November 23, 2013

Empires Crumble From Within

Map of Economic Inequality in the United State...
Map of Economic Inequality in the United States using the Theil index. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
With Black Friday approaching, we in the U.S. find ourselves in an odd situation when it comes to our economy and the question of how our economic recovery is coming along. On one hand, the stock market is booming and corporate profits are again on the rise. This suggests that an economic recovery of sorts is well underway. On the other hand, unemployment remains high, jobs are scarce, and the middle class appears to be shrinking. Consumer confidence seems questionable when many indicate that they will be spending less on gifts this year. Undoubtedly, the rich are doing very well. They have seen a true economic recovery. The rest of us, not so much. Is it any wonder that the public is not happy with the direction the U.S. is heading?

In many respects, it seems fair to say that we have two very different economies. The rich are not only getting richer and benefiting tremendously from our present economy; they are increasingly able to live their lives without ever coming into contact with the rest of us. Out of sight, out of mind perhaps. But the point is that they really don't have to worry much about us.

As for the rest of us, we are generally content to gripe about inequality and not do much else. We can't afford to do much else, lest we risk what little we have been allowed to have. The more fragile  our economy seems, the more dangerous the speaking out seems. We know people who are unemployed and struggling to get by. Most of us have such people in our families and among our friends. If we ourselves have a job, we feel so fortunate to have it that it is difficult to risk it.

The level of income inequality we have here in the U.S. does not seem sustainable, and it only continues to worsen. Could it be that the public is finally beginning to take notice? Might people finally be waking up to the fact that austerity is detrimental? That would certainly be nice, although I'm skeptical that we've reached a real tipping point just yet. Too many still get their "news" from Fox News and trust what they hear from Christian extremists. I fear that things will have to get even worse before the public demands real change and holds politicians accountable for failing to deliver it.

With the massive military might the U.S. has accumulated, it seems like we are well prepared to respond to any sort of external military threat. And with the increased militarization of civilian law enforcement, our government is well prepared to crush civil unrest and protect the wealthy from us. But the sort of crumbling taking place is not the threat of an opposing nation or even internal strife, at least not yet. It is much harder to spot. It begins with us and our values. It is reflected in our willingness to tolerate the suffering caused by inequality.

This empire has been crumbling for some time. While I do not think it is too late to undo some of the damage and pursue a more sustainable course, it is not going to happen on its own. And it is not going to happen without the people demanding it.

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