"No matter how paranoid or conspiracy-minded you are, what the government is actually doing is worse than you imagine." - - - William Blum

October 04, 2010

America’s Deepening Moral Crisis

Economist, Jeffery D. Sachs, makes a strong argument that "the price of our humanity" is at risk.

America’s political and economic crisis is set to worsen following the upcoming November elections. President Barack Obama will lose any hope for passing progressive legislation aimed at helping the poor or the environment. Indeed, all major legislation and reforms are likely to be stalemated until 2013, following a new presidential election. An already bad situation marked by deadlock and vitriol is likely to worsen, and the world should not expect much leadership from a bitterly divided United States...

America today presents the paradox of a rich country falling apart because of the collapse of its core values. American productivity is among the highest in the world. Average national income per person is about $46,000 – enough not only to live on, but to prosper. Yet the country is in the throes of an ugly moral crisis.

Income inequality is at historic highs, but the rich claim that they have no responsibility to the rest of society. They refuse to come to the aid of the destitute, and defend tax cuts at every opportunity. Almost everybody complains, almost everybody aggressively defends their own narrow and short-term interests, and almost everybody abandons any pretense of looking ahead or addressing the needs of others.

What passes for American political debate is a contest between the parties to give bigger promises to the middle class, mainly in the form of budget-busting tax cuts at a time when the fiscal deficit is already more than 10% of GDP. Americans seem to believe that they have a natural right to government services without paying taxes. In the American political lexicon, taxes are defined as a denial of liberty...

The big campaign contributors to both parties pay to ensure that their vested interests dominate political debates. That means that both parties increasingly defend the interests of the rich, though Republicans do so slightly more than Democrats. Even a modest tax increase on the rich is unlikely to find support in American politics.

The result of all of this is likely to be a long-term decline of US power and prosperity, because Americans no longer invest collectively in their common future. America will remain a rich society for a long time to come, but one that is increasingly divided and unstable. Fear and propaganda may lead to more US-led international wars, as in the past decade.

And what is happening in America is likely to be repeated elsewhere. America is vulnerable to social breakdown because it is a highly diverse society. Racism and anti-immigrant sentiments are an important part of the attack on the poor, or at least the reason why so many are willing to heed the propaganda against helping the poor...

The lesson from America is that economic growth is no guarantee of wellbeing or political stability. American society has become increasingly harsh, where the richest Americans buy their way to political power, and the poor are abandoned to their fate. In their private lives, Americans have become addicted to consumerism, which drains their time, savings, attention, and inclination to engage in acts of collective compassion.

The world should beware. Unless we break the ugly trends of big money in politics and rampant consumerism, we risk winning economic productivity at the price of our humanity.

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