written 16 May 2021
published 23 May 2021
Some societies collapse suddenly, wiped out be natural disasters, such as a tidal wave or a volcanic eruption. Some die slowly, the victim of gradually changing environmental conditions, or eventual depletion of a vital resource. Others lose their vitality over time, corroding from within, to be overwhelmed finally by external forces, like a rotting building collapsing after one too many storms. America may be experiencing the third option.
The American economy peaked in 1972, defined by two major events: the floating of the dollar, and peak in domestic production of traditional oil. This marked the end of an economic period that began after the Second World War, when America dominated the global economy. We had the only industrial infrastructure undamaged by the war and vast oil reserves, which allowed us to control the global price. But the rest of the world rebuilt, due in part to American investment, and our oil reserves were finite.
Within a decade, inflation soared, interest rates exploded, and Savings and Loans went bankrupt. When the economy was growing, it was easier to share the wealth, labor unions were strong and living wages prevailed. As the economy tightened, wages stagnated, the corporate war on unions accelerated, capitalist structures circled the wagons to preserve capital, and the society began to suffer.
Business schools taught that shareholder profit was the only purpose of business. Reagan began expounding the idea that government is always the problem, and private enterprise is always the solution. Big money became more open about funding and influencing politicians, and lobbying became a huge DC business. Public health systems and social welfare programs declined due to constant attacks and reduced funding, as taxes were cut to promote the growth of the "job creators" while preaching "trickle down" economic theory.
Relatively non-political governmental functions changed. At the Center for Disease Control (CDC), which had been a global resource for public health, the director was a merit-based, civil service appointment from within the system, maintaining institutional knowledge. In the mid 70's, after a highly publicized failure of a swine flu vaccination program, the job became a political appointment. The director changed with each administration, and reports became politically and economically influenced.
Under Reagan, a CDC finding that aspirin was associated with childhood death in certain cases was changed because the manufacturer was a big Republican donor. Under Trump, the entire CDC response to Covid was stunted to fit his delusion that Covid was a hoax.
Under Clinton, Perdue Pharmaceutical, and the Sackler family, sought Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of OxyContin, Perdue's new time released opioid, including the finding it was "believed unlikely to cause addiction", and then hired the FDA evaluator. Perdue's aggressive marketing created a lethal, nationwide opioid crisis, killing 500,000, while profiting billions. Local federal prosecutors assembled a case against Perdue, which the Bush Justice Department reduced to a plea deal, with just a fine and no jail time for any executives.
Sacrificing the public welfare for profits has been a constant problem with capitalism, but in America, the ideal of democracy has been a tempering factor. What is truly sad about our current situation is that big money, and the Republican party it generously supports, has now chosen to sacrifice democracy as well.
In response to the divisive Trump administration, social activists worked hard to increase voter turnout, bringing previously disenfranchised voters to the polls. Despite systemic advantages in the Electoral College (where the least populace states have 2.5 times the voting power) and the Senate (where 25 percent of the nation selects 60 members), the Republicans lost control of both houses of Congress and the White House. The action arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation responded with over 360 bills, introduced in 47 states, to make it harder to vote. Republicans claim they are only "protecting election integrity", but they created the controversy by promoting Trump's discredited lie he lost the election through fraud. An internal purge within the Republican party is now underway. Principled conservatives are being expunged in favor of literally any lunatic that will spout the Trump lies.
After WW2, Britain had to choose between their democracy, or their faded memories of global economic dominance. America faces a similar challenge. The 2022 midterm elections will determine if America will continue as a democracy. I believe we will.