The Fall Of The American Empire

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When major shifts in history take pace the participants in those events don't often realise the magnitude of what's happening around them. After over a decade of travelling to the USA regularly, dipping in and out of different cities several times a year, it's clear that the country is in decay.

Admittedly, this is a view of America from my personal lens. And I have a particular world view that says the job of government is to protect those least able to protect themselves and to make them self-sufficient so they can contribute to society positively.

Health

The Swedish professor of population studies, the late Dr Hans Rosling, in a TED Talk (from the time before TED talks were generic happy-fests) looked at how the world has changed over the last 100 years or so.

Using data from a number of different sources that he cleverly put together with a bespoke big data analysis tool, before that was a fancy IT buzzword, he looked at the impact of a number of different factors to measure the effectiveness of a society. The TL;DR is that health is a very important predictor of national wealth, as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

He showed that before a country can be wealthy it needs to be healthy (as measured by child mortality).

The challenges of America's health system, such as its inability to come to grips with the value of universal free health care, is seen as a cost issue. But good health is critical to the development of a robust country according the long-term data trends revealed by Rosling.

Incidentally, child mortality is getting worse in the USA.

Employment

President Trump has shouted about how unemployment is at a record low because of his presidency. It's possible that one could argue under-employment is at a significant high as well. Many people are employed at salary levels that are below the poverty line. That poverty, along with poor heath care and a failing education system creates a perfect storm where people are forced into homelessness or constantly moving from one temporary housing arrangement to another.

Employment is important. As well providing funds for food and shelter, it gives people an opportunity to further invest into their community. When you have money, you spend it. And that creates more jobs.

Education

Much has been said about declining education standards in the US (as well as locally). The college system with its incredibly high fees put students into a poverty cycle where, even if the end up in highly paid professions, they spend many years reading large debts.

Why don't politicians give more funds to education? Steve Wozniak recently said that a household with three kids gets two votes and household with no kids gets two votes. Simply put, the people who benefit from education don't get a say in who governs the country (the same goes here).

A solid education (and I don't mean everyone needs a degree) that teaches skills such as numeracy, literacy, the ability to use a computer competently and clear thinking and problem solving is critical.

Will It Take A "Revolution"?

I'm not sure what can break America out of this cycle. And, sadly, I see Australia following many of the same patterns. My gut feeling is it will take a significant event of some sort. Not necessarily a civil war or anything like that but something that breaks the existing political order.

We know that financial events, such as the Great Depression or the GFC aren't going to do it - if anything, those events consolidated the power of a relatively small oligarchy.

Even then, it will take a massive act of political will. And that's something I cannot see in the existing cohort of political leaders.


Comments

    Never been and most likely will never go, I like my privacy. When there is a good chance you will lose your house if you get sick, the health system is broken. If your kids don't get a well-rounded education because there is no money for schools, the education system is broken. When you are working for such a piddling amount of money you need to rely on food stamps, the minimum wage becomes a retardant to the economy. When the majority of people vote for one candidate but the other guy gets in because of Gerrymandering and the electoral college, you end up with an egotistic narcissistic orange buffoon for a president.

      Oh, by the way Anthony, excellent article, there are too few on this subject afaic. Maybe not a civil war, but something has to break sooner or later and it's gonna be painful.

        Thanks. I go there for work regularly and have been fortunate to see some of the best of the US. But the building blocks of robust society are broken. I often say the best way to measure or judge a country is by how it treats its weakest citizens.

    God, what a lot of hand-wringing with the "I see Australia going the same way" comment. The US is on the decline - but part of it is the nation's highly polarised, highly political environment that actively works against itself. The last US election contributed directly to that because it devolved into "Where are your emails?" and "Creepy small hands" bullshit instead of being based on actual fucking issues.

    But we are not the US and we're not in the same pattern. The general public strongly support public healthcare and any attempt to turn to a largely privatised system like the US would be political suicide - nobody would vote for it. There's no ideological opposition to it here. Our education system is falling behind but we're still a social democracy and can inject public funds into it judiciously - but not so that people can do as they please and end up with useless degrees paid for by society with zero benefit created. We don't let kids vote because their cognitive development isn't at the stage where they can think their way through good decisions - we don't trust them to drive or do other complex tasks unsupervised, voting is no different, liking #KONY2012 is not political genius or worthy of voting rights.

    As for employment - we're going through a techno-industrial revolution. People left the farms to go into the factories and now they're leaving the factories as cheap overseas labour or robots take over. It isn't just money - it's resources, and as they dwindle, we're going to allocate them to jobs that remain useful and can't be done by robots. I don't know what you want people to do about this, because even under some socialist paradise there's still going to be the issue of resource allocation - except it's literal resources instead of money or counting beans.

      A lot of valid points there but I have to disagree that we aren't heading in the same direction. There are definite creeping issues with security and privacy, you only have to look at our ridiculous "homeland security" bullshit and we're fast heading towards handing over our phone and social network passwords too. Our education system is quickly becoming a joke among first world countries as well. Then look at the corporate greed that fed the GFC and our financial system that has been indicted with corruption and theft of the worst kind and they don't friggin care either. No mate there are definite parallels there.

        A few similarities does not mean we're on the same decline. We're a social democracy - our populous is much more tolerant of social welfare (even if it doesn't seem like it). We're a long way from the US - and the chances of us slipping into their stagnation is lower than you think.

        This article does highlight some issues with the US but the parallels drawn here aren't particularly strong. We're nowhere near as bad and it's not hard to turn it around (the ALP were starting with the Gonski reform). Corporate greed exists in every system (yes, even the socialist ones - except they aren't corporations).

        PS border security can already ask you to unlock your device...

          I usually hate using the term, "Slippery slope" but I think it applies here. We may not be at the same ugly stage as the US, but we are definitely on the same path and the fact that Libs keep removing the progress made in the past is making me want to scream, Enough is Enough". Hyperbole maybe, but I don't think we are going to walk back those changes either, they will gradually get worse, not better.

        One area I didn't discuss was the treatment of refugees. Trump's recent policy of spearing families at the border and our detention policies are both terrible.

          Let's not forget the social injustice and prisons being owned by corporations, meaning they need all cells full and the blacks being by far the easiest targets.

    I personally think the USA has been in a slow decline since the late 50s.

    There have been times where the decline has seemed like it was reaching a tipping point, but then things change and the decline slows for a while or even reverses for a time in some areas.

    I agree that there are parallels between some aspects of societal decline in the US and in Australia but I think over time the US decline has moved further away form Australian society in how it is happening and at what rate it is happening

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