A century hence, when historians come to write the history of the current age (assuming our species survives so long), they will, I believe, be puzzled as to why the country was run in ways that were known to be unproductive, crimped the spirits of those doing the work, and frustrated those for whom the work was being done. Why, they will wonder, did this continue for so long on such a wide scale?
One school of historians may focus on the pervasive feeling of complacency. Another may marvel at the superficiality of popular proposals to deal with it. Still others may dwell on the sense of resignation felt by most of those involved—the feeling that no matter what is done, it won’t make any difference.
A universal theme however is certain to be the obscene level of greed that was evident in the way the nation’s affairs were conducted.
These future historians will wonder at a society that tolerated what amounted to a government-supported gambling casino known as the financial sector, which destroyed the savings of tens of millions of people and brought the international banking system to the brink of collapse, while allowing those responsible to walk away with hundred-million-dollar fortunes.
Historians will marvel at the extraordinary escalation in executive pay from 24 times worker pay in 1965 to 275 times worker pay in 2007, at a time when the rate of return on assets of US companies declined by 75% and the life expectancy of a firm in the Fortune declined from 75 years to less than 15 years. They will struggle to understand what possible moral or economic logic could have permitted an 11 times increment in executive compensation, when corporate performance was in such steep decline. The astonishment will be even greater when they discover that established firms were producing zero net jobs and workers’ salaries remained flat during the same period, when health, education and energy costs were rising sharply. 1/
Perhaps only minor footnote will be devoted to wondering why the billionaire owners of the NFL were willing jeopardize the most popular sporting franchise in the country in order to squeeze more money from the players.
The greatest puzzlement will undoubtedly concern the actions taken to undermine even further the calamitous state of health and education at a time when it was obvious that the economic future of country obviously depended on having a healthy and well-educated population.
In health, at a time when more money per person is spent on health care in the United States than in any other nation in the world, and US life expectancy is 42nd in the world, well behind most rich nations, after Chile (35th) and, for heavens sakes, even Cuba (37th), they will puzzle why political energy was being spent on issues like cutting back on nutritional assistance for low birth weight infants.
In education, when the US didn’t even rank in the top 30 countries in the world in education status, and its top state (Massachusetts) couldn’t equal the top ten countries in the world, they will struggle to understand why so much of the political energy and attention was being spent in reducing meager teacher salaries and benefits even further.
Perhaps if we are lucky, their attention may fall on the following chart that summarizes the political calculus of the era. It comes from dailykos.com and puts the fiscal issues in simple, visual terms. On the left they will see the “shared sacrifices” and “painful cuts” that are said to be needed to get the fiscal house in order. On the right, they will see why these cuts were perceived as “necessary.”
If the historian of 2111 will be puzzled by such a chart, what is the citizen of today to make of it? In the face of such a chart, puzzlement is unlikely to be one of them. Frustration, yes. Anger perhaps. If we are lucky, we will remain calm and clear-minded and join together with others, with a firm determination to do something about this national calamity.
In going forward, it will be good to bear in mind some thoughts from a recent post by HelenFinidori, a cosmopolitan citizen of the world who now lives in Australia:
“A vision, a purpose and a good compass have more chances of getting us where we want to go. Clarity of mind, understanding where and how we can apply leverage, listening to our instincts and intuitions, trusting each other, learning, collaborating, a strive for wisdom, less fear of the unknown… All this can help us sort out relevant patterns as they arise and make the right decisions. We have the capacity and power to influence our own lives and environments positively, to co-create and carry ourselves in the emergence of our own future individually and collectively. It’s in our grasp. We can do it!”
1/ Sources: Deloitte’s Center for the Edge: The Shift Index; The Kauffman Foundation.