Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Could 2011 Be America's "Make or Break" Year?

It's hard to figure out what's likely to give out first in America - its democracy or its economy.  Both are under great pressure.   Both are rent by destructive forces.  Today's America bears as little resemblance to the once dynamic country as Disneyland's "Sleeping Beauty Castle" does to Ludwig's Neuschwanstein.

Whether we're willing to admit it or not, America and, to a lesser extent, Canada and the balance of the West have embarked on a period of decline.   The 21st may, in fact, become a century of decline.

Look at it this way.  When it comes to renewable resources, man is already exhausting the annual supply.  In fact we're keeping our fantasy going by rapaciously consuming our historical, sometimes ancient reserves.  The evidence of this abounds.   It is visible from space.  It comes in the form of deforestation and desertification and dried up lakes and rivers.  It also comes in less visible forms such as the emptying of ancient aquifers of their once vast holdings of freshwater.  So rapacious has become our consumption that man now exhausts a year's supply of renewables by mid-August.

So, even as we've hit the wall on renewable resources, the earth's carrying-capacity, we have to make room at the table for these newly emerging super-economies.  That's right, they want more too, a lot more and they're fixing to get it wherever they can.

We don't see these emerging rivals at work - not yet - but they are very busy.  They're busy sewing up Africa.  They're busy cementing their hold in Asia and firming up their links in the Caucasus and the Middle East.  They're even beginning to make inroads into South America.   You may not see them, might not feel their presence but that's because - we're last.  They can get what they want playing by our rules because we wrote those rules for the people who had all the money back when that was us.

America stands at a crossroads.  Right now it needs the strongest, most cohesive society possible.  Yet the American Right has left the country atrophied and deeply divided.  The Huffington Post's Sam Harris asks whether his country stands on the verge of ruination.  It's a fascinating article, replete with references to reports and studies that collectively reinforce his warnings.  If you can find the time I'd urge you to read it.  After all, when you're a branch plant operation you need to keep an eye on the health of the head office.

The United States is set for a relapse of the Republican disease that has laid the country low since it became infected with Reaganism three decades ago.  Reaganism in the 21st century is akin to urging a lung cancer patient to double his habit to two packs a day.  Yet this is exactly what is happening in America today.  The illusion that Reganism made sense might have been sellable when he took over from Jimmy Carter.  Back then America was the greatest creditor nation in the world, still the world's industrial powerhouse.  The Soviet Union back then was teetering on the edge of its own demise and China was an agrarian poorhouse.  Carter saw the changes coming.  He warned his countrymen that America's future depended on them mending their ways to meet the coming change.  Reagan, instead, sold them the lie that the way ahead was plenty more of the same, no matter the cost.  The movement conservative Republicans have been locked into perpetuating that lie even today and almost certainly tomorrow too.

I suspect America could indeed stand on the verge of its own ruination, particularly if, as Harris points out, the conditions that could trigger it are maintained and nurtured by the resurgent Republicans.  With the Republicans sawing their legs off beneath them, it's difficult to see how American society is going to stand up to what's coming.


Anonymous said...

The Me society, tax cutting itself to decay. I wonder how long before our economic engines grind to a halt with no easy way to restart it?
It's definitely a frightening prospect for the middle class, but.... There's no solidarity amoung the middle class. It's all Me, Me, Me! It's sad, really.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hey Troy. Good to hear from you. It's been a while.

In the US, particularly, the middle class was propped up by at least two decades of debt and feigned prosperity it bought.

The middle class is the bastion of democracy in any society and the prime obstacle of those who would replace democracy with a corporatist oligarchy.

The middle class is a buffer that holds at bay both rightwing and leftwing extremism. It is the vehicle of social mobility, especially for lifting others out of poverty. That, in North America, was how the middle class managed to expand into the blue collar sector through the enhancement of trades and the development of well-paid manufacturing jobs. The union movement was also instrumental in this.

Then came the free trade mantra introduced by Mulroney, Reagan and Thatcher that promised massive prosperity but yielded only wage stagnation, the destruction of the middle class and the concentration of enormous wealth into the hands of the very few. What that pack of hoods couldn't accomplish, the resulting income and social inequality did.