You’re not pinning this turd on us.
(Comedian Jon Stewart, on debt ceiling agreement)
All questions in a democracy are questions of money.
(Mark Hanna, Republican strategist 1896)
Seeing the faces on television of starving children in Somalia gives us an idea of what a real “debt crisis” looks like, yet, all the definitions seem to be changing before our eyes.
The condition of failing states
Somalia has, in fact, achieved the dubious distinction in 2011 of ranking number 1 in the annual Failed State Index. Countries are ranked in 12 categories and then given an overall average. The categories include such things as violation of human rights and rule of law, demographic pressure and uneven economic development.
The U.S. as expected is still among the “best” run countries in the world but one category does cast a shadow. It is perhaps revealing how a developed nation can, over time, end up on the wrong track with negative consequences and which only worsen if there is a failure to push aside magical thinking.
Of the top 20 countries in the world ranking the United States comes out the worst in the category of “uneven economic development.” The U.S. is assigned a number of 5.4 (out of a possible 10). For comparison, Somalia has a number of 8.4 in this category, while Finland, with the best overall ranking in the world, has a number of 1.3. The lower the number the better the ranking.
Examining ‘developed’ failure
The United States Congress is now largely an irrelevant legislative body, regardless of the few intelligent, aware and honest politicians that occupy the chairs in the two chambers, and changing personnel is virtually meaningless in a corrupt institution.
Unless and until we have public financing of political campaigns and overturn Citizens United, the egregious decision by the Supreme Court, which gives “person-hood” to corporations, the politicians will have virtually no interest or reason in representing the majority of their constituents in any substantive way. To think otherwise is magical thinking at its worst.
This past Friday we learned, to our surprise, that 117,000 jobs were created in July. This is what now passes for success in America. The reality is that we would need to create 300,000 jobs every month for five years to get our unemployment down to 5 percent.
A credit agency for the first time in our history (Standard & Poor’s) has downgraded our credit worthiness; this same agency a few years back contributed to the global financial collapse.
On the heels of S&P’s downgrade, a police state (China)–with reason—has criticized us as if we were little more than a banana republic.
Today, from the obscenity of industrial agriculture, to wars of choice and blatant welfare capitalism lies an unbroken thread that connects our past to our failing present.
A country snatching defeat
Within a few short years of Abraham Lincoln’s promise of justice and equality for all Americans and his assassination in 1865, the South began a reign of terror against African-Americans, while backwardness and exploitation became the general norm for white southerners.
Populism was a potent political force in much of the South and the Midwest in the 1880s and 1890s because both the Republican and Democratic parties were instruments of the ruling elites. The core of the Populist movement was made up of small farmers, tenants and farm laborers, both black and white.
The Colored Farmers Alliance, which was founded in 1886 had, within three years, enrolled hundreds of thousands of people. It might have been the largest black organization in American history. Yet, the Populist movement ultimately fell apart, not merely because of the determination of the Gilded Age plutocrats and their political henchmen to destroy it, but because white racism in the South prevented a unified front against commercial and industrial exploitation. For a brief moment there was, as one historian offered, “the biracial promise of Populism.”
As an aside, Michael Lind of the New America Foundation has written an article entitled, The Tea Party, the debt ceiling, and white Southern extremism. In his article Lind points out that while Tea Party followers are found in many parts of the country, the Tea Party group in the House of Representatives is “overwhelmingly Southern in its origins.” According to Lind, it’s just a continuation of a white Southern minority threatening American democracy any way it can.
By 1900 corporate capitalism had won and had established the foundation, which ultimately led to the global financial collapse in 2008. As the writer Jack Beatty has pointed out in his book Age of Betrayal, from the beginning of the American Revolution up until the end of the 19th century, most Americans believed that labor was the root of all economic value, be it the work of the skilled saddle maker or the steel worker in one of Andrew Carnegie’s industrial mills. The twentieth century however promised something quite different.
We are clearly at another turning point in 2011. Attempting to patch up a dying economic and political system is not going to work. It may be discarding the nation-state and creating smaller, more resilient, entrepreneurial communities that can deal with resource scarcity, climate change and other disturbances … or something entirely different. Of course, we could once again snatch defeat from the jaws of potential victory.