American capitalism has passed its peak — and the signs of decline are piling up
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Like all previous economic systems in recorded history, capitalism is on track to repeat the same three-step trip: birth, evolution, and death. The timing and other specifics of each system’s trip differ. Births and evolutions are commonly experienced as positive, celebrated for their progress and promise. The declines and deaths, however, are often denied and usually feel difficult and depressing. Notwithstanding endlessly glib political speeches about bright futures, U.S. capitalism has reached and passed its peak. Like the British Empire after World War I, the trip now is painful.
Signs of decline accumulate. The last 40 years of slow economic growth have seen the top 10 percent take nearly all of it. The other 90 percent suffered constricted real wage growth that drove them to borrow massively (for homes, cars, credit cards, and college expenses). Their creditors were, of course, mostly that same 10 percent. College costs rose as graduates’ prospects for good jobs and incomes fell. Those without college degrees faced worse prospects. Inequalities of wealth and income soared. To protect their positions atop those inequalities, the 10 percent increased their donation-fueled sway over politics and culture. Compliant politicians then reinforced the deepening inequalities of wealth and income in that typical spiral of systems in decline.
The relentlessly deepening inequality is especially painful and difficult for the United States because it had been temporarily reversed in the 1930s and 1940s. The sharply reduced inequality then—celebrated as the rise of a vast “middle class”—led to renewed affirmations of American exceptionalism and capitalism’s virtues. We lived, it was said, in a post-1930s “people’s capitalism.” The claim had its grain of truth, if no more than that. It made expectations of “middle class” jobs and incomes seem to be birthrights of most (white) Americans. The ever-deepening inequality since the 1970s first frustrated and then collapsed those expectations. A kind of bitterness at a fading American dream has settled in and agitated popular consciousness. Capitalism became increasingly a disappointment, a sign of system decline. Another sign is the increasing interest in socialism and elections of socialists despite the relentless anti-socialist drumbeats of the Cold War and since.
Word. Thanks Richard.
“Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.”
April 25, 2021 at 9:09 PM #419416
April 25, 2021 at 9:14 PM #419417jbnwParticipant
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One is rest areas on the interstates – I’ve watched many go from open, to closed, to torn down, to you can’t even tell it used to be a rest area.
The other is bridge collapses – too many. From https://www.npr.org/2017/08/01/540669701/10-years-after-bridge-collapse-america-is-still-crumbling :
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, 12 percent of the nation’s bridges were rated as structurally deficient in 2007, but only 9 percent are in that category today.
Still, ARTBA, the builders’ association, estimates it would take more than three decades to repair or replace all those more than 55,000 bridges that need it. It’s a challenge that will no doubt grow as structures age and federal interest continues to lag.
There are plenty of others, as noted, but it’s how I’ve noticed the decline over time.
April 25, 2021 at 10:48 PM #419449
April 26, 2021 at 2:09 AM #419480
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