Why the USA is in a spiral of decline

The USA by any measure is a rich country,  But Americans are not a rich people, compared to citizens of other industrial nations.  Life expectancy in the USA is falling and this is related to broader social problems.  Increasingly, we think of economic decline as normal and inevitable.

A writer named Umair Haque fears the USA is locked into a possibly irreversible spiral of decline

  1. People who are made to live right at the edge must battle each other for self-preservation. But such people have nothing left to give one another.  And that way, a society enters a death spiral of poverty — like ours have.
  2. People who can’t make ends meet can’t even invest in themselves — let alone anyone else.  Such a society has to eat through whatever public goods and social systems it has, just to survive.  It never develops or expands new ones.
  3. The result is that a whole society grows poorer and poorer.  Unable to invest in themselves or one another, people’s only real way out is to fight each other for self-preservation, by taking away their neighbor’s rights, privileges, and opportunities — instead of being able to give any new ones to anyone.  Why give everyone healthcare and education when you can’t even afford your own?  How are you supposed to?
  4. Society melts down into a spiral of extremism and fascism, as ever increasing poverty brings hate, violence, fear, and rage with it.  Trust erodes, democracy corrodes, social bonds are torn apart, and the only norms left are Darwinian-fascist ones: the strong survive, and the weak must perish.

Let me spend a second or two on that last point. As they become poorer, people begin to distrust each other — and then hate each other.  Why wouldn’t they?  After all, the grim reality is that they actually are fighting each other for existence, for the basic resources of life, like medicine, money, and food.

Source: Eudaimonia and Co

Our politics and journalism mostly ignore fundamental problems.  I don’t think this is happenstance.  I think the people at the highest levels of government, business and journalism benefit from the status quo, and feel threatened by anyone who challenges it.

The headline issues of today, including the impeachment drama, are wedge issues that keep the American body politick divided and distracted.

Many of us Americans think our neighbor who believes in gun rights or abortion rights is our enemy.  Those issues are important, of course, but we and our liberal or conservative neighbors are not enemies.

We need to realize we have more in common with each other than we do with those who benefit from our indebtedness and economic insecurity.

Added Later.  I think our current politics dates from the Reagan era in the USA and, as the Umair Hague article points out, from the Margaret Thatcher era in the UK.

I thought at the time that Reagan and Thatcher were necessary corrections to the political gridlock of the 1970s.  But they introduced a new kind of politics—a fear of those below you on the social and economic ladder who might take your money rather than indignation at those above you who already were.

Reagan and his successors were good at substituting conflict over social issues for conflict over economic issues.  But that’s partly because Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and their successors were willing to play the game on those terms and concede the economic questions to their supposed opponents.


This Is How a Society Dies by Umair Haque for Eudaemonia & Co. on Medium.

Why America Is the World’s First Poor Rich Country by Umair Haque for Eudaemonia & Co. on Medium.  Hat tip to Steve B.


10 Responses to “Why the USA is in a spiral of decline”

  1. Fred (Au Natural) Says:

    I see a lot of people with considerable wealth hating on each other for their pro or anti-whatever positions. Get the people with resources divided and those without will not get a lot of assistance


    • philebersole Says:

      Fred, what you say is true. But however divided the people of wealth may be on some issues, they are united on some issues—continuing war abroad, no economic reform at home. This is so taken for granted that peace and prosperity seem like a utopian dream.


  2. silverapplequeen Says:

    I don’t think my neighbor who is anti-abortion or pro-gun-rights is my ENEMY. I think they’re idiots. There’s a huge difference there.


    • philebersole Says:

      I’m sorry I included that comment in my post because I drew attention away from the main point of the article.

      The main point of the article is about how the American and also the British public are trapped in a politics of resentment which condemns their nations to decline.

      My hope is that viewers will ignore my comments and read Umair Hague’s new article and also his earlier article.


  3. Jenny Marsdale Says:

    The praetorian casuists have made us into a banana republic.
    Trump is our Peron. Argentina was first world, before Peron.


    • philebersole Says:

      I agree with you that Argentina is an example of how a prosperous, relatively wealthy nation can degenerate into a failed state, and that we in the USA should take heed.

      I don’t think the problems of the USA are primarily due to Donald Trump and I don’t think the problems of Argentina are primarily due to Juan Peron.

      Getting rid of Peron did not, in and of itself, solve the problems of Argentina and getting rid of Trump will not, in and of itself, solve the deep-rooted problems of the USA.


  4. Fred (Au Natural) Says:

    I think every generation says this. When I was a child in the 60s, my parents would say this of the country. They’d look at the war protestors and the “Woodstock” generation with disgust on the one hand and then they’d look at LBJ/Nixon on the other hand with equal disgust. My father went as far as to say he was glad he wouldn’t have to live thru the evils I would experience. Yet I’d much rather live today than then.

    Here’s a question for you. Did Britain decline after the Victorian and Edwardian eras? Maybe in terms of global power. As an ordinary individual, I’d still much rather live there today than a hundred years ago or even 50 years ago. By *my* definition, Britain did not decline and has improved in many ways.. The air is cleaner. Medical care has improved. Poverty is not so abject. The culture is far less constipated regarding alternative lifestyles.

    Prognostication of the future is never a certain thing and the farther ahead you try, the more inaccurate the results will be. Chaos (in the mathematical sense) rules all and even tiny uncertainties balloon into huge discrepancies. We are also biased by our past experience as to what constitutes the “good”. Tomorrow’s good is often something we fear today, just with a different twist.

    Guns and abortion are niche concerns. Very important to those who care about them but not fundamental to what makes a country viable. Their fate will be determined by far greater forces than the NRA or the NARAL.

    Societies evolve, just as do species. The forces behind this change are technological advance coupled with human nature. This results in political change rather than politics driving the change. I don’t doubt humanity’s ability to adapt to new realities. As individuals, it is our job to find a way to be happy within the existing paradigm even as we try to influence the future.


    • philebersole Says:

      Fred, as usual, I appreciate your thoughtful comment.
      Here is my response.

      I think the UK is better off without its empire.
      I think the USA would be better off without its empire.

      I think both the USA and UK (although I don’t claim to be well-informed about the UK) are in a spiral of economic and industrial decline and a decline in material wealth and quality of life that is caused by a toxic political culture.

      You are right to say that it is typical of men my age to lament that things are different from the way things used to be.

      But it is also true that the younger generation feel, with good reason, that they are being cheated of the good things that previous generations had.

      Our roads and bridges are crumbling. A large part of the New York subway system is in danger of collapse, and yet nobody can figure out how to fix it.

      We Americans supposedly can’t afford good schools, good medical care, pensions for the elderly or child care for the young. We can’t afford to keep our roads, bridges and other infrastructure in good repair.

      But we supposedly can afford endless foreign wars, and bailouts for mismanaged banks and corporations, and we can afford to continually constrain ourselves by upper bracket tax cuts.

      Increases in military budgets pass without debate, but when something comes up that is for the benefit of the American people, then the cry goes up: How can we pay for this?

      The big corporate tax cuts have not produced investment in new production. Rather corporation executives spend money on stock buybacks or on shifting production overseas.

      Every business innovation seems to be a way of squeezing more work for less money out of employees or more revenue for less service out of consumers. That’s an exaggeration, but not an extreme one.

      I agree with Umair Haque that a large reason why we put up with it is that we have been taught to direct our anger downward toward the have-nots who might take what we have rather than upward to the economic and political elite.

      Reasonable people can differ on issues such as gun control or abortion rights.

      The reason I mentioned them is that I think too many of us, self-identified liberals and self-identified conservatives, allow the political class to keep us focused on these issues, which do not threaten their power, and make us forget the direction our country is headed.


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