Sunday, December 4, 2011

America Is Down -- But Is It Out?

     The results of my poll, "Is America Declining?" reveal some interesting results. Perhaps the first one, and most telling, is that I received 19 percent fewer responses to this poll than I did to "What Do You Drink in the Morning?"

     Does that mean people are more concerned about their morning coffee than they are about the future of America? Perhaps. Some people have blinders on, and are only interested in what's on their own kitchen table. Others fret that the problems we face are just too big. They throw up their hands and say, "Oh, what the hell ..." And I confess I sometimes find myself in this category. Many people are just complacent. Or they figure, "I've got mine," and they don't care much about what happens to anyone else.
  
     It really does seem that there is a significant strain of what's-in-it-for-me politics these days. It's probably always been there, but seems more pronounced than usual.

     Social Security recipients scream bloody murder if someone tries to touch one thin dime of their benefits -- and let someone else fix the funding problems after they're gone. Young people occupy Wall Street to protest that if they have to pay for medical insurance they won't be able to buy the latest iProduct, and their student loans are too big, too expensive, and too much of a burden. And the affluent rant and rail against raising taxes, because they've worked hard for their money and can't bear to see the fruits of their labors go to someone else. A lot of these complaints might be legitimate, but they are are self-interested, not focused on the common good.

     And, oh yeah, in the meantime, someone do something about the price of oil, since we want to drive our SUVs 15 mph over the speed limit, because we have to get to work, or get to the mall, or get the kids to their playdate. And meanwhile, as the New York Times pointed out in an editorial today about the 1997 Kyoto Treaty, despite all the best intentions to decrease fossil fuel emissions by 5 percent by 2012, emissions from burning fossil fuels actually increased by 38 percent between 1990 and 2009.

     But the good news is that, by a margin of 63 percent to 37 percent, respondents to my poll do not think our problems are insurmountable. They do not believe that America is inevitably on the down slope. That's according to the admittedly unscientific poll conducted in the post "Is America in Decline?"

     The consensus seems to think that we have problems, sure, but we've seen problems before, and we've always come out on top. Remember the 1970s and the Misery Index? The index was created by Arthur Okun, economic adviser to President Johnson, and it simply adds the unemployment rate to the inflation rate. It hit 16 in 1974 and 17 in 1975, and crested at 20 in 1980.

     But we turned the country around after the dismal 1970s. Economic expansion, the advent of personal computers and the internet, and the end of the Cold War dropped the Misery Index down to a low of 6 by 1998. Since then it's been going up again, hitting 11 last year and topping 12 this year. But if we turned things around after the 1970s, can't we do it again after the miserable early 2000s?.

     Several people in the poll suggested the the biggest problem we face today is energy -- how to fuel our economy without choking ourselves to death in pollution and being held hostage by sometimes-hostile oil-rich nations. We faced the same problem in the 1970s. But we went on to make some progress by developing solar panels, wind farms, more efficient homes and cars.

     The problem has come back -- big time -- and the easy answers have already been tried. Now comes the hard part:  developing new innovations and making hard decisions in terms of alternative energy; cars powered with something other than gasoline; electricity produced with something other than coal. As a first step, Thomas Friedman lauds the recent EPA decision to require auto companies to reach a fleet average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 -- up from today's average of 27.5 mpg. But that's just one small step. Many more need to be taken.

     A few other respondents pointed out that we got used to unusual prosperity starting in the mid-1980s. But a good part of that prosperity stood on the spindly legs of too much debt, a stock market boom and a real estate bubble. It's unrealistic for us to expect the good times to last, especially when we've been borrowing from the future. We just have to get over that unrealistic view and look forward with more modest expectations.

     And that may not be a bad thing, several people suggested. There's more to life than unbridled consumerism. Perhaps our 20-somethings do not have to get their own apartments; and our 80-somethings do not have to move into independent living facilities. As Jono pointed out, many Europeans live in very nice homes, with several generations under the same roof (they also drive smaller, more fuel-efficient cars), and they seem to lack for nothing.

     Perhaps that's the positive message to take from our current dismal economic climate and fractured political scene. The materialistic mindset that celebrates record-level shopping days does not serve us well. What we need instead, as Nance said, is "the potential for Americans to innovate, to grow ethically as a culture, to employ more of its people."

     Or, as Janette from Kansas wrote in to say: "Are we declining? No. Are we changing? I sure am, and so are my adult children. The U.S. continues to be a great place to live."

11 comments:

Jono said...

Thanks for the plug, Sightings! Maybe if we try more of the Kennedy, "Ask what you can do for your country" way of thinking instead of the I, me, mine selfishness, we can actually improve things for everyone. Or maybe I'm just dreaming.

Morrison said...

Once Obama is voted out of office, America will get back on track. If Obama is unfortunately re-elected, America will be lost forever and completely doomed. It will NEVER be the great nation it once was.

Don't believe this?

Only time will tell.

#1Nana said...

When I was a school administrator we had a saying that it was always easier to gore someone else's ox. Everytime we had to create a budget with reduced funding the elementary people wanted to cut high school sports and the high school people wanted to cut elementary specialists. That is what I see with the groups wanting to make budget cuts in the federal budget in every program except the ones that they favor. I have to admit that I'm guilty too. I'm all for cutting the benefits that our elected officials are receiving...why receive a generous pension after one term in congress? But I don't want my pension benefits cut.

Stephen Hayes said...

Politics was once said to be the art of the possible, and from where I stand that means compromise. Today compromise is considered a dirty word. Things aren't going to get better until the good of the country trumps personal political ideology.

schmidleysscribblins,wordpress.com said...

My hope is for the youngsters. Only 53 percent of recent college graduates are working.

Do you know we had electric cars over 100 years ago, but the big auto companies decided burning gas was better because they could reach more customers?

We had a carborator that got over 50 mpg in the 1930s. All this kerfuffle about the strict auto regulations from the EPA is silly.

We better go green for our own sakes. BTW the increase in emissions came from China and India. The US actually lowered its emissions and is a smaller contributor to the mess than it was. That is still not good enough but we need to focus on the positive I think. Good piece. Thanks Tom

Bob Lowry said...

The extreme black or white, either-or comment left my one of your readers is representative of our problem. George Bush was a horrible president but we are still here. Obama has disappointed but we are still here.

Americans love a simplistic answer. The world is much too complicated to say that one man (or woman) will doom our country to disaster...or suddenly recreate Camelot.

Our society..all of us..got ourselves into this mess. All of us must care enough to get us out of it.

Nance said...

I enjoyed your poll and hope you do lots more of them. You might be the only person in the universe who is actually asking for my opinion. You have such awesome taste.

Snowbrush said...

"They throw up their hands and say, "Oh, what the hell ..."

You've got it.

"The materialistic mindset that celebrates record-level shopping days does not serve us well."

Yeah, it's killing us, but if Black Friday had gone badly, the markets would have gone down on Monday, and many retirees would have been strapped for money for medications and heating bills. It's a hell of a system we've got here.

GoingLikeSixty.com said...

A lot of this video is coming true... It's the End of America. It's not pleasant to watch, but this guy is getting alot right.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOzmx3ZlVQo

Robert the Skeptic said...

Optimism is based on what... fear, hope, wishful thinking? We have found solutions to problems in the past, so it is a given that we will solve them in the future? Optimism, and pessimism for that matter, are all based on perception and perception can be, and often is, flawed. The 'problem' is that the problems we face are looming larger and more globally significant than in the past.

To quote Kenneth Boulding: “Anyone who believes indefinite growth in anything physical on a physically finite planet is either a madman or an economist.” Energy production peaked in the US in the 1970's; what is currently being extracted now is more labor and cost intensive to produce, and it will continue to be more costly. Sixty percent of the global oil reserves are in the Middle East. China is now the second largest consumer of fossil fuels; it is in their interest, as it is/was ours, in securing access to this resource.

An overwhelming majority of experts in the economy of fossil fuels claim that production has peaked there already. So we have dwindling resources and an increasing world population, 7 Billion and growing. There is not enough surface area on the planet to have solar/wind/nuclear power replace the enormous amount of fuel we consume... and forget transportation, a huge amount of our fossil fuels goes directly into food production.

For those who acknowledged that 'change' is coming, you are right. But it is not going to be pleasant change. I consider myself a "realist" rather than a pessimist.

sbobet said...

sbo
thnx for nice work
and pretty simple example but
where can i see the form i m not able to see the dorm created by module??livescore