The title of this short book, only 130 pages, Building the New American Economy: smart, fair, & sustainable by Jeffrey D. Sachs with a foreword by Bernie Sanders (Columbia University Press, 2017) is unfortunately misleading. There is much here about the new economy. The misleading part is that there is very little about its construction, the building of the new economy.
Sachs covers many important issues in a thorough, efficient fashion. If you need a primer or a tune up about the economy this is a good place to start. These include: investment in our society, infrastructure, Federal budget, income inequality, healthcare, energy, military and the empire (not his phrase), and innovation. If you have been reading my postings over the last 5 or so years much of this will seem a bit deja vu.
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For some time I have been thinking, writing, and gathering information, not necessarily in any good order, about our situation here in the US. For more than a decade I have thought that we are in a protracted crisis.
This crisis can be felt at the personal, family, local and national level in all areas of life. Some of the sources are systemic to technological change and the global dynamics of capitalism. Some find their roots in fundamental failures in humans – racism, sexism, religion, etc. Some flow from our political system, some from our economy.
The focus of this work has been to try to identify what this crisis is about within the US context, to describe it, without any real notion of even suggesting solutions.
Where Did This List Come From and Is There an Order?
I first started this list two or three years ago while we were still in the deepest part of the Great Recession. Most of the early entries related to the political system and economic inequality. As I have returned to it I have broadened the coverage of social and political topics. Most recently I have added ones that relate to the mythology underlying our approaches to life in the US.
Here is my current list of topics:
- Underperforming, expensive healthcare system
- Political system controlled by big money, private and corporate
- Distorted role of corporations
- Quasi-religious faith in “free market” capitalism
- Race, sex, ethnicity, klans….
- Myth of social mobility
- National and State Political Systems Designed to Be Anti-democratic and Dysfunctional
- 30+ year stagnation of income
- Disappearance of living wage jobs
- The rich are at their feeding troughs
- Expensive, underperforming K-12 educational system
- Expensive, underperforming higher ed system
- Web access and infrastructure
- Homelessness and poverty
- Bloated, dysfunctional global military and empire
- Our longest war – the war on drugs
- Criminal justice system – aka the judicial-incarceration gulag
- Persistent income disparities
- Super rich vs. everyone else
- Intrusion by organized religion into government and politics
- Energy policy focused on consumption instead of efficiency
New Thoughts as of 1/18/11:
This month’s Atlantic Monthly has a two page piece, “The Last Stand of Ricardo Sanchez” about General Ricardo Sanchez, the first commander of US forces during the now 8 year old Bush war, Iraqi Freedom. This reports on Sanchez’s quest to bering the Bush regime to some accountability for their war. Definitely worth a read.
Original Posting 11/27/10
The return of George Bush to the national scene with the release of his memoir, Decision Points, once again roused feelings of anger and dispair. Anger that we have such a weak sense of ethics, basic right and wrong stuff, in our culture. This man and his cohorts lied, aggressively distorted facts, and mislead the country into what has turned out to be a disastrous adventure in aggression in Iraq. If we had any real politics in this country at least some national politicians should have been calling for his impeachment and, perhaps, trial for war crimes. The man is responsible for the devastation of Iraq, ten of thousands, at a minimum, civilian causalities, the flight of millions from their country to neighboring states, and the vast expansion of anti-US militancy around the world. This not to mention the costs directly to us in dead, wounded and financial costs running off into the far future. That is the source of my despair that Americans continue to be oblivious of the true cost to others and to themselves of our empire. In large part this ignorance is due to decades of propaganda from the government, industry and academies. Seemingly everyone in the elite is on the payroll of the empire.
The executive-congressional-military-industrial complex is real and effective. This renders us without any politics to grapple with this state of affairs.
The elite rolled out the big guns to puff Bush’s book. Heavy weight interviews with Matt Lauer and Oprah replete with a dust up with some silly rapper named Kanye West. This is what Bush faced instead of people who might have been capable of posing some serious questions with some serious follow ups. But, what exactly am I expecting. We are the people to whom politicians lie, reflexively and without any fear of repercussions. This has been going on continuously for my whole life. Bush is just the cherry on the ice cream float.
President Obama’s speech on accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 2009 has generally been reviewed in the US with much glow about its rhetorical heights and appreciation of its depth of thought. I did not watch Obama give this speech. Instead, I turned to the text which I could read at my leisure and without the speechifying fireworks that Obama has clearly mastered.
Although I seem stuck in a reflexive backward glance towards the eight disastrous years of Bush II whenever I evaluate Obama. I am still amazed at the enormous moral and practical abyss we fell through in those years. Obama brushing his teeth in the morning is reassuring in contrast. Nevertheless, it is worth looking a bit more closely at what Obama did and did not say here. Much has been said of his straight forward assertion that violence is necessary and even useful in a world inhabited by human beings who seem almost genetically predisposed to killing each other off. And, with the invocation of Martin Luther King and the discussion of just war theory, he covers well worn territory, though it is cheering to have a sitting US President talk in this fashion.
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The current New York Review of Books has an article by James Bamford, “Who’s in Big Brother’s Database” that reviews the new book by Mathew M. Aid, The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security Agency . I have gotten in line at my local library to read this book and will make further comments after that.
Meanwhile, the Bamford article mentions the construction boom at NSA (National Security Agency) with a doubling of its headquarters and million sq. feet of data storage in the Utah desert costing some $2 billion. This to store the data from all of NSA’s spying that by 2015 will be spoken of in terms of yottabytes.
Now, before you think that Bamford is mainlining old Star Wars characters, a yotta- is the largest large number prefix officially recognized in the scientific lexicon. At our house we are approaching 1/2 Terabyte (1012) in our total digital stores, mostly photos. Really large corporate databases are measured in Petabytes (1015). A Yotta is 1024.
Are you feeling safer?
Do you really think that any email sent or telephone conversation you have had since 2002 or 2003 is not logged in the vast secret Security State Apparatus??
I guess that a National Security State (Empire) that has had over 800 military bases throughout the world (see an earlier posting on this topic) to assure our influence elsewhere can not resist the opportunity the state of so-called war we have been in since 2001 to penetrate into every American’s life.
Americans do not like to use the word “empire” in reference to the country’s role in the world. Our Presidents uniformly role out rhetoric that sounds just like Obama’s. Here is a paragraph from his Inaugural speech:
And so, to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born, know that America is a friend of each nation, and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity. And we are ready to lead once more.
This is heart warming. But, turning to some of the facts on the ground, as the generals and policy wonks like to say, we have to note that in just the military dimension alone, there is solid evidence that there is an American empire.
For instance, the US defense budget is not just the largest in the world, our military spending is larger that nearly all of the other countries in the world combined at 48%. See the graph to the left.
Are we really spending all of this money for “defense”? Or is it something else that comes closer to empire that is consuming these resources?
Perhaps another statistic will suggest something further of the scope of our empire. Lets look at the enormous, and growing, array of military bases covering the globe. As the Pentagon’s Base Structure Report shows, we have over 750 military bases outside of the US. Leaving aside our bases throughout Europe, Japan, South Korea, and various islands, new bases are being added in Africa and Central Asia as this is written.
November 1, 2008
So, here I am having coffee and my favorite lunch, a toasted bagel with peanut butter thinking about the approaching election. Finally this will conclude what has been an overly long campaign, but one with enormous pleasures. Assuming that Obama is not just a curiosity to all those throngs at his campaign events, we will have a President who seems bright, competent, and level-headed with an adequate level if toughness. I don’t expect the kinds of policy directions I would like to see. But, after the last eight years, really the last eleven years, just having a competent President not mired in malevolent Millennial daydreams will be a step forward.
Though I am concerned that the present problems facing us may be beyond the present political system to navigate let alone solve.
Just to mention one. Our overseas empire with almost 800 military bases (see the Base Structure Report from the Pentagon for the data) on every continent proves Eisenhower’s point about the military industrial complex, though in truth this confirms what he is said to have wanted to say, “the military-industrial-Congressional complex”. This monster that consumes almost a trillion $s every year (my calculation includes the Pentagon, CIA, NSA, Energy, and other secret intelligence/military enterprises along with the budgets for the War on Drugs and Homeland Security) continues to grow with no evidence that our security is actually improving. To the contrary, it appears that in some quarters our security may be significantly diminished.