The richest state in the greatest country the world has ever seen? Right?
I’m not an old man, but in my youth America was the greatest country on Earth, and even today it is acknowledged as the world’s only “superpower.” Yet I recently began to wonder just what that meant. Or maybe more accurately, what does that mean now? America has money for sure, vast staggering almost mind numbing amounts of dollars underlay the American economy. Trillions of them stashed in offshore accounts, enough to pay off the national debt by some estimates. I dunno though, what else is going on, what really does all this money mean? Are we really number one?
For starters the money is all funny money. It’s not backed by gold or anything, its value is purely dependent on what people think it is worth. The USA may have a staggering number of dollars, but only as long as people think they are worth something are they actually worth something. In my parent’s lifetime our money was backed by gold and silver, now its backed by faith. Granted I understand going off the gold standard finally broke the terrible boom/bust cycle the economy used to suffer, but still, the dollar is at the lowest it has been in my lifetime against other currencies. In my youth the dollar was so strong it was even referred to as the gold standard, not anymore.
Four decades ago America’s infrastructure was the envy of the world. Today it is a decaying joke, it was only built to last a few decades at most, and now things are so corrupt that most of it is falling into ruin while some small sections continue to pump huge amounts of dollars into a small number of bank accounts. I mean, it’s taken longer than it took to get to the Moon to build a new bridge across the San Fransisco Bay, and cost something like ten billion dollars. And this to replace a bridge that was perfectly functional? Talk about welfare for contractors.
Then there’s education. When I was a kid the schools were well funded and public education in the USA was the envy of the world. And while there are still many fine educational institutions in the USA, college is rapidly becoming available only to the well to do. And driving by a public school is depressing, the clean well tended well maintained schools of my youth are all still there…they just aren’t well tended or maintained anymore. And the USA used to attract the finest of foreign students, many of which stayed in America and even the ones who went home acted as ambassadors for America. Today our paranoia about terrorism has considerably reduced the number of foreign students studying in the USA. And as for our public schools giving up on actually educating our children and switching to an educational system where all students learn is how to get good grades on a standardized math and English test…no comment.
Crime. Well, gee, we have a higher percentage of our population in prison than any other country on Earth And this of course has made America a crime free paradise? No. We are pretty much dead last when it comes to crime rates in the industrial world. I live in the Bay Area, one of the world’s great metropolitan areas, yet there are whole neighbourhoods and even cities where it simply isn’t safe to walk the streets. We can’t even make our own country safe, and we’re going to make the world safe for democracy?
And speaking of a safe world, that brings us to the military. Um, we spend more on our military than every other country on Earth combined, have a huge network of world wide military bases, and the most incredible collection of lethal hardware ever assembled. And yet a ragtag insurgency has defied us for five years in Iraq and Afghanistan, while our army has had to drop the recruitment standards to ridiculously low levels to fill the ranks. People may be frightened of our nuclear weapons and bombs, but they are no longer frightened we will invade them. And how useful all these expensive high tech wonder weapons are in a complex mostly low tech world is very debatable.
I could go on, but by almost every measure I can think of, the USA has lost ground to the rest of the industrialized world since I was a kid in the sixties. Much of our glory like the B-52 bomber, the Space Shuttle, and our once vaunted interstate highway system is a decaying patched together symbol of our glorious past, continuing to do duty long past the time when we should have moved on to newer and better things. A friend of mine summed it up, driving to work he noticed there was a huge piece of trash that someone dumped by the side of the road, directly on the freeway ramp that leads to the state capital buildings. It took two weeks for highway crews to get around to removing a big piece of junk blighting the entrance to the capital of richest state in the richest country in the world.
I think we’ve lost our way from the shiny America of my youth, how did this happen?
(The above image of an American flag painted on a dumpster is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit, it is central to illustrating the post, it is a small section of the original image, and it’s use here does not in any way infringe on the copyright holder’s use of the image, arguably I am helping by my use of the image. Credit and copyright: Half in the Bag. American flags painted on dumpsters, have we really sunk that low?)