The North American dream is a lie

The Wandering Engineer
10 min readMay 23, 2024

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Millions of people are coming into the United States and Canada each year. Immigration is at an all-time high.

Most of them are coming here with a dream of making a decent living, buying a house and car, raising children, and travelling the world.

Call it the American Dream, the Canadian Dream, or whatever, but I believe the golden age of North America is largely over.

As I said in my other article, the standard of living has been on a steady decline since the 1970s. Wages are stagnant. Most people are living paycheck to paycheck and are one emergency away from financial ruin.

More people are unhappy, mentally ill, single, and friendless compared to decades ago. Suicide rates are skyrocketing. Substance abuse is more prevalent than ever. We are witnessing more social unrest, from increased crime to more hostility between ideologies and groups.

Despite all this, millions of people are trying to immigrate to North America every year from all over the world. Sure, some of them may be fleeing life vs. death situations, but many are naively coming here expecting a better quality of life compared to their home countries after being sold lies by immigration agencies or popular media.

They are in for a rude awakening.

I am a first-generation immigrant myself (to be exact, 1.5-generation since I came here in childhood). Even for my family then, who were pretty well-off (solidly upper-middle class) before leaving our home country, the first few years in Canada were a struggle.

I remember my parents could not find jobs in their respective professions due to their foreign credentials and experiences not being recognized. They tried starting businesses but failed repeatedly because it was brand new to them. My parents, with advanced degrees from their home country, had to work construction and home renovations here to make ends meet. They worked hard to learn English and fit into the local community.

With two kids at home and myself being the older sibling, I had to become independent and take on responsibilities. I received almost no allowances and rarely bought anything new or ate outside. I learned to fix things. I did housework for the family. I helped out with my parents’ construction gigs. I worked part-time jobs to start saving up for university tuition and to fund my travels, which my family could barely afford. It wasn’t until years later when my family’s business took off that finances became more stable.

In addition, when I first started school here, I was mocked and bullied for being different. It wasn't until I got better at English, started standing up for myself, and tried to culturally assimilate and improve my social skills, that things became better and I built new friend circles.

That experience really humbled me and my family, especially compared to my younger days in my home country, when life was a lot easier and more abundant (cushy and stable government jobs, private schools, receiving new toys/electronics/clothes all the time, eating out frequently, lots of family and friends, getting chauffeured around, having nannies and cleaners at home, not having to do my own housework, etc.).

It truly opened my eyes to the immigrant experience and their struggles. It is hard, hard work. Even to this day, more than a decade since I left my country of origin, despite making 6 figures and my family being relatively successful in their business, our quality of life is not the same as it was back in my home country — a harsh reality I had to accept.

A lot of immigrants come to North America expecting an easy life and their quality of life to be dramatically improved. Many still hold onto the idea that they can come here on a study permit or work visa, get a college degree, find a stable job, and work their way to permanent residency and citizenship. It is easier said than done.

Sure, if you’re coming from poverty or war or as a refugee, pretty much anything is an upgrade. However, for most skilled immigrants who are already living a decent lifestyle at home (which are most immigrants nowadays), coming here is a major shock.

North America (or the West), in general, is a highly individualistic and atomic culture, as opposed to the community and family-oriented cultures of the rest of the world. It is a culture built by the first immigrants — you are independent and self-sufficient; you fight, explore, and live on your own.

It is the very same mentality that led to the first Americans to rebel against the British. It is also the price you pay for freedom and human rights — something that is lacking in many countries in which many people are escaping from.

For most immigrants coming from a collectivist culture, this in itself is a shock — you are mostly on your own and no longer have a support system. There is not much resemblance of a community. Most people only care about their own interests and mind their own businesses. Labor is expensive and you can’t easily hire someone to do things for you.

You have to do things yourself, fix your own problems, and fight for yourself. You can’t easily call someone up or hire a person/agency to do things for you, or expect things to be handed down to you. It is a lonely and selfish place.

Also, moving, in general, is not easy for anyone, let alone moving halfway around the world and starting from scratch. Building everything, from your wealth, support system, and social network from scratch in a foreign land is difficult. It takes strength, willpower, and wisdom, and not everyone has what it takes to make it as an immigrant.

Furthermore, competition is fierce. You have the most hardworking and intelligent people from every country coming here to seek greener pastures. You are on top of the global stage competing with the best around the world. Almost everyone has advanced degrees and work experience from their home countries, and is ready to outwork you. If you’re used to being the best, it can be demoralizing.

Nowadays, I’m seeing more and more immigrants leaving North America to return to their home countries. They are either unhappy with their situation here or realize they don’t have what it takes to be successful here.

I’m seeing more people waking up to the fact that the North American dream is mostly a thing of the past. The days of coming here, getting a degree, buying a house and car, having kids, going to parties, and going on vacations on a single income are long gone, at least for the average family. Many are working much harder and don’t have half of these things.

Which is why I admire the people who’ve successfully immigrated here and made a decent living here. It is not an easy path, especially if they already have a decent life in their home country and can take the easy way out by going back.

Furthermore, the system in North America is rapidly changing, and the factors that allowed the average Canadian or American to live the middle-class lifestyle in the 20th century are eroding away.

We used to be the land of wealth and opportunity. However, with a globalized economy and the rest of the world having caught up to North America in terms of productivity since the end of WW2, we no longer hold as much wealth as the rest of the world. Everyone here is being cut a smaller slice of the cake, with even more people wanting that slice of the cake.

It is a basic supply and demand issue. We simply have too many people competing for too few resources, especially in Canada. All these 1 million+ immigrants coming in every year have to compete for a finite amount of jobs and housing, while the economy barely grew as the current government never really invested in what mattered for the economy (tech, innovation, and natural resources), but rather went all-in on unproductive assets (e.g., real estate) and “nonrelevant social issues” such as LGBTQ, in order to secure votes. Productivity is low and capital is stagnant.

I believe this is all a deliberate act by the government and their doner friends to keep labour costs low and real-estate values high, which only benefits the corporations, the landowners, and the elite. Wealth is being consolidated and funnelled to the top. In other words, corruption.

Moreover, I believe since the 1970s, ever since the Gold Standard was abandoned, the system has been deliberately set up to make the average person poor and miserable, become mindless worker drones, and therefore rely more on the government and corporations for basic survival. It is a Ponzi scheme set up by the capitalists in power.

Wages have been beaten down through years of inflation, globalization, and increasing the labour supply (bringing women to the workforce, mass immigration, and offshoring/outsourcing). The public education system is flawed and only teaches obedience to authority. People are discouraged from starting families through hookup culture. Mass media feeds everyone lies and dreams to make people scared and jealous and consume more than they should, driving the capitalist machine. Human rights are also slowly eroding with more censorship and control of thought and speech.

People are being fed cheap entertainment and are addicted to dopamine. They don’t work hard or think for themselves. They live in a fantasy of materialism, social media, and consumption. Each younger generation is seeing worse economic crises and living a lower standard of living, as well as having delayed or nonexistent milestones in life (e.g., financial independence, home ownership, marriage and having children).

The hard truth is, the North American middle class, or the American dream, was an anomaly in history. It is the consequence of North America being largely untouched by the world wars compared to the rest of the industrialized world. Now that the advantage is mostly gone, our socioeconomics will trend towards the global mean.

As the current trends continue, North America is trending increasingly towards feudalism, which has been the case for most of human civilization. Few people owned most of the resources. There was a great wealth gap and most people lived in poverty or slavery.

For most immigrants or even the locals, unless you come from generational wealth or got lucky with your profession, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a high-paying job, buy a home, or start your own family. Being an average Joe will get you none of that — you have to be exceptional.

Many young people in the developed world are simply checking out of society because working hard and doing what they are told does not give them the rewards unlike in the past.

The American dream is mostly a lie told by older generations who went through the easy times, or sold by the media or immigration agencies trying to lure more people to North America.

However, at the end of the day, the dream is not dead yet. I believe the essence of the North American dream is still alive. It is to work hard and smart towards a goal, strive for freedom, and subsequently be rewarded for your effort.

Many people think they can reap the rewards without working hard (especially if they come from a more community-oriented culture). You can’t bribe or corrupt your way to wealth and power like you can in many other countries. There’s nobody here to handhold you — it’s honest, hard, work. You are not entitled to anything.

And you have to work smart too — simply working hard without a clear goal does not get you anywhere in the day and age. You need to be intentional about achieving something (e.g., financial independence and home ownership), and make sacrifices to make it happen (e.g., by entering a career path you don’t enjoy but pays well).

Also, you have to work together with other people and pool resources together. The whole idea of being self-made is a lie — it was possible when more resources were available to the average person, and the elite wants you to believe this so you can be powerless as an individual. To achieve great things now, you should work together and combine your wealth, skills, and knowledge to build value. Instead of waiting for someone else to cut the slice for you, you should make the cake bigger.

At the end of the day, you don’t achieve freedom by working for someone else — you are at the mercy of your employer or the system. To be free, you must become strong and independent — so that no one can control you. You need to work for yourself. It takes hard work, dedication, and creativity, and not many people have what it takes.

North America is still the land of opportunity relative to the rest of the world, and there are still lots of ways to achieve financial freedom, from high-paying careers to business opportunities to investment opportunities.

The door to the top is still open if you’re willing to work hard, innovate, and make sacrifices. There are still lots of opportunities to strike gold. It may not be as easy compared to decades ago, but unlike in many other countries, where if you’re not born to the upper class, the door to wealth is pretty much shut. Even to this day, you still hear lots of rags-to-riches stories here in North America that you don’t see much in other countries.

Finally, if you’re an immigrant considering moving to North America, it’s time to ditch those lies told by the media or immigration agency and be realistic with your expectations.

Immigration is not an easy path, no matter where you are going. There will be culture shocks, and you’ll likely be sacrificing years of living conditions. You have to weigh the risks and benefits.

However, I do believe if your life is currently being threatened in your home country (through war, prosecution, and unrest), or you live in a place with limited freedoms and human rights, it may be worth the sacrifice to move. Ultimately, freedom is not free, and you decide if hard work is a price you are willing to pay for freedom. Many have died in the past fighting for freedom.

I am also forever thankful to my parents for making the difficult decision to immigrate to North America, work hard, and sacrifice their lifestyle to give me a better future. Looking at the state of my home country now, being ridden with dictatorship, economic crises, social unrest, and human rights abuse, I am thankful to be living in a relatively free and safe place and able to express my thoughts in public, like I am doing now.

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