Death of the American Dream

Read a really interesting article in the FT this weekend about the reality of the American dream.  When you understand this,  you also understand what is behind some of the politics in the US and why this country has such deep, almost irreversible challenges.

This is not about long term recession, it is related to has been called the  “Great Stagnation” which is a long term decline in the fortunes of most Americans, particularly the middle classes.  The foreign picture of  ‘middle class America’ is a result of watching TV shows like Desperate Housewives or Weeds, but the view of manicured lawns and teenagers all driving expensive autos to schools applies to less than top 10% of the population.

The annual incomes of the bottom 90% of US families has essentially been flat since 1973 – having risen by only 10% in real terms over the last 37 years. 

In the last economic expansion which started in January 2002, ending in December 2007 the median US household income dropped by $2,000.  This was the first time where most Americans were worse off at the end of a boom cycle, than at the start.  Now, Americans have a smaller chance of swapping a lower-income bracket for a higher one than in almost any other developed economy – even Britain on some measures.

Perhaps the late George Carlin was right –  “It’s called the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.”


HSBC – “different values causes acute frustration”!

Transiting Heathrow on a very regular basis, I have no option but to look at HSBC’s  “Different values makes the world a richer place” advertising campaign.  One day I could be surprised and see 2 side by side pictures of one of their call centre Customer Service staff, one titled  “satisfaction” the other “homicidal frustration”.  

Last week, I needed to transfer some money from my account in Holland into one of their customers accounts in the UK.  To do so requires the IBAN number of the receivers account.  Initially they had given this person the SWIFT code, not the IBAN number, so I thought I would call them to try to get some clarity. Here is an overview of a conversation I had with their customer service team last week. 

[PD] – Hi, I am hoping you can help.  I am not an HSBC customer and I live in Holland. I need to transfer some money into one of your customers accounts in the UK.  I have this persons, account details, the bank sort code and what HSBC is saying is the IBAN number.  I have tried for a week to transfer this money but each time it tells me the IBAN number is not correct.  I fully understand and accept that you cannot give me any personal details or confidential data, all I am asking for is if you can confirm that the structure of the correct IBAN number begins with GB and is then followed by 20 digits.  If that is the structure, then I can ask this person to call you and get the correct IBAN number.

[HSBC] – Are you an HSBC customer?

[PD] – Ah, no.  I did explain this.

[HSBC] – Where do you live?

[PD] – Um, as I explained, I live in Holland – The Netherlands as it is also known as.

[HSBC] – and you want us to give you the account details?

[PD] – No, absolutely not.  I have the account details.  They are ……….     What I need you to do is confirm the structure only, of the IBAN number.

[HSBC] – One moment, I will check with my supervisor.

[HSBC] – Hello, I am sorry I can’t give you confidential customer information. We have very strict rules about this.

[PD] – Yes, thank you, I fully understand this.  I am not asking you for any confidential customer info.  As I have told you, I already have that.  All I need is for you to confirm if the structure of the IBAN number is GB followed by 20 digits.  That is all, nothing else.  I don’t even want the 20 digits, just the structure.

[HSBC] – Sorry I cannot give you confidential customer information.

[PD] – (an edge of extreme frustration entering my voice) – yes, I know that and I fully agree and support that policy.  Can you tell me exactly what confidential customer information you would be divulging by telling me the structure of an IBAN number?

[HSBC] – Look sir, I cannot give you confidential info.

[PD] – for the love of god, please give me your supervisor, this is driving me insane!

[HSBC] – you want to talk to my supervisor? He can’t tell you this information either

[PD] – PLEASE transfer me to your supervisor.

Thankfully the supervisor had an IQ greater than their age and after a protracted conversation I managed to get the structure confirmed although just to continue the trend of not really confirming or denying anything I got  “It’s something like that”. 

This exercise reconfirms without any doubt in my mind my sentiments I expressed in an earlier post titled “why stupid people shouldn’t be allowed to breed”.