Has The American Dream Drifted North?

canadian northwest passageImagine a handsome young family complete with kids living in a stylish two-story home in a quiet neighborhood. The parents work quiet middle-class jobs. Dad is a city bus driver. Mom is a secretary. Their house is brimming with consumer goods: a couple of mammoth-sized televisions, a drum set for the kids and high-end furniture. Mom’s closet is bursting with her ample wardrobe. Dad has a motorcycle. Combined they make just under $90,000 a year.

They are being featured on a show running on CNBC, now in its ninth season called Til Debt Do We Part. And like most people on television shows, they have a problem and they need to go on television to fix it. Apparently Mom and Dad have been heavy-handed with their credit cards. They owe $60,000. The matronly host Gail Vaz-Oxlade gently lays down the law: They have to live within their means. Pay down credit cards. Pay into a savings account. Save for their children’s education. The message this self-proclaimed Dollar Diva has for the couple is they are drifting apart and debt is the culprit.

Gail puts up on the screen the family’s budget, what they spend on whatnot a month. Their housing expenses for their posh suburban home are a reasonable sum. Their transportation costs are relatively low. Dad has to sell the motorcycle. Mom has to spend less on clothes. The parents need to spend more time with each other. All problems are then solved.

While watching this program I was amazed at the lack of grit for a reality show. This is no Hoarders airing dirty laundry and years worth of neglect and filth. This is a couple with a standard of living far better than any I’ve ever seen for what they do for a living. It’s like they’re Alice and I’m the one Through the Looking Glass.

Then Gail handed the couple a wad of bills to illustrate they were going to be paying for things in cash from now on. The money? Canadian. These are Canadians. Their budget is manageable for one because they’ve chosen to not buy supplemental insurance and rely on the government to provide all of their health care.

This couple and most of the couples on the show don’t pay for health care out of their family budgets. The average family in America spends around $15,000 a year or around 22% of their income on health care. That amount will apparently pay most of a mortgage on an enviable home in the greater Toronto area.

Most notable, the show doesn’t delve into any sob stories about getting diseases and therefore having debt. There are no staples of the only-in-America saga of losing your health, then your health care and then your house (there’s a fix to this in the Affordable Care Act AKA Obamacare that has yet to go into effect). The debt is all from spending money on things they want. Simply because they want them. Which makes these spendthrift Canadians seem more American than Americans.

It’s the way Americans want to see ourselves; careless, reckless, Wild West, rogue spenders buying everything because we can. Buying is our birthright. It’s freedom. Freedom of a free market – which makes even a 33% APR sound liberating. Of course we’re more along the lines of Wal-Mart sharecroppers, completely at the mercy of colossal businesses with fewer choices and even less power muttering to ourselves that at least we aren’t slaves. It’s the land of the free. Someone told us so.

tina dupuyAre Canadians living the American Dream?

When did Canadians out Norman Rockwell us? From the perspective of my couch they seem to be living very well with the evils of socialism. Canada consistently outranks us in quality of care and that impacts our quality of life. They have lots of guns and low gun violence. Their banks didn’t cause a housing bust so their economy is comparatively doing fine.

Plus, call me paranoid, but I think they’re looking down on us.

Tina Dupuy

Taking Eternal Vigilance Too Far

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Comments

  1. Bill Gibbons says

    I emigrated from the UK to Canada in 1994. The health care set-up is pretty similar, with the UK edging out Canada in overall”perks.” For example, if you pay for a cab or a bus to get to hospital in the UK, you go to a small window marked “cashier” and get your money back. You don’t in Canada. In the UK, once a woman gives birth to her child, the hospital keeps them both in until they are sure they can both go home in good health. The mother also gets a box full of goodies for the baby, such as special washing powder for baby clothes, diapers, baby b food etc. Canadian hosptials don’t do this.

    France, however, has the best healthcare system in the world – no question. If a mother takes time off for maternity leave, the government pays for a home help to give her assistance with housework, laundry and shopping, etc. However, Canadians are still fortunate to have a great system where anyone can get treated.

    The probelm with the long-term care beds in Canadian hospitals is the fact that they are often taken up with elderly parents of landed immigrants. The family repatriation program allows landed immigrants to bring their parents into the country who are very often they are elderly and acquire illnesess associated with age. Then they put a drain on our healthcare by taking up long term beds without paying a nickel towards the system. Ask my wife – she’s been a nurse since 1983, both in the UK and Canada.

    Healthcare in Canada is largely a provincial juristiction, with transfer payments coming from the government in Ottawa. While people are quick to blame the conservative government of Stephen Harper for slashing healthcare payments, it was the Liberals under the former prime ministers, Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, that slashed billons from healthcare and gutted hundreds of social programs just so they could boast about eradicating the federal deficit. The current conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has increased the federal healthcare budget by 6% annually since 2005.

    OBama’s idea of bringing healthcare to all Americans is a noble one. But Britain has only 60 million people as does France. Canada’s population currently stands at around 33 million, and Obama is trying to bring socialized healthcare system to 330 million people? An impossible task that will surely bankrupt America if fully implemented.

  2. Vickky says

    Canadian health care is under attack by extreme right wing governments in both the federal parliament and many of the provincial legislatures.

    Despite the cuts to funding and the continual campaign to undermine confidence to justify privatization (a campaign paid for by American HMO’s), Canada’s health care system is still excellent.

    No one is waiting for acute care, although sometimes the wait for surgeries or diagnostics can be longer than they should. These are ways that right wing governments underfund to create bottlenecks to undermine the system and are not a function of a flaw in the system itself.

    Right wing governments in Canada also use seniors as ‘bed blockers’ to slow down availability of beds for expensive surgeries. They do this even though an acute care bed costs 800 more per day to provide than a long term care bed for a senior in a nice care home.

    It is cheaper to run a business in Canada because the health premiums are either free or very low.

    And yes, our economy is more stable, because the left fought tooth and nail to stop our big banks from being allowed to merge with American banks during the 90’s. The right takes credit, but the economy in Canada is strong because of health care, public education and a stronger regulatory framework.

    No one should be surprised. The OECD has told us for years that the countries with the strongest public health, education and social services always have the strongest and most stable economies in the long run. That’s just a fact.

  3. pigdog67 says

    I immigrated here from Canada. I have been trying to figure out if the USA is Capitalist for the past 2 years. Finally I discovered Ayn Rand and she answered my questions. America is Fascist, in other words corporatist. She figured this stuff out in the 1960s and it has got much worse since then. So that 15K a year has to go to paying an insurance company executive 200 million per year. He is great. He is entitled to it. Who cares if his company adds no value whatsoever. Those smucks in the USA should worship this executive and beg to pay his salary. This is why I go to the doctor and pay cash. I refuse to pay this executive. But now Obama says I will have to pay him under ObamaCare. It will be required by law. A Fascist law. Proving that Obama himself is a fascist.

  4. TimFromLA says

    One more thing:

    //AND, health care isn’t free there; there are many people who can’t afford to pay for it and have their entire tax refund taken… why? … because “everyone MUST have medical in Canada!” It’s the law. There are long waiting lists to see a specialist; ask anyone who’s lost a family member while waiting the 5-6 weeks for a specialists opinion. Whoever wrote this article didn’t do their research. Don’t just watch tv… go talk to the people there and don’t tell them you’re from ‘the States’ or they’ll BS you about how good they have it. lol//

    //AND, health care isn’t free there; there are many people who can’t afford to pay for it and have their entire tax refund taken… why? … because “everyone MUST have medical in Canada!”//

    Uh, OK? So you have to live within your means?

    // There are long waiting lists to see a specialist; ask anyone who’s lost a family member while waiting the 5-6 weeks for a specialists opinion.//

    Like what, liposuction? But at least they’re getting an opinion, What about getting an opinion and no coverage: http://thinkprogress.org/2011/01/07/another-arizonan-dies-brewer/

    Hey P.J., i have an idea, why don’t we change citizenship. I give up my U.S. citizenship for you Canadian? OR, I know what we can do, why not tell me what province you live, and we’ll set it up so that you won’t have to pay taxes to get your medical care? It’s quite simple and I’ll be glad to help you!

  5. TimFromLA says

    $10 to $12 and hour and that’s non-union wages? High taxes? Where can I sign up? We have high taxes. We have unions, but we don’t have single payer health, and yes, tell me, how many Canadians had gone bankrupt because they could not afford medical care?

  6. PJ says

    You’re comparing a tv show couple to the average American?? I’ve lived in Canada and I can introduce you to many people who aren’t living like the tv show couple. Visit a small town in Canada where the only jobs are in service and the pay is $10-$12 an hour. Sounds like a lot but prices are high there due to the high taxes everyone pays. Unions are strong in Canada regardless of the govt’s attempt to break them and if you live in a big city, there are union jobs to apply for.

    AND, health care isn’t free there; there are many people who can’t afford to pay for it and have their entire tax refund taken… why? … because “everyone MUST have medical in Canada!” It’s the law. There are long waiting lists to see a specialist; ask anyone who’s lost a family member while waiting the 5-6 weeks for a specialists opinion. Whoever wrote this article didn’t do their research. Don’t just watch tv… go talk to the people there and don’t tell them you’re from ‘the States’ or they’ll BS you about how good they have it. lol

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