66 Comments

Oh Kirsten.

It's all so true. When you write these posts I immediately think of events that whacked me up side of the head with the truth about our country.

Like sitting on the veranda of our B&B in Italy on a beautiful evening and, having talked with American guests about what Europe offered me, one seethed, "well, they've certainly turned you into a socialist, haven't they?". Had he not been a paying guest... yeah.

It seems we Americans are led thru life with blinders on, taught from birth that our system is the best and most sacred, with no necessity to even take a look at how others live. The few of us who are lucky enough to break out are more often than not appalled when we realize how dire life in America has become.

The curtain is finally lowering. Things have gotten so horrible that Americans are realizing( without the benefit of travel or the chance to live abroad) that life is in the edge of untenable.

I left. You are leaving. But our loved ones left behind... It's hard to think about them without feeling anxious.

Thank you for your post.

Expand full comment
author

YES to this: "It seems we Americans are led thru life with blinders on, taught from birth that our system is the best and most sacred, with no necessity to even take a look at how others live." Also it's incredible how Americans believe (as I did for a long time) that European countries are socialist when they are all capitalist. And I agree that even if you can leave it's not a solution. I can't be happy knowing that so many Americans are suffering and I have nieces growing up in this country and I fear for them.

Expand full comment

Me too - three sweet great nieces. My primary concern. 🧡

Expand full comment

The amazing thing is that the term "socialist" is considered an insult in the US. It is, perhaps, the only industrialized democracy where it is an insult, or a term wielded to scare people. B. Sanders dared to call himself a "democratic socialist," but he wasnt doing anything but endorsing policies embraced by nearly every other advanced democracy, particularly in Europe, like universal medical care, and affordable college educations, and he was called a "radical". WTF? How did we get here?? I look at my country now and think "Who are you? What are you?"

Expand full comment

I’ve spent a fair amount of time during my qigong teacher trainings with people from Norway, who seem to have a similar lifestyle and government as Denmark. They are definitely more chill and have tons of vacation and time to pursue hobbies and develop interests beyond work. A high school teacher I knew explained how retirement worked. He had to start decreasing his hours when he was I think 60, and each year he had to work a little less, but his retirement income was completely livable and increased as his work hours decreased.

And isn’t it Denmark where they’ve set up some dementia facilities to feel like actual small towns, so that residents have a sense that they’re part of a real community?

Expand full comment
author

oh i haven't heard about the dementia facilities but that wouldn't surprise me at all. They have a real respect for elders and take care of elderly so well there. I'm going to look into this.

Expand full comment

Brilliant Kirsten. Totally agree that "late-stage capitalism—capitalism untethered to morality, decency or any sense of the social good—is what created this mess." The energy crisis in the UK allowed energy companies to hike prices and create record billion dollar profits. The politicians watched (and continue to watch) as people cannot afford to pay the price increases. The 'cost of living crisis' lead to the phrase 'heat or eat' in winter. Craziness. Absolute insanity. In a world where we actually cared about our fellow humans, this sort of nonsense would be stopped, immediately. It was leaked in the UK press that politicians were claiming their energy bills as 'expenses' - on their second and third homes. People need to hold their governments to account, instead of being passive. Individually we can strive for happiness but not if don't recognise that a lot of our systems are toxic.

Expand full comment
author

I always learn so much in the comments! i didn't know that about energy prices in UK. I agree that in the English speaking capitalist countries we are far too passive about our governments and I'm not sure what that's about. I watch as in Italy or France people take to the streets and even riot whenever a politician talks about reducing their social safety net even slightly.

Expand full comment

Do they arrest people for peaceful protesting in Italy and France? I'm curious as to whether there are practical reasons for this difference.

I know they do arrest people, but do they arrest people for even peaceful protest, or just when they're rioting? Are protesters required to have a permit (which may be denied or revoked)?

Protest over humanitarian or progressive causes have been historically frowned upon by our greater society ("America: love it or leave it"). Law enforcement often responds with great force and violence.

You could even lose your job if you're arrested or if your employer finds out and doesn’t approve of your position. They usually don't, humanitarian causes being generally perceived as anti-business. Yet you can march to demonstrate your hatred of another group with relative impunity. think it may be similar in the UK. I remember law enforcement being pretty brutal during the Thatcher years.

I must say that the French in particular have a long and impressive (and often violent) history of rioting which pre-dates the Revolution.

I don't participate in marches or protests mostly because I am afraid of being arrested (or beaten and then arrested). There is always that possibility (albeit with varying levels of probability). I know what they do to people - how they "process" them - when they're arrested. It's not like on TV sitcoms. And then you have an arrest record and will find it very difficult to find employment. It's all just too threatening when you're living under conditions of precarity.

Thank you for your wise and insightful writing on the quality of life in the US. These conditions are not an acceptable norm. The constant stress is indeed debilitating.

Expand full comment
author

I don’t know the answers to this questions but I will say I’ve been part of many many large and small protests Incl against Iraq war and for BLM where nobody was arrested so I don’t think ppl aren’t protesting bc of a fear of being arrested. I think it’s mostly apathy and learned helplessness. There may be some people here and there who aren’t doing it, but hundreds of thousands of people show up when they feel like it matters.

Expand full comment

Having worked in the Energy sector in both the UK and the US, one common unethical practice is to lure customers on very low introductory variable rates (often for one month) then hike the rate to about twice the fixed rates on offer. This leads to furious customers with winter energy bills that are more like monthly car payments. These businesses use the high variable rate to subsidize competitive fixed rates. Even ethical energy companies have to do this to survive. This practice cries out for legislation to protect customers.

Expand full comment
Mar 15Liked by Kirsten Powers

"It's worth asking why we have such low expectations of our government and society when citizens of other countries expect and get so much more."

I believe, for the most part, our elected officials listen to and work primarily for big money supporters. In that environment, Ms. or Mr. ordinary citizen doesn't stand a chance.

Expand full comment
author

I think the decks are definitely stacked against the average person, but i do believe that if Americans en masse revolted change could happen. I think the first step in the process is helping people see that there are alternatives. I've written before about the 'learned helplessness' that Americans suffer from. We simply can't accept this.

Expand full comment

Well said. Learned helplessness indeed. The American media spectrum ranges from conservative to ultra-conservative ... so fighting is daunting.

Expand full comment

This really struck a chord with me. Yes. There are people who are supposed to be fighting for exactly this: better government services. They are called "liberals" in American political vocabulary, but they have all but disappeared, or apologize for being so.

Expand full comment

My parents, life-long Democrats, would be dismayed at the Democratic Party today. If they were still alive, they would still be voting for the party that did so much to help most Americans at a time when help was needed. Big money rules everything.

Expand full comment

Bill Maher did a great piece on how Republicans proudly compete over who is more "conservative". Democrats, meanwhile, shun the "liberal" label. /// When did supporting the notion of a government that helps its people become a source of shame, something that people had to apologize for? /// Why are guaranteed health care and education considered controversial, or unrealistic, when nearly every European country provides them? Aren't we supposed to be the greatest country in the world?! The greatest in WHAT?

Expand full comment

It's important to emphasize, as you do, that the solution to making America more livable for more Americans is a much more robust social safety net. To do that, taxes will have to be raised on the federal level (as states compete in part on tax rates) Military spending is not the problem; we currently spend an historically low percentage of our GDP on the military.

Expand full comment
author
Mar 15·edited Mar 15Author

yes that's exactly right, the the taxes primarily need to be raised substantially on the very wealthy.

Expand full comment
Mar 15Liked by Kirsten Powers

Kirsten, I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoy your writing. You see the world in such a deeply human way and you bring us clarity in what can sometimes be a very foggy world. Thank you.

Expand full comment
author

Thank you Paul--that means so much to me!

Expand full comment

Some years ago when I discovered the GHI as contrasted with GDP, (Gross Happiness Index versus Gross Domestic Product), I gained more understanding why the U.S.A. ranks high on GDP and 15th on the Happiness scale. Why the U.S. is one of the only industrialized, supposedly civilized, countries without a good national health insurance plan is clear. It is about $$ and profits in healthcare and all you have to do is look at the profits (billions) of companies like United Health Care and Humana as examples. They, and the legislators supported by them, are not about to give up gazillons of dollars in their fleece-lined pockets. Andrew Witty, CEO of United Health Group 2022 pay was a substantial increase from $18.4 million in the previous year. Witty received $1.5 million in annual salary and around $2.7 million in non-equity incentives. He also earned almost $12.4 million in stock incentives and $4.1 million in option awards.Nov 22, 2023. The data could also include the state of mental health in the U.S. which A CNN/Kaiser Family Foundation poll put a number to it: 90% of Americans feel we are in a mental health crisis. They are right. A report in JAMA Health Forum has noted that 38% more people are in mental health care since the onset of the pandemic than before. Not a happy place!

Expand full comment
Mar 15Liked by Kirsten Powers

totally agree with you - and we could resolve a lot of the spending on "health" care or rather disease care if we actually invested in prevention, basic healthcare (real health care) for everyone from pre-birth to death. Time for the general population to wake up and raise our collective voices instead of sitting passively and complaining about it all

Expand full comment

U.S. dropped from 16th to 23rd on the GHI this year. I am working on a draft about that.

Expand full comment

If we spent less, and had less coverage, at least that would make some kind of sense. The most insane thing is that we spend MORE than any other country, per patient, on health care, and still don't cover all our people. The system is so corrupt, it's maddening. Yes, at the end of the day the root reason is simple: greed. // American simply can't wrap its head around the notion that not EVERYTHING should be for profits.

Expand full comment

Yes, bottom line, for profit mentality became the big motivating factor that turned hospitals and other not-for-profit services meeting people's needs at a reasonable cost, into money machines. How does this make sense? Spend more, get less!

Expand full comment

Capitalism is good. But it's not ALWAYS good. It does not work to ensure health care for all. Period. Every other country in the world has figured this out. Our obsession with the market, and our greed, is killing us. Literally.

Expand full comment

Take a look where U.S. ranks globally in health care, see if it makes sense to you. the U.S. ranked No. 23 for its public health system, moving down two spots on the list compared with its ranking in 2022.6 Sept 2023

https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/slideshows/countries-with-the-most-well-developed-public-health-care-system?slide=12

Expand full comment
Mar 15Liked by Kirsten Powers

so very true. I have the privilege to connect with people from all over the globe in my work and it continues to show me how our way of thinking and living in the US is a construct of our deep belief that freedom and individuality is everything - even at the expense of our health, well-being and happiness. How much money, houses, cars and other stuff does anyone really need - and when will we step up and hold our elected officials and corporate execs accountable? I'm opting for a simpler, less striving life myself these days. Time to get off the treadmill.....

Expand full comment
author

yes i am too. unfortunately that's not an option for many people :-(

Expand full comment

Agree

Expand full comment
Mar 15Liked by Kirsten Powers

Thank you, Kirsten, for your thought-provoking essays. I'm not advocating for higher taxes necessarily, but one thing that I think about often is that although European countries often have tax rates north of 50%, ours is not that different (if you are lucky enough to have a decent job) when you factor in our progressive income tax structure, state income taxes, payroll taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, etc. etc. BUT, what is different is that on top of paying relatively high amounts in taxes, we have to pay for day care, education, health care, retirement, etc. One could reasonably ask what we get in return for our taxes as compared to other countries. Dual citizenship recently obtained; maybe I'll see you in Puglia someday.

Expand full comment
author

i agree AND i am advocating for higher taxes in the US on the very well off :-)

Expand full comment

A certain "Communist" named Dwight Eisenhower would agree with you ... our minimal taxation of the megarich was an invention of the neoliberals during and after the Reagan Revolution ... one can be a moderate, even a conservative, and not sign on to that BS agenda.

Expand full comment
Mar 15Liked by Kirsten Powers

Kirsten, thanks again for your thoughtful insights and concerns. Unfortunately, it seems like individualism is baked into our American DNA. I think of Alexis de Tocqueville’s 19th century concern about America of “whether a society could hold together when existence becomes atomized and individual success crowds out the common good.” We are living out his prophetic warning. Sadly, we have also sacrificed compassion for those who need a safety net on the altar of lower taxes and our disdain for institutions like government is a rejection of our need for one another. Changes in America will not happen just through changing economic policies even if they were possible with such a pluralistic and divided populace. Our hope for change and greater happiness is through a changed moral consciousness of humility and love for neighbor rather than greed and individual pride. Thanks for raising these issues.

Expand full comment
author

yes bob i totally agree--we have the society we have because of the philosophical underpinnings of the society. We have to shift what we believe about our responsibility to each other.

Expand full comment

If this is a glimpse into the book proposal you've been working on, I hope it's published tomorrow!

Expand full comment
author

haha yes it is! pls say prayers for it to find the right publisher!

Expand full comment

It's so timely. May there be a bidding war!

Expand full comment
Apr 9Liked by Kirsten Powers

Kirsten, you MUST publish a book, a compilation of your essays. I'll be your first customer

Expand full comment
author

I'm finalizing the proposal for the next one! stay tuned

Expand full comment
Mar 15Liked by Kirsten Powers

Fantastic, Kirsten. To be specific about places of agreement would require restating your entire essay. All I can say is, "YES! YES! YES!" We Americans, apparently, are unable to get out of our own way while in search of fulfilling lives that also treat others with dignity and kindness at the same time. How frustrating and sad.

Expand full comment
author

TY Liz! I think that the system makes it very hard for us to feel like change is possible or that life can be any different. So the first step is helping people see that it CAN be different and that it doesn't have to be this way.

Expand full comment

Kirsten, you are very right about Denmark. We happen to get married there. As this was much easier than in Germany where we lived for our sabbatical! It probably also made us happier :-) The Danes are interesting folks, and it is not that easy to find belonging as an outsider. But you are right that they care about an environment which allows human flourishing. If society creates environments of despair no therapy can lift it. Thus the American way has created classes which mirror Maslow's pyramid of fulfillment, where in the lower stages people can only care for their pure survival and have no time and energy left to care about anything else.

It is also true that the Danish happiness is not necessary the same as spiritual fulfillment for instance. But it at least offers the prerequisite to get there.

Your notes on individualism rang true, too. It reminded me of Martin Buber's warning, that individualism and conformism are both extremes which lead us into the field of loneliness which ends in despair. Every -ism is reductionism and thus as important individual formation is for a good life as misleading it can be when it becomes ego-centrism, selfishness or neglect of the other.

I think Mr 45 is a good example of the American Zeitgeist having lost its humanity.

Expand full comment
author

Yes Helen Russell and her husband had a hard time breaking in as outsiders but over time were able to do it. And impoortant point by Buber!

Expand full comment
Mar 19Liked by Kirsten Powers

I am so pleased to read this. Acknowledgement of contextual reality matters. No one can individually make life better. We have to do it collectively. A really powerful recommended reflection on what Denmark can teach us.

Expand full comment
Mar 18Liked by Kirsten Powers

This article fascinated me. I’ve been conditioned to think that ‘big government’ is always bad. But it appears that Denmark offers some evidence for a healthy, larger, government that wins the trust of the people can do well. Doesn’t their story also include turning away from a class based system where the elite oppressed the poor? The people of Denmark also seem to embrace a simpler life where materialism is not the idol it is in the US and UK. It is very hard for societies to turn away from the love of material wealth as a driving force.

Expand full comment
author

that's a great insight--i think that government can be a problem when it is intrusive in your private life but that's not the same as providing a safety net. Interestingly, the most popular programs and institutions in the US are socialist--the military, social security and medicare.

Expand full comment

Diane & I started binge watching about the Danes this weekend. Sometimes we think we might be living in the wrong Country! How wonderful to see such a high degree of trust and love of a simple lifestyle. Healthy living with all the bicycle riding. I nearly booked a mini-break in Copenhagen this Summer but decided on Stockholm (because it’s prettier).

Did you know that England could so easily have been called Denmarkland back in the Middle Ages? The Vikings could have so easily beat the Anglo Saxons but Alfred the Great and his descendants just about fended them off.

Expand full comment
Mar 15Liked by Kirsten Powers

I resonate with your words, kirsten.

I also see late stage capitalism and the size/ budget of our military as highly related in the sense that capitalism engenders a paranoid culture with a scarcity mindset that feels it must defend what it sees as being " mine" with force.

Expand full comment