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The Decline and Fall of the United States of America

10 April, 2008

One of the great works of Western historical literature is Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.  Though his conclusions have not stood the test of time (new information forces revisionism in all works of research), it is still one of the best, certainly most well known, works covering this significant period of history. 

I have to wonder if, a hundred (or five hundred, or a thousand) years from now, an historian will write the history of the decline and fall of the United States of America, focusing on the period from 1980 to 2010 as the decades in which the decline became irreversible.  The most curious part of this, for me, is the realization that the policies of the most hyper-patriotic (the neo-conservatives and theo-conservatives (at least, patriotic by their standards (and thus the standards of the main-stream media)))  appear to be working the hardest to create a situation in which the fall of (arguably) the most powerful nation in the history of the world can be contemplated.  Why do I lay the decline of America at the feet of those who are quickest to praise the country, quickest to deny the possibility that America has (or could make) a mistake, and those quickest to accuse citizens with different ideas of treason? 

America’s strength is economic.  We are the largest economy in the world.  We still lead the world in the number of patents  granted.  We can create new industries more quickly, create new ideas, create more wealth faster and more reliably than almost every nation on earth.  Our economy is being destroyed.

How is it being destroyed?  Believe it or not, through deregulation.  How’s that for counterintuitive?

Government regulation (through such entities as the DOJ, SEC, etc.) ensures that corporations remain honest in their financial dealings.  Government regulations (through entities such as the FDA, EPA, DoA, etc.) ensure that the products produced by corporations are safe and perform as advertised.  Government regulations (through OSHA, MSHA, etc.) ensure that workers are safe while producing the raw materials for industry and the finished products.  Government regulations (through the FDA, DOA, etc.) ensures that what we eat is safe, is produced in a safe manner, and harvested in the least harmful way.  Government regulations (through the FAA, DOJ, STB) ensure that our airlines, busses, railroads (or what is left of them), highways and bridges are safe.  The stated goal of the conservative movement from the 1970s through today is the elimination of regulations.

Conservatives claim that deregulation allows companies to compete better, be more efficient, and make more money.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.  For a perfect example, look at the airlines.  In the 1970s, air travel was moderately expensive and the airline stocks were reliable performers (no big gains, but few losses).  The airline industry was stable.  Reagan changed all that (especially the stability part).  Since deregulation, what have we seen?  Bankruptcy, mergers, debt and instability.

Conservatives are also fond of claiming that the marketplace is self-regulating, that people will buy from companies with business practices the consumer likes.  The number of food contamination cases has exploded.  Lead paint in uninspected toys and other consumer goods.  Coal mine cave-ins.  I don’t like any of those things, but I have to buy food (even if it is not inspected), goods, electricity, you name it.  Some things I can control (I don’t shop at Walmart), but I can’t control which mine my power company buys coal from , can I?  Unbridled capitalism is based upon delivering for less.  One of the easiest way for a company to sell for less (and please its investors) is to skimp on safety and self-inspection.  By this argument, our food, toys, mines, etc., should be safer now that there are so few inspectors.  Has that happened?

Deregulation also destroys social mobility.  America today is more stratified (less movement from poor to middle class, middle class to rich) than most other industrialized nations (though moving from middle-class to poor is still an option being exercised by many).  Small companies were, in the past, protected from predatory pricing and unfair business practices through federal regulation.  ‘Leveling the playing field’ gave start-up companies a chance to compete.  Now, Walmart, Lockheed Martin, Dell, IBM, and 7-11 can squelch upstarts, eliminating future wealth-producing companies.  This is great for the wealthy — they get richer, the middle-class and poor get relatively poorer, and there will be less competition in the future.

The American economy is beginning to mirror third-world oligarchies.  One percent of our population now controls around one third of the nations wealth.  Their toadies in congress give them tax cuts and pass laws protecting them from their mistakes.  Congress bails out the richest failures, leaving the majority of the country with the bill.  If this trend continues (and I see no reason it will not), China and the EU will pass America, and we will be relegated to an economic also-ran.

The only way that I see to get out of this is through reasonable regulation of business practices coupled with good inspections and harsh penalties (the Justice Department doesn’t even both chargin companies with crimes anymore, they just defer prosecution as long as the company promises to be good (yeah, that woulda worked with Arthur Anderson)).  Right now, though, the political will does not exist.  Only another Great Depression could create that kind of will.

That scares the shit out of me.  I actually think that a major depression could be the spark to get America back on the right track.  Either that, or a 28th century historian is going to become very well known for a study of us.

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12 comments

  1. I agree. Regulation is what saved this country in the great depression, deregulation is what led to the depression. I know why “neo-cons” love deregulation, they own the companies, ie Cheney. I don’t understand why middle class working people are Republican, if they actually thought about it, deregulation leads to lay offs to prevent people from collecting pensions, subpar health benefits, dangerous working conditions, mandatory unpaid overtime, and a CEO who (at least in this country) makes 450 times what you make.

    A great recent example is the subprime lending crisis, which in a large part has led to our recession. Deregulation of the entire lending and banking industry led to unethical practices, which is now making it harder for qualified borrowers to get loans, and causing thousands of people to lose their homes. If people can’t borrow money, because the banks are too scared, there isn’t anyone to buy the homes people need to get out of.

    Also, we are at risk of losing valuable money making patents in the field of stem cell research. Right now, the United States has some of the brightest minds, but their hands are tied by a federal ban, guided by religious convictions. Instead of finding ways to increase science and math scores in our schools, regional school boards are finding ways to teach creationism.

    From a historical standpoint, I can easily see how this could be the beginning of the end. A large empire, costful wars, recession at home, etc. Its happened before.


  2. Billy, you and Sabrina are both right. I’ve had many of the same ideas but have not strung them together as coherently as you two did.

    God, this is depressing. And I’m sometimes scared shitless too.


  3. Take a peek at Grumpy Lion today. More economics.


  4. I was born during the Great Depression, and believe me, if we have another one it’ll make the Great Depression look like a cake-walk. People back then didn’t have the sense of entitlement and the need for instant gratification that people now have. We went without until we could pay for whatever we needed (and I stress needed, not wanted). Neighbors and even strangers helped one another; we all shared what little most of us had. Do you think that this would happen in today’s culture? No Way!!!

    The strongest will take what they want from the weakest. Just look at the riots around the world now because the price of food is rapidly increasing, causing shortages. Just think of how it’ll be when there are food shortages or no money to purchase food in the U.S. As an example, look at what happened in New Orleans after Katrina.

    We didn’t even have a key for our house and we would leave a note on the door when we left, telling where we went and what time we’d be home. Try doing that today.

    (((Billy)), as much as I would like to say that you and Sabrina are wrong, I’m afraid that you both are spot on. I may not live to see it, but I fear for my kids, grandkids and great-grandkids.


  5. Frizz: Welcome. I don’t think that the ‘third-world-ization’ of the American economy, or another great depression, is inevitable. But what it will take to stop it is politicians telling the truth, and people voting for long term stability, Unfortunately, I see little chance of that happening.


  6. (((Billy)): I didn’t mean to imply that I thought another great depression was inevitable, just highly probable. My comments were based on what I perceive will happen if we do have one.

    Personally, I don’t think that the politicians will have the courage to go against the special interests, nor do I think that the American public has the will or desire to make the sacrifices to bring about the significant changes necessary to prevent it from happening.

    The only time that I’ve seen the people and the politicians pull together with one common goal was during WWII. Since then, the Korean War, War in Vietnam, Desert Storm, War in Iraq, and the many police actions around the world have been side-shows that most of the people watched on the evening news, but never felt a need to sacrifice anything or let them interfere with their daily lives.

    I do have to say, though, that with this Iraq War, more people are supportive of the troops than in any conflict since WWII. I am a Navy veteran, and even at my age, when I wear my USS Iowa BB61 cap with the “Former Crewmember” patch on it, people come up to me and thank me for my service. My reply is, “You’re welcome and thank you for you appreciation.”

    So, maybe I’m being too cynical about how the public will handle this whole issue. Maybe our hope is with these brave young people who are putting their lives on the line every day to fight an ill-conceived, war foisted upon the U.S. by “The Chimp” and his cohorts.


  7. Sad how everyone could see this coming except for the ones who could have done anything to help.


  8. I, for one, can’t help but wonder what would happen if funding for the $2,000,000,000,000 2010 deficit dried up. Wouldn’t that be a doozie if there were no Government money to pay for roads, schools, or anything else. That really would make the Great Depression look like a “cake walk” and would throw the US into a third-world scenario. I would say “watch-out!” but where would you look or go to escape an oncoming train wreck?


  9. The author is either an idiot or an elitist traitor. He has no foundation for his stated beliefs that are based on reality. He prattles on about “deregulation” being the cause of our decline and the “neo-cons” and all the other mass media created nonsense, while ignoring the utter and total failure to enforce any of the laws that were made that actually protected the people from the cartels (banking, oil, transprotation, manufacturing, etc.) and actually repealed some of them as well. No mention is made of the debt based monetary system that has reduced the value of the dollar to its current real value of less than one and one half cents! No mention of the fact that the labors of our people have been looted to pay interest on money the foreign bankers made up out of thin air! No mention of the fact that every debt based fiat money system ever created has led to the total collapse of the economy, and usually the country, for which it was created.


  10. You made a number of good points there. I did a search on the subject matter and found mainly persons will agree with your blog.


  11. I agree that deregulation is what has destroyed many of the US business community. Nothing that is imported into the US from Red China (and what isn’t made in that country today?) has anyone verifying that it is safe to use of be safe to be sold. If a foodstuff says product of China, you have no way of knowing under what conditions it was made or whether they have used human waste (which is common in China) to fertilize the vegetable matter. They have poisoned our pets, killed our infants, and perhaps caused a generation of children to be affected adversely due to lead paint in toys and in food products. These people are just like the manufacturing community in the US, they put profits first. At least in the US the US manufacturers would not get away with poisoning its own people or giving lead painted toys and other items to US children. Deregulation of any industry is an invitation to corruption. Business will cheat, lie, and steal as much as it can as long as there is no fear of their business having to answer for what they do. One need only look at the market for illegal drugs in the US. As a totally unregulated enterprise, there is no quality control, no way of knowing the strength of drugs, under which conditions they were produced, what foreign substances might be mixed in with them. Profit is all that matters. If people are poisoned or die from the drugs, the drug profiteers could care less. In the legal drug community the phamaceutical manufacturers are required to manufacture their drugs with strict quality control procedures and strict observances on dosages and have to provide data their the drug is efficatious. Expiration dates, lot numbers and other indicators should a recall be needed are required. Which of us would want to be treated by a hospital or doctor who operates like he or she were practicing in the 19th century or using drugs that were homemade? However, the decline of the US of A has many other factors that are contributing to its demise. When the Governors of the individual states say that two men or two women can get married to each other the decline of a countrys morals has taken a slide that cannot be reversed. Recently a woman got married to herself, another woman got married to a building, A brother and sister tried to take out a marriage license but were denied (they were blood related). What is a father wants to marry his daughter (natural child not step)? What about the man who wants to get married to his dog or cat? If you can get married to a same sex person then what would stop you from marrying a brother, son, uncle, aunt, infant, horse, chimpanzee, car or goldfish?


  12. You made some clear points there. I did a search on the subject and found most persons will approve with your site.



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