Our National Disgrace
For the past 30 years, the Republican Party has sought popularity by selling out our collective future and pandering to short-term greed. And the Democratic Party has gone along with this, and done some of it as well, to avoid unpopularity. At first I was increasingly outraged at the direction the country was taking, and the irresponsibility of our so-called leaders. I should have stopped to think about why such pandering always worked. Now I understand that they were merely reflecting the irresponsibility of our people.
This video and this video show the last two national politicians who were willing to say that all of us needed to make sacrifices in the short term, to ensure our well-being and prosperity in the long term. Their points were grounded in the values of their generation, now called the Greatest Generation. They lost their elections, and lost badly, and no Democrat has been willing to defend the future or younger generations ever since. Another member of Greatest Generation in fact took difficult and unpopular steps to secure the future. He is primarily responsible for the pause in the 30-year upward march of debt in the 1990s, as he described in this audio clip, while President. But he didn’t dare to tell Generation Greed that’s what he was going to do beforehand. Instead he lied to get elected. And then was tossed out after four years. And subsequent Republicans have done nothing but double down on pandering to Generation Greed and selling out the future. Click on those links, and really listen to what is being said. How are these men perceived today? As losers. And we are living in the country the winners made.
We a nation dependent on imported oil and imported money, with a population so thoroughly conditioned to equate their happiness and fulfillment with the things they buy that they are collectively unable to produce what they feel are their “needs.” Despite being perhaps the hardest working and productive people in history.
Unwilling (and believing themselves to be unable) in many cases to sacrifice in order to meet social responsibilities, they are also in many cases unwilling or unable to sacrifice to meet personal responsibilities. A little research for a family reunion brought out some stories from the Great Depression. On my father’s side, several of my grandmother’s relatives had to move in with my grandparents in Southwest Yonkers, because my grandfather had a job. (Not the job he wanted – he had hoped to be an engineer but ended up working in insurance). At one point they were down to enough spaghetti for one mean, with no money to buy anything more. On my mother’s side, my grandfather was a bookkeeper in a Yonkers bank that failed. He had to move in with, and be supported by, his older sister.
These people were burdened by, but also supported by, a large and complex web of mutual help and friendship built up over many years. How would today’s families react to similar stresses? How would our country react? Are people aware that several states, in this of all economies, have cut the number of weeks of income support for the unemployed down from the standard 26, because their unemployment insurance funds are deep in the red due to inadequate funding in the good years? They say it’s because those who could get jobs (for less than they had been earning) are lollygagging on the dole, but a workfare requirement could have taken care of that.
The U.S. has been borrowing from abroad to support its lifestyle for decades. I have estimated that our material standard of living has to fall 10 to 20 percent on average to shift from borrowing to paying back. Sorry, that’s just reality. And it isn’t just the poor who need to face cutbacks, or the rich who need to pay taxes, as Generation Greed politicians might say. But is that really that bad, if the pain were distributed with any fairness or decency? Still, I can hear the whining and moaning now.
Imagine the situation of the U.S. compared with any other country in the world. Europe and Japan? They are facing their debt burdens with a shrinking population, as a result of a child birth rate below replacement. Russia and China don’t have the debts, but they are facing far fewer young people supporting far more old people due to birth rates below replacement. And the money they have saved for their seniors has been invested in… wait for it… the safe haven of the United States! At least the Chinese seniors don’t demand to live better and longer than their children, like those in the U.S. They still have a few “sacrifice for the children and the future” generations to go though before their own Generation Greed reaches old age.
Most of the countries that aren’t facing population declines are facing excess population growth, with far more young people than they can education, provide adequate nutrition for, or provide jobs for. India, Africa and the Arab countries are in this situation, with millions of additional ill, illiterate, unproductive people being born each year. In some cases those who do better are surrounded by suffering, and forced to pay to prevent outright deprivation. In other cases, these countries have devolved into failed states facing political and social collapse, with mass violence added to a long list of woes.
And the U.S.? Our child birth rate is at replacement. Our population growth is positive, but only moderately. Even with the baby boomers all retired, our problem will not be too many old people. It will be too many old people who stop working too young (if they are public employees), and expect to be supported too well for too long relative to the less well off generations coming after and paying for them.
Billions of people around the world would love to have our problems. Many would be thrilled just to have water to drink that was clean, a decent place to go to the bathroom, enough food to ward off hunger. My wife’s uncle is a Maryknoller over in Tanzania, still on the job at age 74 and expecting to stay on the job as long as possible. Back in the states for a visit, he said he has no electricity or running water – he has to carry it. The nearest market is an hour away, and spinach is an occasional luxury, he mostly just eats beans. And now the beans may be gone – that part of Tanzania is near the drought-stricken part of Africa you may start hearing about, and this year the people planted twice and the crops failed both times. There are no doctors nearby, and if you want your kids to go to school, you have to have the money to pay. So what must our problems, and the growing nastiness now that our debts are coming due, seem like to him?
It would not have taken much sacrifice in the past for us to avoid being in this situation. But that was apparently too much. Is affluence a curse that no nation, community, family or person can survive? Did our very affluence in the 1950s and 1960s shape the personalities and priorities of those who grew up then?
I don’t know. What I do know is we are facing a crisis that shouldn’t be a crisis, a disaster that shouldn’t even count as a disaster. And if our President, any President, really made a “blood and tears” speech, very few Americans over age 55 (Generation Greed) – and perhaps over age 35 (Generation Greed and Generation Apathy) – could be counted on to respond positively. Too many people are too “needy,” and have too little pride.
Please don’t put any of that political bullshit in the comments. That it’s the Democrats, it’s the Republicans, its those poor Blacks, it’s all due to Wall Street, it’s all due to the two wars. Just look at the change in our debts, public and private combined, as a share of the economy, over the past 30 years. This is a national disgrace.
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