Friday, March 18, 2011

Ten Things We Will Live To Regret as Americans

Most of us have regrets about things we did or didn't do in our lives that have had bad consequences down the line.  Let's say we sniffed cocaine once and became an addict.  Or had an affair that destroyed our marriage.  Things that seemed so right at the time can seem so wrong in the rearview mirror.

Similarly, nations do things they live to regret.  For example, I'm sure that Germany really regrets allowing Hitler to rise to power in the early 1930s.  We (and the British) ended up bombing most of their cities to smithereens, and they lost many millions of soldiers and civilians in WWII.  Ditto Japan and Pearl Harbor.

So what are the things we may live to regret as Americans?  Here are my top ten choices, in no particular logical order, since they're all tied together in numerous ways.

We will live to regret

...allowing ourselves to become so dependent on foreign oil.  America was the leading oil producer in the world in the early part of the 20th Century.  However, by the 1960s American production was starting to decline.  But instead of beginning to encourage the conservation of our uses of oil through various means, we allowed oil imports to skyrocket, thus increasing our dependence on Middle Eastern oil.  We now import over 60% of our oil, much of it to run our enormous national fleet of gas-guzzling SUVs, trucks, and automobiles.  This of course adds to our burgeoning trade deficit and has also led to our dubious interventions in the Middle Eat, with its creation of anti-American Islamist sentiment.

...allowing ourselves to become so dependent upon automobiles, with a parallel decline in accessible and convenient public transportation, as well as the increase in our housing 'sprawl', all of which is integrally connected.  To most Americans, of course, this is the way life is supposed to be in any industrialized society.  It is only when you go to Europe or Japan that you begin to understand how public transportation is supposed to work, and how proper city planning allows people to actually live without a car, if they choose (living in Manhatten is perhaps the one place in American where this also happens).  As oil prices rise, as they inevitably will with the demand for oil worldwide increasing and supply decreasing, Americans are going to be hardpressed to keep driving in the fashion to which they have become accustomed.  And then life is going to get a lot harder, with no easy solutions available.  You can't suddenly produce overnight an integrated system of public transportation or a national fleet of fuel efficient cars or houses within walking distance of life's necessities.

...allowing the radical decline of our manufacturing capacity.  Beginning in the 1960s, for a lot of reasons, American manufacturing began to decline and our imports of manufactured goods began to increase.  This decline has accelerated and gotten so bad that many cities and town in America are beginning to look like scenes from the Third World, while our ports line up with ships hauling automobiles, televisions, cellphones, appliances, furniture, and all manner of goods from Asia and Europe.  A country simply cannot be a military, political, or economic superpower for long without its own strong manufacturing sector.  That lesson is going to hit home very soon.

...allowing our debt at all levels of society to grow uncontrollably.  America has in the last three or four decades gone from the world's large creditor nation to the world's biggest debtor nation.  Much of the illusion of prosperity in that time came from borrowing and spending without concern for the future.  Unfortunately, the future has now arrived.  Much of this debt can be attributed to the loss of our manufacturing and the failure to conserve oil.  The radical decline in the value of our currency is the nearly inevitable result of this growth in debt.

...allowing the wealthy elite to contribute much less in taxes and thus underfunding vital government expenditures and driving up debt.  The political cliche of 'no new taxes' masks the willingness of the rich to let vital government services either expire or be leveraged through borrowing, building up what is clearly unsustainable debt.  Thus the rich will help in the creation of a basically bankrupt and decaying nation.  They of course will be free to 'move about' the world, with cash stashed away in bank accounts in a variety of very willing countries.

...allowing our military-industrial-intelligence complex to become so bloated and out of control.  I read an analysis recently that estimated that our spending on this complex will top a trillion dollars this year.  We spend more on war and preparation for war than all other nations combined.  This kind of spending--on bombs, planes, ships, and gun--is bleeding us dry as a nation economically.  It's why we can't afford to upgrade our bridges, roads, sewers and water lines.  It's why the Tea Party is going crazy about our deficit.  It's essentially why we invaded (and continue to occupy) two Middle Eastern countries, all on the line of credit extended to us by China, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. 

...allowing our Banking and Finance sector to dominate the economy.   Bankers and the Wall Street crowd now give more to our politicians by way of contributions than any other industry.  Consequently, they have had their way over the last 20-30 years, most of which has been deleterious to our economy.  By most accounts, they bear great responsibility for the Great Recession of 2008 (along with the bought-off government regulators) and the ongoing destruction of our middle class.  They also have led the way for the dramatic redistribution of income and wealth upward, much of which has gone directly into their pockets.  Before the 2008 crash, over half of the Harvard University graduating classes were going straight to Wall Street.  Case closed.

...allowing our Corporations and Wealthy to Control our Political System.  Plutocratic control of the government at all levels by the power and wealthy elite was common from after the Civil War until the Great Depression, a period of some 65 years.  The only exception to this was the Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, who acted to help enact a progressive agenda.  But the Presidency of Theodore's cousin, FDR, led America into a period of greater social, political, and economic equality that lasted through the 1970s.  Since the rise of Reagan Conservatism, the pendulum has swung back in the other direction, to the point where by many measures, we have returned to a new Gilded Age, except that we are now a debt-ridden, largely urban population, without recourse to the farms which allowed us a measure of self-sufficiency in the pre-WWII era.  The rich retreat to their gated communities and schools, while everyone stares at the increasing decay and desolation around them.

...allowing our health care system to become such a bizarre hybrid of public and private, with the worst of both worlds.  We now have in America both the most expensive and the most inequitable health care system in history, one that is completely unsustainable for very much longer.  Costs are growing out of control, and more people every year are uncovered by insurance.  Recent legislation attempting to resolve these issues will not work, in my opinion.  The bullet remains to be bitten, which of course is to adopt some form of true national health insurance, like every other advanced industrial nation in the world.  Meanwhile, rising health care costs wreak havoc on our jobs and our checking accounts.

...allowing our prison system to grow to the point where it is larger than any other country's, except perhaps China.  What happens to prisoners in our system?  How much does it cost to imprison them?  How much misery and bondage do we inflict in this god-forsaken prison system?  What will happen when our multiple budget crises force us to release many of these prisoners back into society?

So what are the solutions, if any, to these revolting developments in American life?  I'll share my answers in another post, as soon as I can write it.

1 comment:

  1. "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it", - George Santayana

    The US has been to this point before but because of our dysfunctional education system (see Texas textbook controversy our electorate has not been taught in history class the lessons you have so eloquently enumerated. I remember a co-worker cite information about Lyndon Johnson from her college history book which obviously had been changed since I had studied Lyndon Johnson. This version was flattering to his image and to Texas. So history repeats sometimes because the history is distorted by those who teach it.

    I am anxious to hear your solutions.