The Imminence of Converging Catastrophes
There is an article that has just come out that I consider required reading. It is by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and it’s called The Economic Consequences of Mr. Bush in the newest issue of Vanity Fair. (http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2007/12/bush200712)
In the economic sphere, let me paraphrase Mr. Stiglitz. We are currently looking at the following dangers: a avalanche of mortgage defaults, during which it is estimated that 1.7 million Americans will lose their homes in the coming year. This crisis was driven by greed and irresponsibility on the part of predatory lenders, a willfully ignorant populace, and an administration that stood by and did nothing.
We have an $850 billion trade deficit and we are going to depend on other countries, particularly
We have a tax code obscenely slanted in favor of the wealthy. The Bush administration came into office with an almost $2.2 trillion surplus, but rather than using it to upgrade education or investing in the Social Security fund, this administration converted the surplus into tax cuts for the rich. To quote Mr. Stiglitz: “The first major economic initiative pursued by the president was a massive tax cut for the rich, enacted in June of 2001. Those with incomes over a million got a tax cut of $18,000—more than 30 times larger than the cut received by the average American. The inequities were compounded by a second tax cut, in 2003, this one skewed even more heavily toward the rich. Together these tax cuts, when fully implemented and if made permanent, mean that in 2012 the average reduction for an American in the bottom 20 percent will be a scant $45, while those with incomes of more than $1 million will see their tax bills reduced by an average of $162,000.”
We have a currency that is rapidly approaching such fragility that international trade is veering towards the euro as the medium of international barter. The dollar has lost 40% of its value since 2001. Because this country imports 80% of its goods, this translates into a frightening rate of inflation. The consequence is financial fear on the part of middle class families who simply stop spending, and that almost always results in a crippling recession. In just the past 18 months, bankruptcies have soared 60%.
In the sphere of foreign policy, we have, of course, the cynicism, immorality and tragedy of the
In the sphere of civil rights, we have watched the erosion of our national pride and ethic with warrantless searches and electronic eavesdropping, and we now know that most of our “terrorist” prisoners were innocent bystanders who are now wasting away in unspeakable prison conditions, with no charges leveled against them. Our own Department of Justice is cringing with shame as we break every international rule of decency. Again, this did not happen without our permission.
In the area of energy, we have an administration that is so beholden to major oil corporations and their political financing, that the development of alternative sources of fuel has been easily set back a generation. We created the atomic bomb in a few years, we put humans on the moon in a decade, and yet we won’t embark on the proven technologies that can wean us from oil within the next 15 years. We are woefully behind on this effort and we need an enlightened leadership to embark on the equivalent of the Manhattan Project or the Apollo Project. We know we can do it, but our current political leadership is too heavily invested financially and politically in the status quo. We have given our permission for this unspeakable circumstance.
In the area of the environment, we now have irrefutable evidence of the consequences of human-caused climate change and global warming. The Center for American Progess reports that “2,500 scientific expert reviewers, 800 contributing authors, and 450 lead authors representing 130 countries warn that ALL countries will be affected by climate change if carbon emissions continue to spiral. By 2100, global average surface temperatures could rise by between 1.1 and 6.4 degrees celsius, and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could lead to an eventual rise in sea levels of up to 1.40 meters.”
But forget oil. Forget coal. We need to understand that WATER is going to be the most valuable substance on the face of the planet. The increased desertification of land, unbridled deforestation, melting freshwater icecaps converting to salt water, extinction of species, and privatization of water resources are the most dangerous phenomena facing the world’s populations. Consequently, we can expect that the environmental refugee movements of these populations will make illegal economic immigration seem trivial by comparison.
Perhaps one of the most dangerous and irresponsible neglects of the Bush Administration is its willful disdain and disregard for science. We see diminishing support for basic research in health and energy. New pandemics that are afflicting poor populations in developing countries will eventually spill over into the industrialized nations. Right wing political power and its short-range thinking have resulted in the dumbing down of our national intellect. We are actually still arguing about the validity of evolution! The most powerful nation in the world has abandoned critical thinking and scientific vision and the reason is that, for the most part, our citizenry has left the thinking to the ideological idiots in the White House, in the Congress and on the school boards. We have engaged in collusion by our passivity.
Finally, we seem in this country to have forgotten our founding precepts as embodied in the Constitution and its wise amendments, and the Bill of Rights. Remarkable, inspiring and humane documents that remind us that we need to care for each other. If we abandon the middle class, the whole society collapses. If we ignore the underclass, the result will be civil chaos resulting in crime waves unimagined in the past.
What can we do? Yes, we can convert to hybrid cars. Yes, we can switch to energy efficient light bulbs. Yes, we can stop buying bottled water. But what we really need to do is clean out the stables. Our problems are fixable. This is the only planet we’ve got, and in an economic sense, there is only one Market, and it’s global.
It’s tempting to take refuge in isolationism, but that is a refuge that doesn’t exist. What happens in
It’s time to become citizens again. We must vote with the future of our kids in mind. We must make noise. We must be vigilant against religious fundamentalism, particularly at home. We must be skeptical of leaders who have everything to gain from their cynical promotion of the fear that keeps us quiet and passive.
I know that it’s very easy to blame everything on the current Administration and 9/11. But we’ve got to realize that we all share the blame. Our comfortable lives are in danger but we put them there. Giving up our power to the bureaucrats and their financiers is what got us here. Let’s take back the power, clean out the stables and then let us get back to and vote for the fundamental values that have made our country so admired in the past. This means voting with our conscience, civic activism, and abandoning the passive comfort of our nests. Let’s do it.
M. Carlota Baca, Ph.D.