Saturday, February 25, 2006

American Stasis

We have reached the point in the United States where institutions and government apparatus are frozen from making any major changes which would correct the many problems facing us. The two-party system has put the power in the hands of wealthy benefactors who finance the campaigns of politicians, allowing them to become wealthy in office, and providing them with high paying jobs as lobbyists once they retire from office. Lawmakers seek office not to do the people’s business but to advance their own interests at the expense of the people by gerrymandering districts and writing laws that sustain the current system of patronage.

The result of this stasis is the increasing control of the country by international corporations and an investor class who see the opportunity to solidify their control of the population and world commerce through the financing of government. Borders become less secure, both for investment and the transit of labor and goods across them. The obsession with growth, laissez faire markets and consumption to increase wealth overwhelms the constitutional goals of promoting the general welfare and providing a level playing field for citizens to prosper. The growth, in turn, promotes investment from abroad and borrowing at home which puts the country ever deeper into debt to foreign countries. The urge to consume drives an ever increasing dependence on low cost foreign products and energy sources, financed by loans from the same foreign countries reaping the profits from the sale of their products. As the cycle deepens wealth is concentrated more and more in the hands of a few who have the advantage of being born into wealth or comfortable circumstances that facilitate their prosperity or rise to it.

The stasis arises primarily from the necessity to satisfy existing corporate and group interests at the expense of the general interest. Any proposals for significant change are met with an onslaught of lobbying from all the existing interests that are affected. Whether it is health care reform, pension reform, tax reform, or reform to update the provisions of our two hundred year old constitution that doesn’t address many modern day problems, the result is the same. Only small incremental changes are possible and are usually followed by more small incremental changes in the opposite direction to redress lost advantages of interest groups.

Where will it all lead? Chances are that sooner or later, the chickens will come home to roost. The inability to address problems and the ever increasing debt will inevitably lead to worse conditions for the average American and a loss of their buying power. As American buying power diminishes and foreign buying power increases international corporations will no longer see a need to be headquartered in the United States or produce here. At that point we will become just another previously prosperous country among many.

How can we avoid this fate? The only hope seems to be a change in values from valuing growth and consumption to valuing national unity and a concern for our fellow Americans. This will necessarily mean a lower standard of living for the wealthy, a higher standard of living for the middle and lower classes, and probably a somewhat lower standard of living over all. But, it will make for less anxiety about our future and that of our children and grandchildren and an increase in general satisfaction and happiness at the expense of fewer material goods.

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