As the flight prepared to land and I kept looking out the window taking in the beautiful landscape of the country for the first time, the older gentleman sitting next to me said, 'This is why they call America the land of milk and honey'. Twenty years later, the price of a gallon of milk has more than tripled and the bees are disappearing at an alarming rate! What happened to the world's numero unosuperpower, the world's model democracy, the land of unlimited opportunities!
As we look forward eagerly to a healthy change in the upcoming Fall elections, that will hopefully install a leader who will focus on the core issues that are fundamental to the public, we need to understand what ails America! How did we get into this royal mess in Iraq and Afghanistan rather than a slam dunk on the perpetrators of 9/11? How did a balanced budget at the end of the Clinton administration turn into a 9 trillion dollar national debt under the current regime? Why is it that while many companies are struggling to break-even and jobs are being shipped abroad, oil companies are continuing to revel in unbelievable profits? As I write this, the price of gasoline is undauntedly inching towards $4 a gallon. While millions of people don't have access to basic health care in one of the wealthiest nations in the world, billions of dollars are being funneled to fight a long drawn out war. And if a certain frontrunner in the elections is to be believed, then this war will last another 100 years! Why is it that a nation that took great strides under Washington and Lincoln is now governed by Cheney's laws? With misguided priorities, a shrinking funding for basic scientific research does not bode well for future generations. While everyone acknowledges the fact that the era of cheap energy is over and alternatives have to be developed rather quickly, the only solution that Congress can propose is to change light bulbs. Edison must be rolling in his grave! With inflation gnawing away at the very fabric of the consumer oriented society and recessionary signs looming in the background, the nation cannot afford to lose sight of the core issues. Surely this must be happening only in a banana republic, right?
Could greed be one of the factors that has driven us to the brink of this state or is that too oversimplified an answer? When you consider special interest groups and lobbying which is nothing but legalized bribery, then greed is an understatement as evidenced by the lobbyist's scandal not too long ago. It is mind-boggling to understand the inner workings of the financial markets, for how do you explain a parallel financial institution, derivatives, sub-prime mess, hedging on other people's miseries as was the case where money managers made billions of dollars betting that a certain percentage of people would fall victim to foreclosure! FDR in his inaugural address said that 'the only thing we have to fear is fear itself'. Needless to say today's corporations are being run by fearless leaders who have epitomized the very notion of greed and end up landing softly in their golden parachutes while millions of hardworking Americans lose their lifelines! No one could have said it better than John Bogle, the doyen of the mutual fund industry who writes in his book, 'The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism' that 'I believe that the barrel itself - the very structure that holds all those apples - is bad."
Interestingly NYT columnist and well known economist, Paul Krugman in his recent book, 'Conscience of a Liberal' notes, 'My generation grew up in a nation of strong democratic values and broadly shared prosperity. But both those values and that shared prosperity have been slipping away'. He forcefully argues that the visionary dreams of FDR resulting in his 'New Deal' did much to improve the lives of the middle class society in America and he strongly advocates that it is time to once again create institutions that will support and sustain a decent society. Krugman further goes on to state that the gap between the rich and the poor who live in a globalized world is not caused by economic laws alone but by political choices!
If capitalism was good for America in the 20th century, has it somehow morphed into an Ouroboros that the very good for which it was intended is somehow being cannibalized? Has it created a fast food society that is impatient in its march to glory and accumulation of riches? Does this bode well in the era of globalization as developing countries are thirsty for oil but may inherit all the decadence of the West?
Jared Diamond has eloquently described how civilizations rise and fall in his classic, 'Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed'. According to him the vision of our leaders is a significant factor in building and sustaining or destroying societies. While the current administration turns a blind eye to the effects of global warming, future generations will have to pay a heavy price for our leaders' actions or rather the lack of it. Rome was not built in a day they say, but surely it must not have taken long for it to burn while Nero fiddled!
Is there any hope that the flaws in the current system will be corrected ushering in another era of prosperity? Tom Friedman of the NYT seems to think so and believes that during his travels he has sensed the emergence of a new 'can do' attitude amongst today's youth. He writes that while we can talk about nation building in Iraq or Afghanistan it is time to really put the nose to the grind and talk about rebuilding America. And clearly as we head into the Fall elections there is but one clear voice in the wilderness that is inspiring the nation's youth and generating a newfound enthusiasm in urging folks to be responsible citizens and encouraging everyone to be part of a revolution if we are to truly change the course of this great nation for a better and prosperous future! That person is none other than Barack Obama!