United States Economic Maturity Before Social and Political Puberty

The Infant Giant

The United States is still one of the youngest countries in the world. Still in its infancy, it has reached economic maturity and earned the status of a giant among other nations. It is not by accident but by design that it has become the undisputed powerhouse and power source in the world. It’s design having been developed not by uncivilized people who had to learn by trial and error, but by people who came to this country with accumulated years of knowledge and experience in the functioning of government and society as well as business and commerce.

These early settlers knew what worked and what did not. With that knowledge they set about the business of designing social and economic systems that would benefit them and support their ambitions. The accumulated experience they brought allowed them to skip many of the developmental steps that lead to maturity. Consequently, the nation grew from infancy to giant in record time. When we think about two hundred years, in terms of European and Asian history, we see that those countries have wines and clothing that are much older than this country. There are buildings and artwork in Europe and in Asia that are centuries older than the United States. Nevertheless, it’s accomplishments in the time period have been unparalleled by any other country in the world. The last fifty years alone has seen unprecedented growth in all areas of production, wealth accumulation and employment. It is by every known standard of measure, the greatest country in the world. As far as empires are measured, the United States of America is the greatest empire that this world has ever seen. We are unparalleled!

The Financial Epic Center or The Big Apple (with a worm in it)

New York City is the pulse if not the heartbeat of the economic center of the world. This epic center is known as The Big Apple even when it is pictured with a worm eating its way through its very core. This thought provoking picture forces us to ask the question, “Is there a worm in the Big Apple?” In her news report “Economy Grows at Robust Rate Despite Storms” Jeannine Avresa writes, “The economy grew at a lively 4.3 percent pace in the third quarter, the best showing in more than a year. The performance offered fresh testimony that the country’s overall economic health managed to improve despite the destructive force of Gulf Coast hurricanes.”

But there are also reports to the contrary. The Economist.com in an article entitled “You Need us and we Need You” reports, “America has been warned many times in recent years that its profligate spending is dangerous, for itself and for the world economy. So far, however, Americans have ignored such doom mongering, gleefully driving their current account and budget deficits to record levels. Now the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) seem to be trying to stage an intervention. This week, both have come out with reports on the global financial situations – and both reports give warning that America’s fiscal irresponsibility poses serious risks to the world economy.”

Additionally, there are reports that speak of a threat to our nation’s economy that are far greater than any single outside threat. The greatest threat to our nation’s economy is within our borders. Krugman3 calls it “stagnation.” Shlaes4 calls it “greed.” I call it a lack of vision. It is written, “Without a vision people perish.” Consequently, it is my opinion that America has peaked at a young age, its people are satisfied with their power, position and possession and are therefore content to sit on their laurels and lord it over the world. Though I don’t want to be a harbinger of doom nor do I want to show a lack of faith or patriotism, it is my belief that a fall is inevitable and unlike many other empires that have fallen quickly our fall will be gradual and not the result of outside interference. It is my belief based on my observations and subsequent deduction from my research that America will fall and fail as its systems begin to erode and eventually crumble from within.

America’s economy is the world’s largest and most powerful. It is a major contributor and player in the global economy. During the last decade she has experienced robust economic growth until 2000 when technology shares plummeted and we experienced economic recession even before the devastating events of September 11th 2001. But the economy is self-correcting in most instances and it made a comeback despite a rash of corporate scandals. Steady growth continued in 2002 and 2003. According to the media reports we are and have been experiencing low unemployment and low inflation. When this is coupled with the rising stock prices, what more could we want? To think or believe that anything could be wrong in light of such “good news” is difficult because Americans more than anyone else need to believe that their future and their life-styles are safe and secure. But is it? Krugman writes,

“The U. S. Economy is in deep trouble, but not of the apocalyptic kind. The risk is not so much of falling off the edge as it is of slow erosion, of stagnating living standards for most people and declining welfare for many. And the greatest danger we face is not upheaval but inaction; the fact that each year things are only a little bit worse than they were the year before makes it easy, and politically expedient, to ignore our problems.”

Among the problems we are ignoring is the fact that a large segment of our population is divided into two groups: the working poor and the poor. The working poor includes those Americans whose paychecks are diminishing so rapidly that their net take-home no longer covers living expenses. Many of them still work for minimum wage, which has not been adjusted to meet the rising costs of everything. Between the “standard” deductions and the “low inflation” this group is not experiencing the great American Dream of continually improving standards of living and quality of life.

The poor are those who do not have a job, either because they are “unemployable” due to physical or mental disability and or lack of education. Many poor and many working poor are also homeless. Some are recognized as homeless because they do not have a place of residence. But many are not recognized and counted among the homeless because they have come up with creative living arrangements that keep them from being out in the street or in shelters. Among the creative living arrangements are apartment sitting, couch surfing, staying with friends or family or, moving back “home,” and the like. Many of these working poor are disillusioned Americans who have worked their whole lives and have not achieved the American Dream. Some of them had it and lost it. But nonetheless, some keep reaching for the dream while others have forgotten how to dream. It is hard to dream when one lacks a place to rest their heads; a place they could call home. Their dream is simply for a decent and affordable place they could call home.

The American Dream has been the motivation that fostered this country’s rapid growth. Immigrants, many who are now Americans, came to this country with one goal, namely to work hard and to enjoy the American Dream. This hope has kept the dream alive as each new group of immigrants came over and joined the workforce contributing their skills, sweat and hard work and work ethics toward the national vision. Many of them realized their dreams and acquired a modicum of the American life style and joined the mainstream society. This is no longer the case. The demographics of immigrants and workers have changed dramatically over the last half of a century. The way work is performed or products are produced has also changed during this time. Workers are more educated and sophisticated. Many blue-collar jobs have been reclassified into special skills, and much of what used to be manual labor is now being performed by computers and machines. Additionally, the influx of workers coming to America in search of the American Dream has markedly diminished.

With the new demographics of workers America faces new challenges, i.e, the ageing workforce. This alone forces us to realize that we cannot go on with business as usual because many of the problems that have been ignored in the past are now surfacing with a vengeance. Health Care, Social Security, Medicare, housing, poverty and education have been ignored and left to simmer on the economic back burner. Now they are all coming to a boil as the worm eats its way through the Big Apple.

Gordon C. Bjork writes, “âÂ?¦the decline in the measured growth rate of U.S. per capita income that we have experienced over the past quarter-century is not temporary, cyclical, or reversible; rather, it is long run, structural, and irreversible.” He adds:
“While the growth rate of the economy might be slightly and temporarily improved by changes in the choices of its participants about working and saving, or changes in government economic policies, it is my contention that the decline in the measured rate of growth in output per capita and per worker cannot be permanently arrested or reversed. The growth rate of the U.S. economy will continue to slow as we move into the twenty-first centuryâÂ?¦ this slowdown in economic growth is the natural and inevitable consequence of the success of the American economy in reaching economic maturity.”
Also, Martin Crutsinger of The Associated Press in his article entitled, “U.S. Trade Deficit Hits All-Time High,” reported the following:

“The U.S. trade deficit unexpectedly rose to an all-time high in October as oil shipments soared and the United States set deficit records with China, Europe, Canada and Mexico.

The Commerce Department reported that the gap between what America sells overseas and what it imports rose by 4.4 percent in October to $68.9 billion, surpassing the old record of $66 billion set in September.
So far this year, the trade deficit is running at an annual rate of $718 billion, far surpassing last year’s $617.6 billion imbalance. Critics say the soaring deficit is evidence that President Bush’s policy of pursuing free trade deals around the world is not workingâÂ?¦

The United States set deficit records with most of its major trading partners including a $12.1 billion imbalance with the 25-nation European Union, a $8.1 billion imbalance with Canada, the country’s largest trading partner, and a record $4.8 billion deficit with Mexico.”

It is obvious from these reports and the numbers that the American economy is in trouble. We are falling way behind in production and as a result we import those products and services that are no longer manufactured, produced or provided in this country. Consequently thousands of jobs are lost annually as the worker output continues to decline and it becomes too costly to produce what we need in America. With the maturing of the American economy came a more efficient way of working and that unfortunately eliminated many of the unskilled workers as well as many specialized workers from the workforce.
When selective unemployment is coupled with re-construction, fear of terrorism, homeland security shrinking minimum wage, Medicare and Medicaid to name a few, we can see a problem manifesting. But because most of the people who are affected by these problems are non-white, the problems are not being addressed with the same determination to help and correct their circumstances. This brings us to what Krugman says is the main problem with America: racism. Because the majority of the people who are suffering are non-white nothing is being done to alleviate the problem. In fact he problems are being ignored. Unlike Europe and Japan, America has diverse groups of people that it does not want to help most of whom are blacks and Latinos. America has a history of not acknowledging problems until they begin to affect the white segment of the population. As long as the problem is contained in the black and Latino communities it is ignored and any efforts that are made are merely enough to pacify the people. No real effort is made to change or improve their circumstances until there is an outcry and or media attention from abroad. Motions and steps are being taken to suggest that something is being done to level the playing field, but payroll taxes are still at a record high while the actual taxes paid by the wealthy are at a record low.
Ordinarily these problems would be of concern to a nation, but as Paul Krugman stated in a recent interview the people who are most affected by this tilted economy are non-white therefore there is no outcry and no change is forthcoming. The American system is built on the existence of a lower class to bear the burden of the upper class. This inequity has existed from the beginning and it is still very much imbedded in the American economy and system. Although a lot of money flows through charities to help the needy, charity does not provide security. For the poor, who are kept poor because the system favors the wealthy and punishes the poor, charities do not really help except as they create more work for the privileged workers.

The United States is much like Goo Goo Goliath, a cartoon character from a 1954 short movie of the same title. As the name suggests, Goo Goo Goliath was a baby giant. He was big and strong and had the power help, destroy and or terrify those around him. He was powerful and intimidating but he was just a baby, much like the Super Diaper Baby or more recent Baby Huey cartoon characters. These baby giants are loveable in their innocence, but they are intellectually dense and stubborn, which makes them dangerous. A giant baby does not know its own strength and capacity to destroy. Of course, as the proud Americans that we are we do not want to look at our super nation as a Goo Goo Goliath in diapers. But that’s just what it is. When we consider that France has a bottle of wine that has been ageing for more than 500years in the cellar of the Strasbourg Hospice in eastern France. It is a 1472 vintage white Alsace. There are buildings and artwork in Europe and in Asia that are older than America. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is cheese in Europe that is older than America. That’s just how young this mighty nation is.

The signs of brewing trouble are still visible on the horizon for those who will see them. Where reports say that the housing market is bubbling, the fact is that there is a terrible shortage of affordable housing and the number of homeless persons continues to increase. Whereas the high price of oil is of concern to everyone from the SUV driver who drives miles to save a few cents on the price of a gallon of oil to the elderly people who cannot afford to heat their homes in the winter.
The United States is in its infancy as a nation, and as such it should not be surprising that it is experiencing growing pains in the form of inner conflict and discontent. Though it is the most powerful nation in the world, it is internally riddled with problems it has not and possibly cannot solve because it doesn’t know how. It is almost like expecting a giant baby to change it’s own diaper simply because it is a giant. This is quite typical in light of America’s unprecedented and unparalleled rise to power at such a young age. It would appear that its development follows the same pattern as most children who come into power before coming into maturity. The child nation is still exercising its power and lording it over other nations oblivious of its limitations. America believes that she is invincible and that her reign and power will last forever, but that is very unlikely in light of world and human development. America’s economic future is largely dependent on how it will handle its internal problems, and not how many nations it bullies into submission.

Presently, we are experiencing the decline of our internal systems and infrastructures. When the systems that are supposed to help people to obtain and or maintain a certain standard of living begin to crumble, the nation will follow. We cannot deny that we have problems in the areas of health care, housing, Social Security, Welfare, production and employment and these problems and their solutions can change life, as we know it for many Americans. The worm is eating its way through the Big Apple will it be stopped or will it be further ignored. Either way, America will survive because what it is experiencing as a nation is merely growing pains. On its way to social and political maturity America will learn how to deal with its internal problems in a more equitable manner just like France, Japan and England have learned and are still learning to do. But this kind of learning comes only with time and experience. My faith is in this great country and I do believe that its knowledge and experience will one day catch up to its power.

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