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From Down Here ~ The Rise and Fall of the American Empire
Stars & Stripes Forever?
Societal Paradigm Shift
As the United States sits precariously on the precipice of economic ruin one must ask the question, “How did we get here?”. I have a theory. I believe that as America emerged from the hardships of the Great Depression and WWII a new age of prosperity was born as increasing numbers of people began to discover that the American dream was achievable. An overwhelming number of American families began building personal wealth and with it a new social group was born that which we now refer to as the middle class. During WWII families were of somewhat modest means and in a place where the premise of sacrifice and sharing was a common practice among the populace. After the war and in the wake of the baby and economic booms of the fifties the American family found itself becoming more insular. The sense of community and commonality that was so prevalent during the war was waning. We began to protest the Vietnam war and question the military-industrial complex. After the Watergate scandal was exposed and hostages were taken in Iran coupled with the oil crisis, America’s trust in the government began a rapid decline. Fear and suspicion began to creep into America’s view of the government. Who could we trust? Where were we as a nation? People began to formulate theories and distrust the government they once passionately defended. As personal wealth began to grow so did educational opportunities which gave way to a better understanding of economics and technology. This increase in affluence and education gave way to another subset within the middle class commonly known as the upper middle class, those with the resources and knowledge necessary to make their money work for them. Perhaps every generation has the desire to give their children the “things we never had” but the baby boomers, those born during and after WWII, in doing so, created a generation of Americans that grew up believing that the world was theirs.
The Alex P. Keaton Syndrome
Do you remember the sitcom Family Ties in the 80’s? It was the story of an upper middle class family, the Keatons, Elyse & Michael(Meredith Baxter-Birney & Michael Gross) liberal ex-hippie parents, typical teen daughter Mallory(Justine Bateman) and their conservative Republican son Alex P.(Michael J. Fox). Alex was consumed with making money and often appeared in suit and tie. He looked down on his liberal, touchy-feely parents and boy crazy sister focusing his attentions on money and affluence. Alex represents the prototype of the young American global business entrepreneurs we see today. Due to the diligent frugality and focus on education of their parents, “Generation X”(Born 1960 to 1980) enjoys a comfortable lifestyle and have come to take for granted the assumption that their children will follow in their footsteps. It is their legacy.
The Reagan Era
The paradigm shift began with Ronald Reagan who changed the social dynamic of America more than any other president had since Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the New Deal in 1933. In the midst of recession and the country’s increasing distrust in government solutions Reagan pulled the country’s view toward a smaller, supposedly more accountable government. America was ready for a change. We had just lost the Vietnam war, the fuel crisis was in full swing and we were humiliated by the small country of Iran that was holding our diplomats hostage. The détante negotiations had failed and we were back to the drawing board with the Soviets breathing down our necks. We were tired and scared.
Ronald Reagan took office with the confident looks and eloquent speech of a seasoned actor. He also entered office with his theory of supply side economics better known as “Trickle Down Economics” or “Reaganomics”. It adheres to the premise that a reduction of government regulations, government spending on social programs and capital gains taxes would stimulate growth in private enterprise and thereby “trickle down” to the American public. It did work to some extent but only for those fortunate enough to find themselves in the upper tiers of management or in executive positions. American labor, the backbone of our economy, suffered and has really never regained it’s rightful honor or dignity. With the reigns of government regulation removed companies found themselves free to explore virgin territories in the areas of labor exploitation and corporate restructuring. Unions became increasingly ineffective under Reagan after he fired 13,000 striking air traffic controllers(PATCO) effectively destroying their union. He then restructured the National Labor Relations Board(NLRB) with anti-union appointees who had the job of overseeing union elections and labor management agreements. During the Reagan era, with the lack of government oversight and regulation, companies found it was cheaper to import foreign steel than to manufacture it in the U.S. which led to the demise of domestic steel production. As other industries followed suit the combined effect snowballed into the eventual deindustrialization of the U.S. and the further devaluation of the American labor force. While corporate profits soared and upper middle class Americans enjoyed the fruits of investment windfalls the lower middle class and the poor saw no advantage from the Reagan administration. Under Ronald Reagan social services such as education, job training, the school lunch program and mental health programs were cut drastically as the national debt grew from 1-trillion to 3.5 trillion.
NAFTA & GATT
When Bill Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement aka NAFTA and the General Agreement on Trade & Tariffs aka GATT in 1993 it was not only the straw that broke the camel’s back but the disease that drove the camel into extinction. In 1993 we saw the beginning of the end of the life we all had come to know and love. It was the end of the American dream for many. The middle class waved bye-bye to the jobs it had staked it’s future on and hello to lower wages, increased work loads and unfair management demands. The hard won fair labor practices that were put in place in the late 1930’s for whom some gave their lives, were now all for naught. Corporations were now giving the American labor pool something to cry about while NAFTA & GATT(Later known as the World Trade Organization) served as virtual ear muffs in the wake of that cry.
Did your mother ever tell you, “When one door closes another one opens.”? The same can be said of the changing face of American enterprise and labor under NAFTA & GATT in relation to economic globalization. While American labor was being destroyed by the cheap, easily accessible labor pools of China and India the populations in those countries were, in turn, being pulled out of abject poverty. If you can think of the American standard of living as a full beaker of water prior to NAFTA & GATT and imagine the standards of living of the BRICs(Brazil, Russia, India & China) as a formerly empty beaker you might see NAFTA & GATT as a newly introduced connecting tube at the bottom. As we all know water seeks it’s own level. The American standard of living took a devastating blow under NAFTA & GATT from which it is unlikely to recover anytime in the near future.
The Techno Revolution
Just as the industrial revolution transformed America from an agricultural society to an industrial powerhouse at the beginning of the 20th century, the global economy has now redistributed that structure overseas and in doing so reduced the job market to a smaller more tech-savvy pool of viable wage earning opportunities. As America deindustrialized in the 1980’s, the job opportunities for those without a college education and techno skills declined as the technologically driven global economy rapidly began to take hold. Sadly, the techno-revolution has taken the American labor force by surprise as a failing national public educational system has produced an increased number of people without the basic skill sets necessary to compete in a techno-knowledge based job market.
For those techno-innovators commonly referred to as “geeks”, the world’s IT transition and newly emerging global market place has yielded an economic windfall. People like Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates and more recently Mark Zukerberg whose billion dollar dynasties were born in their college dorm rooms and parent’s garages now find themselves at the pinnacle of America’s high income group. Additionally, a huge window of investment opportunity has been opened to a new generation of entrepreneurial investors and hedge fund managers many of which are members of the same high income group of their techno-geek counterparts.
The American Nouveau Riche: Men Without A Country
Davos, Switzerland, the site of the World Economic Forum(WEF), is the largest gathering of elite high income earners in the world. Each year in January Davos plays host to the world’s top business, political, educational, technological and social leaders in an attempt to address global economic, health and social agendas thereby “improving the state of the world”. As far as improving the state of the world, I really doubt there is much of that going on. What the WEF does is give the 1% of the world’s wealthiest citizens a chance to get together and talk about what they think the rest of us are up to and where they might direct us in the future. It also gives them a chance to rub elbows with the world’s celebrities, which I’m sure they consider curiosities. If there was ever a place to launch a conspiracy theory Davos might be the place to start. It gives the new wave of investment tycoons and the international geek squad a convention in which to network. It’s not as though they don’t already have business relationships but Davos gives them a chance to meet and get cozy among their kinsmen. Globalization has created an international peer group that has more in common with each other than they do with most of the citizens of their respective countries. To some, the assertion, “I am an American.” has relevance only in denoting the country of one’s birth devoid of the allegiance or responsibility that it once held for previous generations. The loyalty of America’s global business community now resides with their multinational investors and business associates.
A Government Solution, Or Not
The U.S. government’s involvement in America’s well being took a dive starting with the Reagan administration’s government deregulation and union busting campaigns. Bill Clinton opened the gates to cheap foreign labor with the signing of NAFTA and GATT and George Bush rushed through that gate and at the same time plundered the American economy with a needless and costly war. George Bush started the debt trend with the laissez-faire attitude of a spoiled rich kid with a blank check. Unfortunately he was also a dumb spoiled rich kid who fell victim to sycophant relationships with his predatory advisors. In 2008 the country elected a progressive thinking constitutional law professor from Chicago. Unfortunately his African-American heritage brought forth a hibernating abhorrent racism that had not reared it’s ugly head in this country since the days of Dr. Martin Luther King. The election of Barack Obama also unleashed a rabid herd of Republicans with the single minded mission to discredit and unseat him. To make matters worse in 2010 the Republican Tea Party caucus took control of the congress blocking any and all attempts by the Obama administration to aid the already crippled economy. Additionally, the Tea Party began to wage war on women, immigrants, native Americans, teachers, civil servants and anyone that they deemed a threat to their plutonic agenda. As a result of the Tea Party caucus the government is gridlocked and drowning in a sea of it’s own stupidity. The congress can’t even pass the Violence Against Women Act, a law of such basic moral and social principle that it should, by it’s very nomenclature, garner a vigorous bipartisan advocacy. With this in mind, it is unlikely that the government will be able to agree on a constructive plan to save the economy or to help soften the adverse effects of the changed global employment dynamic on the American people. A governmental solution to stop or at least arrest America’s decline does not seem attainable anytime in the near future.
Thoughts For The Future
Alas, we are human; we are greedy; we are selfish; we are opinionated and with amenities we become apathetic. It seems that as long as a person can drive the car into the garage after work and have the door close behind them they really don’t care what happens outside that door. Maybe after a 12-hour work day with a 2-hour commute we’re too tired to care. We scan the newspaper without reading the whole article. We read blurbs of news on our iPhones or watch prefab news blips on TV. We fall victim to memes and opinionated talk show rhetoric. We decide what political group we will vote with, if in fact, we vote at all. We feel the effects of societal and economic changes but shrug them off and continue to multitask in a world where speed is of the essence. The question is, what catastrophic event will pull the American collective consciousness together? Will it be a great war like WW-2? Will it be an economic collapse like the Great Depression? Perhaps it will be an ecological disaster considering our insatiable appetite for consumption. It is a sad concept but, as history and human nature have exhibited, we are innately reactive and do not possess the characteristics as a nation for preemptive protections for our elevated standard of living.
But wait! Conceivably there could already a plan in progress. Perhaps under the cloak of affluence and high net worth there exists a small group of young patriotic American entrepreneurs of prodigious business and technological virtuosity who are formulating a plan that will save the economy and at the same time regenerate the job market. Initially, this privately funded initiative’s focus would be centered around the rebuilding of America’s infrastructure akin to a privately funded WPA. Not only would this enterprise fund and support the construction of roads and public buildings but would additionally serve to restructure the national public education system through a series of endowments focused on knowledge based job/career training in technology as well as skilled trades. As a guard against avarice these benevolent founders would agree that as their ambitious enterprise becomes self-sufficient they would recoup only those resources which they had initially invested. Ancillary funds created by the initiative would be distributed to grassroots arts projects employing architects, musicians, actors, writers, teachers and those dedicated to the fine arts in order to ensure the legacy of America’s aestheticism. Crazy you say! It may have started on a snowy backstreet in Davos, Switzerland in a nondescript brick building with a stately room that contains a 100-year old fireplace of the finest Italian marble. The room is adorned with massive oriental rugs and velvet drapes while floor to ceiling bookcases line the walls with some of the world’s rarest volumes. In the center of the room is an ornate 16-foot mahogany table lined on both sides with leather upholstered arm chairs. From the head of that table comes a resounding voice speaking in an ancient language; an archaic statement with a modern modification, “Civis Americanus sum!”
The American Stock Exchange
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