Following decades of increased life expectancy rates, Americans have been dying earlier for three consecutive years since 2014, turning the elusive quest for the ‘American Dream’ into a real-life nightmare for many. Corporate America must accept some portion of the blame for the looming disaster.
Something is killing Americans and researchers have yet to find the culprit. But we can risk some intuitive guesses.
According to researchers from the Center on Society and Health, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, American life expectancy has not kept pace with that of other wealthy countries and is now in fact decreasing.
The National Center for Health Statistics reported that life expectancy in the United States peaked (78.9 years) in 2014 and subsequently dropped for 3 consecutive years, hitting 78.6 years in 2017. The decrease was most significant among men (0.4 years) than women (0.2 years) and happened across racial-ethnic lines: between 2014 and 2016, life expectancy decreased among non-Hispanic white populations (from 78.8 to 78.5 years), non-Hispanic black populations (from 75.3 years to 74.8 years), and Hispanic populations (82.1 to 81.8 years).
“By 2014, midlife mortality was increasing across all racial groups, caused by drug overdoses, alcohol abuse, suicides, and a diverse list of organ system diseases,” wrote researchers Steven H. Woolf and Heidi Schoomaker in a study that appears in the latest issue of the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association.
At the very beginning of the report, Woolf and Schoomaker reveal that the geographical area with the largest relative increases occurred “in the Ohio Valley and New England.”
“The implications for public health and the economy are substantial,” they added, “making it vital to understand the underlying causes.”
Incidentally, it would be difficult for any observer of the U.S. political scene to read that passage without immediately connecting it to the 2016 presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Taking advantage of the deep industrial decline that has long plagued the Ohio Valley, made up of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky, Trump successfully tapped into a very real social illness, at least partially connected to economic stagnation, which helped propel him into the White House.
Significantly, thirty-seven states witnessed significant jumps in midlife mortality in the years leading up to 2017. As the researchers pointed out, however, the trend was concentrated in certain states, many of which, for example in New England, did not support Trump in 2016.
“Between 2010 and 2017, the largest relative increases in mortality occurred in New England (New Hampshire, 23.3%; Maine, 20.7%; Vermont, 19.9%, Massachusetts 12.1%) and the Ohio Valley (West Virginia, 23.0%; Ohio, 21.6%; Indiana, 14.8%; Kentucky, 14.7%), as well as in New Mexico (17.5%), South Dakota (15.5%), Pennsylvania (14.4%), North Dakota (12.7%), Alaska (12.0%), and Maryland (11.0%). In contrast, the nation’s most populous states (California, Texas, and New York) experienced relatively small increases in midlife mortality.
Eight of the 10 states with the highest number of excess deaths were in the industrial Midwest or Appalachia, whereas rural US counties experienced greater increases in midlife mortality than did urban counties.
A tragic irony of the study suggests that greater access to healthcare, notably among the more affluent white population, actually correlates to an increase in higher mortality rates. The reason is connected to the out-of-control prescription of opioid drugs to combat pain and depression.
“The sharp increase in overdose deaths that began in the 1990s primarily affected white populations and came in 3 waves,” the report explained: (1) the introduction of OxyContin in 1996 and overuse of prescription opioids, followed by (2) increased heroin use, often by patients who had become addicted to prescription opioids, and (3) the subsequent emergence of potent synthetic opioids (eg, fentanyl analogues)—the latter triggering a large post-2013 increase in overdose deaths.
“That white populations first experienced a larger increase in overdose deaths than nonwhite populations may reflect their greater access to health care (and thus prescription drugs).”
In September, Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, reached a tentative settlement with 23 states and more than 2,000 cities and counties that sued the company, owned by the Sackler family, over its role in the opioid crisis
Other factors also helped to drive up the U.S. mortality rate, including alcoholic liver disease and suicides, 85% of which occurred with a firearm or other method.
The United States spends more on health care than any other country, yet its overall health report card fares worse than those of other wealthy countries. Americans experience higher rates of illness and injury and die earlier than people in other high-income nations.
Researchers were perplexed but not surprised by the data as there existed clear signs back in the 1980s that the United States was heading for a cliff as far as longevity rates go.
So what is it that’s claiming the life of Americans, many at the prime of their life, at a faster pace than in the past? The reality is that it is likely to be an accumulation of negative factors that are finally beginning to take a toll. For example, apart from the opioid crisis, there has also been an almost total collapse of union representation across Corporate America, which has essentially crushed any form of workplace democracy. This author, a former member of three worker unions, witnessed this egregious abuse of corporate power firsthand, which is apparent by the total stagnation of wages for many decades.
Today’s real average wage – that is, after accounting for inflation – has about the same purchasing power it did about half a century ago. Meanwhile, in the majority of cases, increases in salary have a marked tendency to go to the highest-paid tier of executives.
In a report by Pew Research, “real terms average hourly earnings peaked more than 45 years ago: The $4.03-an-hour rate recorded in January 1973 had the same purchasing power that $23.68 would today.”
One needs only consider the growing mountain of tuition debt now consuming the paychecks of many university graduates, many of whom have yet to land their dream 6-figure job from their relatively worthless liberal education, to better understand the quiet desperation that exists across the country.
At the same time, the exponential rise in the use of social media, which has been proven to trigger depression and loneliness in users, also deserves serious consideration. What society is experiencing with its massive online presence is a total overhaul as to the way human beings relate to each other. Presently, it would be very difficult to argue that the changes have been positive; in fact, they seem to be contributing to the early demise of millions of Americans in the prime of life.
Taken together, abusive labor practices that ignores workplace democracy, the epidemic of opioid usage, compounded by the anti-social features of ‘social media’ suggests a perfect storm of factors precipitating the rise of early deaths in the United States. Since all of these areas fall in one way or another under the control of corporate power, this powerful agency must find ways to help address the problem. The future success of America depends upon it.
The American people have wasted the last three years. If you don’t know what I am talking about, stick with me, because you will definitely get my point by the end of this article. Three years ago, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in one of the greatest election upsets in American history. Many conservatives have used the word “reprieve” to describe what happened, but the truth is that it was actually an opportunity. It was an opportunity for this nation to move in a fundamentally different direction culturally, but it would be up to the American people to decide if that would actually happen or not. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. Instead, just about every form of evil that you can possibly imagine is running rampant in our society, and things are getting worse with each passing day. No matter who wins the next presidential election, and no matter who controls Congress, there is no future for our country if we stay on the path that we are currently on. Our culture is steadily swirling down the toilet, and most Americans don’t seem to care.
On Monday, we witnessed a watershed cultural moment that perfectly illustrates what I am talking about.
For many years, Chick-Fil-A was one of the few major corporations in America that was openly resisting the rising forces of political correctness. They literally became a heroic counter-cultural symbol for many of us, because they were willing to take a bold stand for the truth even as they endured endless attacks from rabid politically correct militants.
But now Chick-Fil-A has unconditionally surrendered to the politically correct crowd. On Monday, the company announced that they would no longer be donating money to The Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. And CNBC is reporting that this decision was made because both of those organizations “have a history of opposing same-sex marriage”…
Chick-Fil-A said on Monday that it has stopped funding two Christian charities after coming under fire in recent weeks from LGBTQ activists.
The fast-food chain’s foundation has donated millions of dollars to The Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Both organizations have a history of opposing same-sex marriage.
Has our society gone so far down the toilet that it is now considered to be “evil” to give money to The Salvation Army?
Are you kidding me?
Look, the truth is that the Salvation Army is not even remotely a radical organization, and yet the politically correct crowd all over America is calling on everyone to boycott it.
Is this really where our society is heading?
Needless to say, a lot of conservatives were absolutely outraged by Chick-Fil-A’s decision. For example, this is what Allie Beth Stuckey had to say about it on Twitter…
Really @ChickfilA? This is the direction you want to go? You’ve garnered the unconditional support of millions not in spite of but BECAUSE OF your stances, which is the sole reason you’re successful. Idiocy. Bye!
I totally agree with her.
I will no longer be eating at Chick-Fil-A either, and I hope that millions of other outraged Americans will make the same decision.
Sadly, virtually every single day there are more examples in the news of the extreme moral decay that is eating away at the fabric of our society like a very aggressive form of cancer.
And we can see examples of this all around us.
For instance, a business owner in Denver was recently fined for refusing to pick up the poop and discarded needles that drug addicts were continually leaving in front of his store…
One businessman in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood is being fined by the city for his refusal to pick up human waste. He believes the problem goes deeper than just what’s happening on the sidewalk outside his business.
Jawaid Bazyar has seen it all out side of his business near Curtis St. and 24th in Denver’s Five Points Neighborhood.
“There’s food, trash, drug deals. In the alley, we get the defecation, drug needles,” he told CBS’s Dominic Garcia.
In the past, many Americans tended to look down upon “third world countries”, but the truth is that we are literally becoming a third world country.
Freddie lives in a hole in Oakland. The middle-aged, longtime heroin addict has no running water, electricity or a bathroom. He does have six pigeons and a feral cat that keep guard over his belongings and hiss at strangers who get too close. He sleeps on a bed of trash and his open-air home is a hodgepodge of reminders that Freddie is not OK. He spends most days cleaning up the sidewalk opposite his home. On days when the drugs really kick in, he can be seen sweeping dirt from one side of a dirt lot to the other.
There are a lot of Freddies in Oakland — people who are down on their luck or pushed out of their homes and struggling with mental illness who find it easier to turn to drugs than face reality.
And this is actually happening in one of the most prosperous areas of the entire country.
In fact, no city in America has prospered more during the Internet era than San Francisco, and it has literally become a cesspool of human degradation. If you can believe it, during the first 10 months of this year there have been 25,084 official complaints about feces in the streets…
The City of San Francisco’s Department of Public Works responded to tens of thousands of “human or animal waste” reports in the first 10 months of 2019, according to the city data.
The department responded to 25,084 such cases from January through October of this year, according to the city’s 311 data portal.
I find it highly ironic that the city at the epicenter of America’s tech boom is literally being used as a toilet.
Sadly, these examples from Denver, Oakland and San Francisco are not even worth comparing to the absolutely disgusting cesspools of filth and corruption that the halls of power in Washington and New York have become.
Our nation is speeding toward a date with destiny, and the road that we are on only leads to one destination.
Last month I wrote an article entitled “The Book Is About To Close On The Late Great United States Of America”, and in that article I tried to get people to understand how late the hour has become.
We are running out of time, and yet our society continues to refuse to change course.
In the end, we will reap what we have sown, and nobody will be able to argue that we do not deserve our fate.
About the Author: I am a voice crying out for change in a society that generally seems content to stay asleep. My name is Michael Snyder and I am the publisher of The Economic Collapse Blog, End Of The American Dream and The Most Important News, and the articles that I publish on those sites are republished on dozens of other prominent websites all over the globe. I have written four books that are available on Amazon.com including The Beginning Of The End, Get Prepared Now, and Living A Life That Really Matters. (#CommissionsEarned) By purchasing those books you help to support my work. I always freely and happily allow others to republish my articles on their own websites, but due to government regulations I need those that republish my articles to include this “About the Author” section with each article. In order to comply with those government regulations, I need to tell you that the controversial opinions in this article are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the websites where my work is republished. This article may contain opinions on political matters, but it is not intended to promote the candidacy of any particular political candidate. The material contained in this article is for general information purposes only, and readers should consult licensed professionals before making any legal, business, financial or health decisions. Those responding to this article by making comments are solely responsible for their viewpoints, and those viewpoints do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of Michael Snyder or the operators of the websites where my work is republished. I encourage you to follow me on social media on Facebook and Twitter, and any way that you can share these articles with others is a great help.
MY POLITICAL CONSIDERATIONS TODAY
One of the biggest problems in society at the moment seems to be the lack of correct cognitive models of the socioeconomic situation. I am on the internet quite a lot and read people’s comments about money, about billionaires, about poverty, about the failing social services, the benefit system, the failing NHS and very rarely do their ideas about these issues match mine. So I try to explain where some of the problems lie and it is difficult because we don’t even have the language to refer to correct cognitive tokens to talk about the correct relationships between things. Occasionally I attempt to describe some of the underlying issues to create a perspective that enables a different interpretation and understanding about some aspect of all this.
But broadly speaking we are struggling to coordinate our communication to make collective sense of various issues. A simple example would be that people complain that Tesco should pay their taxes as if Tesco is an immoral entity doing harm to the world. Tesco is a fine company and does a lot of good. But I can’t say that because, according to those people who interpret Tesco as doing evil, it puts me on the wrong side in their model of the world. Most people who simply think Tesco is great are generally thinking about it in limited terms and are supporting the economic model in which it exists. The thing about Tesco is it is the emergent manifestation of the underlying socioeconomic interpretations currently in existence in the collective mind of the people operating in the system. In other words Tesco is a successful and productive company in the current dynamics of how we operate. If there is something wrong – and there certainly is – then it is the mechanisms by which we are operating.
Noam Chomsky makes an important observation that many of the world’s most serious problems could be solved by simply abiding by the law. He doesn’t go on to make the point, but I will, that the significant issue is consistency. In other words it doesn’t matter what those laws are, what matters is that they are followed consistently. That way, if things aren’t working out then you can alter the laws. So if you have a plan you have to stick to it. Not ad infinitum but whilst you are enacting the plan you have to stick to it. If it isn’t working out then you don’t breach the plan and carry on because then, when things are not working, you don’t know if it is your breaching of the plans or the plans that are at fault. The approach of attempting to fix the situation by breaching the plans gives rise to that well known frustration that “it is one law for them and another law for us” scenario. Very often those breaking the law in high places perceive what they are doing which breaks the law as acting to prevent the strict adherence to the law creating a negative result. The problem with Tesco is we need more appropriate plans and laws.
So why did the Tories underfund the NHS? It strikes me as most interesting that the Tories did not need to underfund the NHS to achieve the plan to privatise the health service. In fact, it may be the very thing that scuppers their plans. And so it is ironic that their underfunding has at least highlighted that something is wrong in the minds of the population. Whilst the cognitive model of how the NHS operates is not understood by the general public then they perceive it as underfunding and it makes sense for people to agree it needs more funding. It probably doesn’t.
It is the restructuring of the NHS in line with the neoliberal cognitive model that is causing the majority of the problems we see. I will point out that I have just used the term “neoliberal” which is only just floating into the collective cognitive model enough that I can sometimes use it as a cognitive token without having to explain in detail what it is. Without the word “neoliberal” I would need to write an essay on neoliberalism before I could carry on. The restructuring of the NHS from a service provided by the collection of people it serves to a pyramid marketing system to incentivise people to work in the industry for profit in order to render a service we collectively desire is fundamentally self contradictory and cannot work. So, even without underfunding, the NHS would be in crisis because a lot of the money currently supplied from the ‘government’ is paid to independent corporations who are in it for the sole purpose of rendering a profit for shareholders.
Say the NHS transport costs 100 per annum then they put it out to tender and a company offers to provide the transport for 90 then the ‘NHS’ appears to be getting the same service for 10 less than it used to and this is understood to be more economically efficient. Then the private company needs to keep 10 for profit leaving 80 to pay for the transport. The private company is not being bad, these are simply the rules of the system. Now, in simple terms, you get 80% of the transport you once had for 90% of the cost. There are two simple ways that can be employed to render what looks like the same service. One is to not invest in the infrastructure by, for example, not servicing the ambulances as often or not purchasing new ones when they are needed, and the other is to pay the workers less for the same job. The private companies don’t mind because when the system needs investment they simply don’t tender for next year’s contract. They did some work and they gained some profit – that is what they are about. But the whole system begins to collapse.
The American insurance-based health care system costs about six times as much for the same product as the NHS. And it is not even provided for all the population. But for those that get it, the service is of a high quality akin to the service previously supplied by the NHS. The NHS has been restructured to fit the American model. Had the Tories not underfunded it we would see the same degradation but it would have been over a longer time frame. They, presumably with the corrupt disaster capitalism paradigm, perceived the mechanism of underfunding as accelerating the point at which the offer of insurance-based health care would appear to be a solution. They have run up against a very tight line whereby they may have alerted the public to the crime a little too early.
Jeremy Corbyn (as representing the grass roots comprehension and cognitive models) is the only politician to make it clear that, not only does he understand it is the structural changes that are the problem, but has confirmed this interpretation by pointing out that Labour will repeal the Health and Social Care Act 2012 because it is the initial and primary point at which the NHS was structurally reorientated to fit the American insurance based model. No amount of increased spending by government would fix the underlying problems that are being introduced under the neoliberal cognitive model of how things work. Obviously immediate benefits would be seen by injecting more cash but the long term disaster would simply be staved off in the short term. It is important to stave off the disaster but it is virtually ineffective with respect to solving the real problem.
We need to change the direction of politics in the UK.
Labour might not solve all our problems but they are turning the ship decisively from the imminent catastrophe and towards a serviceable future.
And whoever thought it was a good idea to ask politicians if they would press the Nuclear Button as a measure of whether we are safe in their hands when the consensus cognitive model is insane enough to interpret our survival as being dependent on the willingness to destroy the world?
Without a mass movement continually pushing and prodding for real change and holding politicians accountable—for their policies as well as their words—our neoliberal rulers assume that they can safely ignore the concerns and interests of ordinary people.
The waves of protests breaking out in country after country around the world beg the question: Why aren’t Americans rising up in peaceful protest like our neighbors? We live at the very heart of this neoliberal system that is force-feeding the systemic injustice and inequality of 19th century laissez-faire capitalism to the people of the 21st century. So we are subject to many of the same abuses that have fueled mass protest movements in other countries, including high rents, stagnant wages, cradle-to-grave debt, ever-rising economic inequality, privatized healthcare, a shredded social safety net, abysmal public transportation, systemic political corruption and endless war.
We also have a corrupt, racist billionaire as president, who Congress may soon impeach, but where are the masses outside the White House, banging pots and pans to drive Trump out? Why aren’t people crashing the offices of their congresspeople, demanding that they represent the people or resign? If none of these conditions has so far provoked a new American revolution, what will it take to trigger one?
In the 1960s and 1970s, the senseless Vietnam War provoked a serious, well-organized antiwar movement. But today the U.S.’s endless wars just rage on in the background of our lives, as the U.S. and its allies kill and mutilate men, women and children in distant countries, day after day, year after year. Our history has also witnessed inspiring mass movements for civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights, but these movements are much tamer today.
The Occupy Movement in 2011 came closest to challenging the entire neoliberal system. It awakened a new generation to the reality of government of, by, and for the corrupt 1%, and built a powerful basis for solidarity among the marginalized 99%. But Occupy lost momentum because it failed to transition from a rallying point and a decentralized, democratic forum to a cohesive movement that could impact the existing power structure.
The climate movement is starting to mobilize a new generation, and groups like School Strike for the Climate and Extinction Rebellion take direct aim at this destructive economic system that prioritizes corporate growth and profits over the very survival of life on Earth. But while climate protests have shut down parts of London and other cities around the world, the scale of climate protests in the U.S. does not yet match the urgency of the crisis.
So why is the American public so passive?
Americans pour their energy and hopes into electoral campaigns
Election campaigns in most countries last only a few months, with strict limits on financing and advertising to try to ensure fair elections. But Americans pour millions of hours and billions of dollars into multi-year election campaigns run by an ever-growing sector of the commercial advertising industry, which even awarded Barack Obama its “Marketer of the Year” award for 2008. (The other finalists were not John McCain or the Republicans but Apple, Nike and Coors beer.)
When U.S. elections are finally over, thousands of exhausted volunteers sweep up the bunting and go home, believing their work is done. While electoral politics should be a vehicle for change, this neoliberal model of corporate “center-right” and “center-left” politics ensures that congresspeople and presidents of both parties are primarily accountable to the ruling 1% who “pay to play.”
Former President Jimmy Carter has bluntly described what Americans euphemistically call “campaign finance” as a system of legalized bribery. Transparency International (TI) ranks the U.S. 22nd on its political corruption index, identifying it as more corrupt than any other wealthy, developed country.
Without a mass movement continually pushing and prodding for real change and holding politicians accountable—for their policies as well as their words—our neoliberal rulers assume that they can safely ignore the concerns and interests of ordinary people as they make the critical decisions that shape the world we live in. As Frederick Douglass observed in 1857, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.”
Millions of Americans have internalized the myth of the “American dream,” believing they have exceptional chances for social and economic mobility compared with their peers in other countries. If they aren’t successful, it must be their own fault—either they’re not smart enough or they don’t work hard enough.
The American Dream is not just elusive—it’s a complete fantasy. In reality, the U.S. has the greatest income inequality of any wealthy, developed country. Of the 39 developed countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), only South Africa and Costa Rica exceed the U.S.’s 18% poverty rate. The United States is an anomaly: a very wealthy country suffering from exceptional poverty. To make matters worse, children born into poor families in the U.S. are more likely to remain poor as adults than poor children in other wealthy countries. But the American dream ideology keeps people struggling and competing to improve their lives on a strictly individual basis, instead of demanding a fairer society and the healthcare, education and public services we all need and deserve.
The corporate media keeps Americans uninformed and docile
The U.S.’s corporate media system is also unique, both in its consolidated corporate ownership and in its limited news coverage, endlessly downsized newsrooms and narrow range of viewpoints. Its economics reporting reflects the interests of its corporate owners and advertisers; its domestic reporting and debate is strictly framed and limited by the prevailing rhetoric of Democratic and Republican leaders; its anemic foreign policy coverage is editorially dictated by the State Department and Pentagon.
This closed media system wraps the public in a cocoon of myths, euphemisms and propaganda to leave us exceptionally ignorant about our own country and the world we live in. Reporters Without Borders ranks the U.S. 48th out of 180 countries on its Press Freedom Index, once again making the U.S. an exceptional outlier among wealthy countries.
It’s true people can search for their own truth on social media to counter the corporate babble, but social media is itself a distraction. People spend countless hours on facebook, twitter, instagram and other platforms venting their anger and frustration without getting up off the couch to actually do something—except perhaps sign a petition. “Clicktivism” will not change the world.
Add to this the endless distractions of Hollywood, video games, sports and consumerism, and the exhaustion that comes with working several jobs to make ends meet. The resulting political passivity of Americans is not some strange accident of American culture but the intended product of a mutually reinforcing web of economic, political and media systems that keep the American public confused, distracted and convinced of our own powerlessness.
The political docility of the American public does not mean that Americans are happy with the way things are, and the unique challenges this induced docility poses for American political activists and organizers surely cannot be more daunting than the life-threatening repression faced by activists in Chile, Haiti or Iraq.
So how can we liberate ourselves from our assigned roles as passive spectators and mindless cheerleaders for a venal ruling class that is laughing all the way to the bank and through the halls of power as it grabs ever more concentrated wealth and power at our expense?
“How can we liberate ourselves from our assigned roles as passive spectators and mindless cheerleaders for a venal ruling class that is laughing all the way to the bank and through the halls of power as it grabs ever more concentrated wealth and power at our expense?”
Few expected a year ago that 2019 would be a year of global uprising against the neoliberal economic and political system that has dominated the world for forty years. Few predicted new revolutions in Chile or Iraq or Algeria. But popular uprisings have a way of confounding conventional wisdom.
The catalysts for each of these uprisings have also been surprising. The protests in Chile began over an increase in subway fares. In Lebanon, the spark was a proposed tax on WhatsApp and other social media accounts. Hikes in fuel tax triggered the yellow vest protests in France, while the ending of fuel subsidies was a catalyst in both Ecuador and Sudan.
The common factor in all these movements is the outrage of ordinary people at systems and laws that reward corruption, oligarchy and plutocracy at the expense of their own quality of life. In each country, these catalysts were the final straws that broke the camel’s back, but once people were in the street, protests quickly turned into more general uprisings demanding the resignation of leaders and governments.
They have the guns but we have the numbers
State repression and violence have only fueled greater popular demands for more fundamental change, and millions of protesters in country after country have remained committed to non-violence and peaceful protest – in stark contrast to the rampant violence of the right-wing coup in Bolivia
While these uprisings seem spontaneous, in every country where ordinary people have risen up in 2019, activists have been working for years to build the movements that eventually brought large numbers of people onto the streets and into the headlines.Sanders’ wildly successful first presidential campaign in 2016 pushed a new generation of American politicians to commit to real policy solutions to real problems instead of the vague promises and applause lines that serve as smokescreens for the corrupt agendas of neoliberal politicians like Trump and Biden.
Erica Chenoweth’s research on the history of nonviolent protest movements found that whenever at least 3.5% of a population have taken to the streets to demand political change, governments have been unable to resist their demands. Here in the U.S., Transparency International found that the number of Americans who see “direct action,” including street protests, as the antidote to our corrupt political system has risen from 17% to 25% since Trump took office, far more than Chenoweth’s 3.5%. Only 28% still see simply “voting for a clean candidate” as the answer. So maybe we are just waiting for the right catalyst to strike a chord with the American public.
In fact, the work of progressive activists in the U.S. is already upsetting the neoliberal status quo. Without the movement-building work of thousands of Americans, Bernie Sanders would still be a little-known Senator from Vermont, largely ignored by the corporate media and the Democratic Party. Sanders’ wildly successful first presidential campaign in 2016 pushed a new generation of American politicians to commit to real policy solutions to real problems instead of the vague promises and applause lines that serve as smokescreens for the corrupt agendas of neoliberal politicians like Trump and Biden.
We can’t predict exactly what catalyst will trigger a mass movement in the U.S. like the ones we are seeing overseas, but with more and more Americans, especially young people, demanding an alternative to a system that doesn’t serve their needs, the tinder for a revolutionary movement is everywhere. We just have to keep kicking up sparks until one catches fire.
November 15, 2019
International Man: There is a growing homeless crisis in liberal West Coast cities, including San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and many others. People living on the street are overrunning these cities.
Residents must deal with human feces, syringes, disease, and filth every day. In some areas, it’s worse than the dirtiest slums of Brazil, Kenya, and India.
How did this happen?
Doug Casey: Well, taking a long-term view, I see it as part of the continuing decline of Western civilization.
The West has always been distinguished relative to the rest of the world by its order, its cleanliness, its respect for property rights. These things are all going by the wayside. We were a middle class society with “bourgeois” values, essentially Boy Scout virtues. But these things are now held in contempt, even while the middle class is being squeezed. “Ground between the millstones of taxation and inflation,” as the phrase attributed to Lenin puts it.
Some members of the lower and middle classes are still moving up, but it’s easier to fall than to rise. Most of the homeless are whites who are headed down. We haven’t seen this since the 1930s.
This epidemic is concentrated in so-called sanctuary cities, which go out of their way to bring in people who are unwilling or unable to support themselves. But most of the newly minted “street people” aren’t migrants. They seem to mostly be failed ex-members of the middle class.
It’s quite novel to see people in camping tents on city sidewalks. It’s different from the occasional bum sleeping under newspapers on a park bench. A tent implies a measure of permanency. It stakes out a property right.
Let me pause over my use of the word “bum.”
I learned a few things when I went on a couple of adventures “riding the rails.” There were three classes of people you’d meet in and around the railyard, on the “wrong side of the tracks”: hobos, tramps, and bums. They were all “homeless people,” but that term wasn’t used. Hobos were people there for the lifestyle; often well-read, dropouts with wanderlust. Tramps were people down on their luck; they rode the rails to get someplace there might be work or where they had a friend. Bums were those with terminally bad habits: lazy, dirty, usually dishonest.
The distinction between hobos, tramps, and bums appears to have been lost. None of the new breed of street people are hobos, I promise you. They’re tramps at best, but mostly bums. But it’s now fashionable to call them “the homeless,” because the PC world likes euphemisms. Not so long ago, these people used to be called “derelicts” or “vagrants.”
Part of the Orwellian PC trend in language is that you can no longer call something what it is. You have to make up a softer and less accurate description of who or what they are. You’re not allowed to offend bums, derelicts, or vagrants. Even though they are, by their very nature, offensive.
Why is this happening? It’s no longer just the occasional lowlife just passing through, but whole communities of people who take over sections of cities and camp out on public sidewalks.
What’s caused that? The media says it’s because of alcohol, drugs, and mental problems. But as usual, the brain-dead and blow-dried media is wrong.
Where were these lowlifes before? And what’s drawn them out of the woodwork where they were apparently hiding? I question whether junkies and crazy people are the cause; I suspect they’re an effect.
In other words, it’s quite possible that the hard times that started in 2008 drove a lot of people, who were already psychologically unstable, into full-fledged psychosis. And caused others to take up alcohol and drugs as a way of hiding from an unpleasant reality.
On the largest scale, I blame it on government action. Which shocks most people, because they see the government as the solution, not the cause. They see a real or imagined problem, and they want the State, because it has a lot of power, to “do something.” In fact, the only way the State can solve a problem is by undoing things that it’s already done, not doing more.
Even though it’s said that we have all-time low unemployment, these are mostly minimum-wage jobs. And the numbers are further disguised by the fact a lot of people who’d like to work as something other than a fast-food clerk or a Walmart greeter are what are called “discouraged workers.” They’re not counted as unemployed if they’ve stopped looking for work. I suspect that very few of the street people are counted as unemployed.
International Man: Cities like San Francisco spend tens of millions of dollars each year trying to keep the streets clean to no avail. Within hours, freshly cleaned streets are again covered in filth. Many people seem to think the city needs to throw more money at the problem.
What do you think? How should they address the problem?
Doug Casey: Cleaning up after these people isn’t a solution. It’s cosmetic, at best.
What we have are thousands on the streets who produce nothing, and only consume. They survive on food stamps, various welfare programs, handouts, petty theft, and the like. In other words, they’re not an asset either to themselves or to society. They’re an active liability, and they’re actually encouraged by being allowed to group together on other people’s property.
Will cleaning up after them solve the problem? No, it aggravates it.
It’s now an epidemic. It started in 2008 when lots of middle-class people lost their houses. And oddly, the trend toward people living on the street has been growing over the last 10 years of artificial boom.
We’re going to have a very real bust very soon. The high levels of debt that we have today have allowed the whole country to live above its means. When the economy adjusts to lower levels of consumption, a new avalanche of people will lose their jobs, and they’ll have no savings to fall back on. However, their debts will remain and keep them from getting back up.
Not so long ago, Americans saved up and bought their cars for cash. Your car was a small asset, but it was an asset. Then came two-year, then three-year, five-year, and now seven-year financing. In fact, most now lease their cars, because they can’t afford to buy them, even with seven-year financing. The things have gone from being a small asset into a major liability. With simple pickup trucks selling for upwards of $50,000, many are going to lose their transportation. Then they can’t get to their job, can’t pay their rent or mortgage, and they’re out on the street. It’s easy to see how an ex-member of the middle class could become mentally unbalanced and start doing drugs.
People could lose houses they bought with mortgages they can’t afford but think they can because of today’s very low floating interest rates. Just like back in 2008 and 2009. Plus, real estate taxes keep going up—partly because local governments are in good measure responsible for supporting lowlifes forced to live on the street, ironically due to high real estate taxes.
Utilities are going to go up because commodities are very, very low now. They’re going higher—good for commodity speculators; not good for Joe and Jane Consumer.
So, you’re going to see more people moving onto the streets. And let me reemphasize this: They’re not—now—necessarily junkies or mentally disabled. But they may be, once they lose everything they thought they had. Their numbers are going to grow as the economy goes downhill.
This is an explosive problem. These are people who will have nothing to lose. They’re going to be overcome by envy of and resentment against the rich. You can count on them to vote Democratic in 2020. There’s no question the state of the economy will be by far the biggest influence in the election.
All the while, because of the financialization of the economy, the rich are getting richer. This isn’t just unfair—it’s dangerous. Incidentally, “unfair” is a word I hate to use, because it often implies a whole set of assumptions. But that’s another topic. Anyway, the situation is setting up the United States for class warfare, the haves against the have-nots. Middle class societies are stable; we’re becoming less middle class.
International Man: The Fed has reflated the housing bubble with years of easy money. It has distorted the housing market and artificially increased real estate prices. How does the Fed relate to the homeless crisis?
Doug Casey: One indirect and delayed consequence of their creating all this money out of nothing—in order to keep the big banks, brokers, and insurers from failing during the crisis that began in 2007—is the creation of bubbles. The biggest bubble is in tech stocks. But the real estate bubble that busted in ’08 and ’09 has been re-inflating, at least until the last year.
International Man: California politicians have implemented rent controls and more regulations in the hope of solving the problem. The situation has only gotten worse, and the calls for the government to “do something!” only grow stronger.
If the inclination is to ask for more government, what do you expect the outcome to be?
Doug Casey: Rent control, like other forms of wage and price controls, seems logical to someone who doesn’t understand economics. It always sounds good to politicians—they like “bold action” to keep prices down, appear to help the little guy, and punish rich landlords all at once. What’s not to like?
In addition to their crime of initiating force, stealing, and destroying the moral tenor of society, they’re looking only at the immediate and direct consequences, not the delayed and indirect ones. Namely that nobody will build new buildings or even maintain old ones if they can’t make money doing so.
Rent controls result in housing shortages, run-down neighborhoods, and an atmosphere of class warfare. Rent controls are usually a consequence of money printing, which is actually the root cause of homelessness. But government is prone to disguise symptoms, not cure the disease itself—which they cause. Nobody learns anything. It’s why historians tend to be pessimistic.
International Man: Elizabeth Warren and other notable Democrats have called affordable housing a “basic human right.” They suggest that the federal government should make housing affordable or even free. It seems this will be a new plank for the party. What do you make of this?
Doug Casey: The only real human right is the right to be left alone.
You don’t have a right to free housing or free medical or free education or free food or a guaranteed income. You don’t have a right to any of these things because the question is: At whose expense? You’ve got zero right to make anybody give you things or do things for you. Warren’s policies will turn the US into a dog-eat-dog nightmare.
What’s going on today will overturn the foundations that made the progress we’ve had in the US possible. Once you start thinking like a Third World or Soviet country, you’re going to get their results.
The fact that the US still has a lot of wealth means nothing. That wealth can be destroyed very quickly. Practically overnight, as happened in places like Venezuela and Zimbabwe. I’ve spent time in both, and they used to be quite nice. Now they’re full of people sleeping on the streets, under bridges, and in cardboard shacks. For exactly the same reasons we’re seeing this in the US.
International Man: The homeless crisis is a trend in motion. It’s picking up momentum and spreading to new cities. What do you think happens next?
Doug Casey: One of the best definitions of a depression is a period of time when most people’s standard of living drops significantly.
As the Greater Depression deepens, for the reasons we mentioned earlier, you’re going to see more people living on the street.
What’s going to be done about it?
It can’t be solved by the government pushing them off the streets. Where are they going to go—outside the city limits to empty lots and fields? Actually, that’s just what Austin, Texas, did a few weeks ago. They set aside a five-acre plot near downtown where people can camp. Vagrants and their possessions were forcibly relocated to it.
Of course that temporarily solves the esthetics problem of bums camping on the street. But this is exactly how what are called “favelas” in Brazil and “ranchos” in Venezuela got started. The indigent move to state property, start out by camping, then start building informal houses out of trash and stolen building materials.
It’s an unsolvable problem, unless the country returns to prosperity. Will the government bulldoze the camps and then build high rise ghettos like they did for blacks in all the big US cities? That didn’t work really well… You only make the problem worse by putting these people in what amounts to zoos.
The interesting twist here is that today’s street people are mostly whites who’ve lost their middle class status—not blacks, not Latino migrants. This is a huge straw in the wind. So much for White Privilege…
International Man: What are the bigger implications of the homeless crisis for the future of the US economy and political system?
Doug Casey: It’s going to be very hard for everybody, especially as the government inflates more, taxes more, and regulates more. They’ll do massive amounts of all three. The situation will necessarily get worse for most people. The people who are benefiting from this one way or another—the rich and politically well-connected—will increasingly be in barrio cerrados (gated communities) to protect themselves.
It’s another sign that the state of civilization in the United States is changing radically. So far it’s been a slow slide down. But when the economy falls apart this time, it’s going to look like we’ve fallen off a cliff. We’re going to have to adjust to a whole new reality politically, socially, and economically. I’m not looking forward to it.
Reprinted with permission from International Man.
John Wight says grim British living standards ensure that the general election next month is the most important in a generation.
One million people, many of them in work, forced to rely on foodbanks; 1 in 4 children living in poverty; homelessness, including rough sleeping, at a 30-year high; real wages down; the worst housing crisis of any advanced industrialized economy; the NHS in crisis; the most ramshackle, anarchic and expensive rail system in Europe; the highest prison population in western Europe; crime up; suicides up — all this as as the combined wealth of the richest 1000 people in Britain increased by 183 percent over the same decade in which 120,000 people have died as a direct result of austerity.
This grim toll ensures that the general election on Dec. 12 is the most important and seminal in a generation.
Brexit of course will figure front and center for many people when casting their vote. The issue has polarized British society over these past three years, corroding social cohesion as the country grapples with what is inarguably the most severe political and constitutional crisis it has faced in generations. What is crucial to grasp is the fact that Brexit is not in a Tony Benn exit from the EU. Instead it is a disaster capitalist project of the right, dripping in nativism, English nationalism and xenophobia, exposing the dire consequences of a country that has yet to honestly or properly address its colonial and imperial past.
But, no matter, Labour and Jeremy Corbyn’s fortunes in this election will be bound up not with Brexit or even Corbyn’s personal qualities as a putative prime minister. Instead, as in 2017, Labour’s fortunes will be bound up with their manifesto for transformational change.
If this manifesto is anything like the one Labour fought the election on two years, it will be one that plants its colours squarely on the side of working people, the low waged and the vulnerable, pledging to reverse decades in which successive governments have worshipped at the altar of the free market, allowing blind economic forces to dictate every aspect of government policy, embracing thereby the economy as a tyrant over the lives of ordinary working people rather than as a servant of their needs.
In this regard austerity, rolled out as the answer to the global financial crash of 2007–08, had absolutely nothing to do with economics and everything to do with ideology — specifically the unleashing of a class war with the objective of transferring wealth from poor and working people to the rich and affluent, using the crash as a pretext.
The Price We Pay for Civilization
The Tory political and media establishment accuses Corbyn of wishing to drag the country back to the 1970s, a supposed decade of doom and gloom in Britain. This is nonsense. I grew up in the 1970s and for working people it was a veritable paradise compared to today. Free dental care, eye care, school meals for all children, decent wages and conditions, trade union rights, a sense of community that is sorely lacking now. And thinking about it, to label these things as “free” is a misnomer. They weren’t free. They were paid for out of general taxation — and taxation, as every smart person knows, is the price we pay for civilisation.
Yes, there was a rising tide of industrial action by the unions, but in contradistinction to the right’s historical narrative of the period, this labour unrest came about in response to the spike in inflation that had arrived on the back of the liberalization of the global financial system, beginning in the early 1970s and exacerbated by the Nixon administration’s decision to abandon the gold standard in 1971. This measure was taken in response to the economic drain on the U.S. economy and the value of the dollar internationally as a result of the war in Vietnam. The result for British workers was downward pressure on wages.
As revealed by Cambridge academics Ken Coutts and Graham Gudgin in a report on this causation: “The freeing up of finance led to a huge, and eventually unsustainable, expansion of household borrowing. This temporarily accelerated the growth of consumer spending and hence GDP and of house prices, but in 2008 contributed to a banking crisis and the longest recession for over a century.”
Later in the same report, on the issue of industrial relations, the authors have this to say:
“Common sense indicates that less [industrial] disruption should be a good thing in itself but not necessarily if the result has been a weakening of wage bargaining power that has allowed a resurgence of extreme income inequality. We note that the UK economy grew consistently and well through the 1950s and 1960s even with poor industrial relations, as it did in the USA with extra-ordinarily high strike levels by British standards.”
Corbyn, with a manifesto that will do less to drag Britain back to the 1970s and more to move it out of the 1870s, has reignited the kind of class and political consciousness we haven’t seen in decades, challenging three decades of permanent government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich. And it is for this reason that he’s been so fiercely attacked and demonized by those whose power and privileges are predicated on mass political somnolence.
Meanwhile, when it comes to foreign policy, just consider the difference between a government that slavishly attaches itself to the coattails of President Donald Trump in Washington and a leader of the opposition who, if elected prime minister, will not. And this is without taking into account the prospect of bringing a long awaited curtain down on the disgraceful cozying up to a bloodsoaked Saudi kleptocracy, blind support for the apartheid State of Israel, and the propensity for military instead of diplomatic intervention as a means by which to sustain influence on the world stage.
In 2010 the Tories came to power and unleashed war on society, turning the lives of millions of British people and their families upside down in service to a callously and consciously cruel belief that poverty marked out its victims as perpetrators of their own condition. Thus the demonisation that accompanied austerity shaped public apathy if not consensus when it came to its implementation as being necessary in order to trim the fact of a bloated public sector and purify the poor and disadvantaged with pain.
We may not be materially affected by austerity, by food banks, benefit sanctions, zero hours contracts, and by attacks on the disabled. However our humanity obliges us to be offended by it. You don’t have to be a migrant to resent their depiction as the enemy within. And you do not need to be among the ranks of growing number of rough sleepers on our streets to understand that no one should be allowed to fall that far. The savage consequences of austerity impacts all of us; the normalization of so much injustice and cruelty chips away at our own humanity, and that more than anything is unforgivable.
It is why, if nothing else, the success of the Tories in turning us into passive spectators of the mass experiment in human despair they have inflicted on the most vulnerable in society should be foremost in our minds when we cast our vote on Dec. 12.
John Wight is an independent journalist based in Edinburgh, Scotland.
This article was first published on Medium.