Basboosa and the American Dream

Tarek Bouazizi, known locally by the nickname Basboosa, was poor but he dreamed big.  He believed in his own version American Dream.  That simple, amazingly powerful idea that it was possible, through hard, honest work, to build a better life.

Unfortunately, Basboosa had a rough start.  His father died when he was three and he had to start work at 10 to support his mother and his sisters.

Absent any other options, he got creative and built a small income by selling fruit and produce from his cart.  A business he was successful enough at, he was able to send one of his sisters to the University — a classic American Dream story.

However, this pursuit of the Dream didn’t end well for Basboosa.  Over the last couple of years of his short life, he ran afoul of local Kleptocrats.  Corrupt government officials that had demanded steep bribes (disguised as a “permit fee” when none was needed) to sell produce from his cart.

Of course, Basboosa couldn’t always pay the bribe, and when he couldn’t, the police would confiscate some of his produce.  On a morning in December it escalated.  The police didn’t just confiscate all of his produce, they took his cart too.

Unable to pay back the $200 he had borrowed to buy the produce or replace the lost cart, Basboosa headed to the offices of the municipal authorities to protest.  The government official he saw, summarily refused to return his cart.  Not only that, she summoned the police to throw him out of the office and rough him up in the process.

Humiliated.  His hope for his own version of the American Dream shredded, he took an extreme step.  He burned himself to death (he died two weeks later with burns over 90% of his body) in front of the Town Hall in protest.

Basboosa’s death was tragic.  He was also a casualty in a much bigger conflict.  A conflict between those of us that want the opportunity to earn a better life through our own version of the American Dream, and those that want the opportunity to take it all, the people that have ascended to the throne of the kleptocracy.  So, even though his story occurred in Tunisia, it’s a story that we’re going to see play out again and again, in nearly every country.

It’s a story that will become even more harrowing when it becomes apparent that the traditional American Dream is dying at the very moment nearly everyone in the world has accepted it as their own.


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Discussion — 12 Responses

  • Bill Seitz February 19, 2014 on 11:53 am Reply
  • jeremiah February 19, 2014 on 1:16 pm

    He is the 21st century’s Gavrilo Princip… even if we don’t realize it

  • Dan Lynch February 19, 2014 on 9:03 pm

    Off topic, slightly.

    A messaging service was bought by Facebook for 16 Billion today — WhatsApp.

    That’s NASA’s budget, give or take a couple billion.

    33 engineers, most of them in the Ukraine.

    Mr. Robb’s right. The future has no jobs. None at all. $16B used to fund a lot of pensions, salaries and healthcare expenses at the factory. It used to trickle down into schools, real estate, shopping malls and the middle class. Now it transfers to a few hands. In Ukraine.

    There are times when I think the .001% has been created by a kleptocracy, aided and abetted by a corrupt political system. There are other times when it is clear that no kleptocracy is required to deflate the middle class—merely the insane efficiencies of software, and a global market of clever people.

  • gmoke February 20, 2014 on 1:05 am

    His death sparked the Arab Spring.

    I wonder if the social media organizing that went into making all those demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt happen will ever morph into a practical social economic system that cuts out the kleptocracy completely.

  • Durk Pearson February 20, 2014 on 1:22 am

    After $12,500 of “permits, fees, and studies” (bureaucrat protection money demands) the authorities decided to allow me to build an addition on my home 1/3 the size that the zoning laws allowed. Then the state (California) raised my income taxes.

    I voted with my feet. I now live in rural central Nevada. No zoning. No land use planning. No building permits. No building codes. My three businesses are prospering. No state income tax, either. Are the kleptocrats in Washington DC a problem? You bet! But things aren’t equally bad everywhere. Don’t ever give up!

  • Cliff February 20, 2014 on 4:38 pm

    Just heard a recording from late comedian George Carlin in which he says: “It’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

    • John Robb Cliff February 21, 2014 on 2:41 pm

      He was right. The dream started to die in the mid seventies, but we were too asleep to see it. JR

  • Cliff February 20, 2014 on 4:42 pm

    Here is 3+ min ideo where George Carlin refers to American Dream in April 2005 – very prescient and spot-on:

    George Carlin – The American Dream

  • Intel March 29, 2014 on 1:10 pm

    For crying out load this happened in Tunisia. If it happened in America’s own land— now we’re talking the whole kaboosh!

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