly toward its financial market conclusions. The author doesn’t mention Paul Krugman’s excellent The Great Unraveling or Kevin Phillips’ American Theocracy, but these could be considered bookends for American Dream. Mr. Stiles does pay homage to Thomas Frank, and well he should have. Frank’s One Market Under God is certainly another outstanding primer of research on the subject matter. Paul Stiles really knows his stuff and his writing style is quite engaging when he rants intelligently about what he defines as the hypermarket. However, I cannot help but feel as if he stepped off the boat without a life jacket when he turns his attack on greed to an explanation of how the Market has sapped America of all its good religious spirit. If I had to slap a negative connotation on The Last Horizon, I would describe it as schizophrenic because it doesn’t know if it wants to be a dating manual or a treatise on The Machine. The author of American Dream may be a little confused as to the role of religion in politics. I would describe Mr. Stiles as an author who knows all too well how to keep the reader fascinated with the depth of his knowledge of modern American culture right up until he decides to step up high on the pulpit, at which point all his marbles begin to spill out the bag and disrupt the service. This is my one and only criticism of Is the American Dream Killing You?

America has been swirling slowly down the porcelain fixture like one of those slow, quiet, water-efficient toilets we all hate. Let’s get the crap out of here now! Paul Stiles’ American Dream takes the reader on a fast-paced parade of all the ways Wall Street and its massive corporate powers have taken us all on the big monster ride down the drain. No commercial pattern has been left upright. The megatrend of women joining the workforce probably bothers Mr. Stiles a little too much, but he’s right on the money with his rant about television ads telling us what new malady we have and what new prescription drug will make us all feel better, if only we would take it every day for the rest of our lives! The Market has no conscience, no scruples, and certainly not an ounce of compassion, and the author tells us all about it in satisfyingly excruciating detail. If every American would read this book and take it to heart, the short-term-profits monster would slowly disintegrate and we could all get back to being a compassionate citizenry.

See Also: The B&N Review
Riding the Bull (Paul Stiles' first book)
Paul Stiles' Website
The BNN Review

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