America now has
• the highest poverty rate, both generally and for children;Our politicians are constantly invoking America’s superiority and exceptionalism. True, the data is piling up to confirm that we’re Number One, but in exactly the way we don’t want to be—at the bottom.
• the greatest inequality of incomes;
• the lowest social mobility;
• the lowest score on the UN’s index of “material well-being of children”;
• the worst score on the UN’s Gender Inequality Index;
• the highest expenditure on health care as a percentage of GDP, yet all this money accompanied by the highest infant mortality rate, the highest prevalence of mental health problems, the highest obesity rate, the highest percentage of people going without health care due to cost, the highest consumption of antidepressants per capita, and the shortest life expectancy at birth;
• the next-to-lowest score for student performance in math and middling performance in science and reading;
• the highest homicide rate;
• the largest prison population in absolute terms and per capita;
• the highest carbon dioxide emissions and the highest water consumption per capita;
• the lowest score on Yale’s Environmental Performance Index (except for Belgium) and the largest ecological footprint per capita (except for Denmark);
• the lowest spending on international development and humanitarian assistance as a percentage of national income (except for Japan and Italy);
• the highest military spending both in total and as a percentage of GDP; and
• the largest international arms sales.
The American political system is in deep trouble for another reason—it is moving from democracy to plutocracy and corporatocracy, supported by the ascendancy of market fundamentalism and a strident antiregulation, antigovernment, antitax ideology. The hard truth is that our political system today is simply incapable of meeting the great challenges described here. What we have is third-rate governance at a time when the challenges we face require first-rate governance.
America thus confronts a daunting array of challenges in the maintenance of our people’s well-being, in the conduct of our international affairs, in the management of our planet’s natural assets, and in the workings of our politics. Taken together, these challenges place in grave peril much that we hold dear.
The America we must seek for our children and grandchildren is not the America we have today. If we are going to change things for the better, we must first understand the forces that led us to this sea of troubles. When big problems emerge across the entire spectrum of national life, it cannot be due to small reasons. We have encompassing problems because of fundamental flaws in our economic and political system. By understanding these flaws, we can end them and move forward in a very different direction.
Economic growth may be the world’s secular religion, but for much of the world it is a god that is failing—underperforming for most of the world’s people and, for those in affluent societies, now creating more problems than it is solving. The never-ending drive to grow the overall U.S. economy undermines families and communities; it is leading us to environmental calamity; it fuels a ruthless international search for energy and other resources; it fails at generating the needed jobs; and it rests on a manufactured consumerism that is not meeting our deepest human needs.
Americans are substituting growth and consumption for dealing with the real issues—for doing the things that would make us, and the country, better off. Psychologists have pointed out, for example, that while economic output per person in the United States has risen sharply in recent decades, there has been no increase in life satisfaction, and levels of distrust and depression have increased substantially. We have entered the realm of what ecological economist Herman Daly calls “uneconomic growth.” Environmentally, we see a world in which growth has brought us to a situation where more of the same will quite literally ruin the planet. Politically, the growth imperative is a big part of how we the people are controlled: the necessity for growth gives the real power to those who have the finance and technology to deliver it.
James Gustave Speth in Orion. Here*****The following transformations hold the key to moving to a new political economy. Consider each as a transition from today to tomorrow.
• Economic growth: from growth fetish to post-growth society, from mere GDP growth to growth in human welfare and democratically determined priorities.
• The market: from near laissez-faire to powerful market governance in the public interest.
• The corporation: from shareholder primacy to stakeholder primacy, from one ownership and motivation model to new business models and the democratization of capital.
• Money and finance: from Wall Street to Main Street, from money created through bank debt to money created by government.
• Social conditions: from economic insecurity to security, from vast inequities to fundamental fairness.
• Indicators: from GDP (“grossly distorted picture”) to accurate measures of social and environmental health and quality of life.
• Consumerism: from consumerism and affluenza to sufficiency and mindful consumption, from more to enough.
• Communities: from runaway enterprise and throwaway communities to vital local economies, from social rootlessness to rootedness and solidarity.
• Dominant cultural values: from having to being, from getting to giving, from richer to better, from separate to connected, from apart from nature to part of nature, from transcendent to interdependent, from today to tomorrow.
• Politics: from weak democracy to strong, from creeping corporatocracy and plutocracy to true popular sovereignty.
• Foreign policy and the military: from American exceptionalism to America as a normal nation, from hard power to soft, from military prowess to real security.