George Floyd’s Death + The Myth of the American Economic Dream

For the past 40 years, every time I look in the mirror, there is a brown face staring back at me. I have never known any other kind of American experience. I had no idea what the events following George Floyd’s death would ultimately mean — it wasn’t what I expected. Why is there so much palpable outrage this time?

The brutality behind this horrific example of systemic oppression comes at an inauspicious time. There is a devastating realization that is looming for many of us as our economy fails to rebound. George Floyd’s death came at the exact moment that the myth of America — the land of opportunity — became harder to accept.

If our country is still struggling to fulfill our promise as the land of the free, is the American economic dream even possible?

Abuse of power captures substantial mindshare in our society, not because of some mean, belittling concept like “white guilt.” It’s called being a human. Consider the following:

  1. Most Americans have been trapped in their homes. It was an experience that caused real trauma. Relationships were tested. The reality of being with partners and children 24/7 was hard and eye-opening for even the strongest families.
  2. When we were finally allowed out in the wild — with hardly a rhyme or reason as to why — a significant number of us found the stimulus money was running out, the job you hoped to return to was no longer available, and the bills still had to be paid.
  3. Tens of millions are out of work. Nearly 20% of all mortgages in the US are in the early stages of default.
  4. There is real rage and anger that underpins a massive economic correction — like the one we are about to experience.

A powder keg of human emotion was set alight by the injustice of a system that is rigged against the average American. The intensity of George Floyd’s death was captured in a horrific, visceral way. The timing coincided with a state of economic reality; many of us are feeling firsthand.

The millennial generation is the first in recent history that will decline in socio-economic standing and wealth in comparison to their parents’ generation. CNBC writes that since the 1960s, wages have increased, unadjusted for inflation, 67%. That is of little value when average rents have increased by 750%. The cost of buying a home has gone up by 905%. Since the 80s, the cost of private college has increased by 400%, and public college has gone up by 571%.

Changing one’s socio-economic reality comes at the cost of an investment of focus akin to mania. Most people won’t do it, and in hindsight, it takes a toll that would give any reasonable person pause. The lie that we tell people in America is, ‘you can be anything you want to be.’ Do you believe that if you practice hard enough, you can be the next Michael Jordan or Lebron?

Of course not. Lebron is 6'9" and 250 lbs — you rationally already know that he has innate traits he was born with that you can never compete against. Do you believe that reading articles, listening to podcasts, going to college, studying the right business books, and doing what you are supposed to do at the office will transform you into some great business leader? Please.

There’s big money in selling you stuff to keep you hooked on the hopium. My former CEO and I both read Chris Voss,’ Never Split the Difference since everyone was talking about it, and we manage negotiations for a Fortune 500 organization. The 10-second summary is there was nothing of value that either of us learned, full stop. What do we know? We only close real deals creating billions in transactions annually.

By the way, the average Fortune 500 CEO makes $15.6M per year. That’s about 280x more than the average worker. In 1978, they made about 30x of the average worker. Are CEOs today ten times better than those 30 years ago?

Not only are the odds stacked against most Americans, we spend money to convince ourselves that they are not. According to the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, social mobility — the likelihood of being upwardly mobile in wealth and income — has steadily declined every year for anyone born since 1980.

When a research paper describes America as no longer the ‘land of opportunity,’ — it has a chilling effect.

The loss of life is deplorable inhumanity. The realization that you have bought into a myth that is simply not possible for the vast majority of our society should leave you incensed and furious. 40% of Americans would struggle to manage even a sudden $400 expense, according to the Federal Reserve.

The dream of wealth creation is unrealistic for the majority of Americans — even ones that do the things they are ‘supposed to do.’ Is that rage you are experiencing coupled with the feeling that you never had a real chance to get ahead?

True groundswells of social progress are often compounded by economic hardship. The underlying emotion is valid. Societal hegemony relies on our inability to fight for ourselves — to ask for what we need in a consistent way that will deliver actual results. When we have jobs and stability, the status quo doesn’t seem that bad. At the moment, you may feel your sense of security slipping from your hands. You can see how many have always felt that way.

Now, what are you going to do about it? We have solutions to consider next week.



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