Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Collapsing empire watch

Glenn Greenwald:

It's easy to say and easy to document, but quite difficult to really internalize, that the United States is in the process of imperial collapse. Every now and then, however, one encounters certain facts which compellingly and viscerally highlight how real that is. Here's the latest such fact, from a new study in Health Affairs by Columbia Health Policy Professors Peter A. Muennig and Sherry A. Glied (h/t):

In 1950, the United States was fifth among the leading industrialized nations with respect to female life expectancy at birth, surpassed only by Sweden, Norway, Australia, and the Netherlands. The last available measure of female life expectancy had the United States ranked at forty-sixth in the world. As of September 23, 2010, the United States ranked forty-ninth for both male and female life expectancy combined.
More here.

Very well put: "easy to say...but quite difficult to really internalize."

I mean, of course, Greenwald is right to assert that the American Empire is in heavy decline, but I've been raised to believe that the United States is the greatest country in the world. Except that it's not. It's just really difficult for me to get my hands around the concept. Indeed, it is so difficult for some people, even, to hear spoken what is so obviously true, that our glory days are well behind us, that they just get pissed off at the bearer of bad tidings.

"What do you mean America's not the greatest country in the world? Fuck you, asshole. Why don't you just go back to Iraq, you fucking communist terrorist piece of shit!"

Well, I guess people can believe what they want, but you can't deny the fact that not only are we no longer great, we're actually sort of treading water around the underside of mediocre, relative to other nations in the industrialized world. Our infrastructure, built between fifty and a hundred years ago, is falling apart, and "the market" doesn't seem inclined to fix it. Add that to the offshoring of most of our manufacturing base, and it becomes extraordinarily clear that we are no longer a nation of builders--we are now a nation of users. The mighty middle class that makes American democracy actually mean something is on the way out. Indeed, democracy is all but a romantic notion these days: the corporations call the shots now. Politics, which once mattered, is just a sport now, albeit less popular than football. War's a sport, too, also less popular than football, but heavily supported by its remarkable fan base, which includes our corporate leadership.

Sure, we've had enormous problems in the past, but we overcame many of them: this is something altogether different; it's like we woke up one day to find that the country we thought we lived in was just a dream. The dream was really nice, but the reality of the waking world is just kind of lame. No, we're not great, and haven't been for at least a couple of decades.

And you can probably guess why I think we've gone off the rails so badly: somewhere along the line, everybody decided that instead of making the economy serve us, we ought to serve the economy, instead. And in this case "the economy" is defined as whatever the rich want. This is all true. But in my heart, I still want to believe that America is the greatest country in the world. If I can't embrace the new reality, when I know damned good and well that it really is reality, how difficult is it to convince people who don't know that our Golden Age ended long ago?

We're doomed to further decline. When we finally hit bottom, it's going to hurt. Bad.