A Brave New World

At the middle of the twentieth century at the end of World War II, the United States was near full employment, Europe, Japan and China were devastated, and the US had virtually no competition in the world. Whatever the US made would sell – domestically and internationally.

As the decades passed, Europe, Japan and China began to revive economically, and we found ourselves in a newly competitive world. Technological advances brought new products to market, manufacturing processes became more efficient and many were automated to reduce costs. Health care improved, life expectancies increased, and the population soared. Traditional industries began to age and faced competition from foreign sources whose products – the most visible being automobiles – were of higher quality.

What was good for General Motors wasn’t necessarily good for America any more.

To reduce costs and make the income statements more attractive for investors, manufacturers of all kinds began to outsource manufacturing to foreign countries that put pressure on the labor force and unemployment numbers. The financial industry received a boost when in the 1990’s Congress repealed the Glass-Steagall Act and enabled commercial banks to venture in the risky world of investment banking. Largely unregulated at the time, the financial industry boomed, banks merged creating mega-banks, and financial instruments became more creative, prolific, and riskier. In some cases even sophisticated investors did not know exactly what they were buying.

The political winds began to change significantly with a trend toward extreme political partisanship that resulted in significant non-compromise and non-deal making. Congress became relatively dysfunctional – unable or unwilling to collectively pass legislation to improve the country’s infrastructure. The economy was stimulated through military interventions and wars, which contributed significantly to the vast increase in the national debt. The cold war ended and reduced the need for a cold war mentality in the Department of Defense.

As policemen to the world, after World War II the US intervened in many areas of the world – some perhaps justified and others completely unwise. Interventions – covert and overt – occurred in Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Chile, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan, and then Iraq once more. This left over 100,000 of our soldiers dead, more than half a million wounded, and counting all the military and non-military deaths resulting from these interventions, more than 8 million military and civilian deaths in other countries who were the beneficiaries of this intervention.

The population of the United States increased from approximately 180 million at the end of World War II to over 300 million today. The transfer of wealth in the United States has been dramatic – particularly over the last 20 years. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Sadly, the era of the middle class seems to be over, leaving open the question, “Who’s going to buy all the stuff?”

According to the Center on Budget Priorities and Policies, the widening gap between the rich and poor is not speculation – it is fact. In their April 2014 report, they state and I quote:

 

–   “The years from the end of World War II into the 1970s were ones of substantial economic growth and broadly shared prosperity.
   –   Incomes grew rapidly and at roughly the same rate up and down the income ladder, roughly doubling in inflation-adjusted terms between the late 1940s and early 1970s.
   –   The income gap between those high up the income ladder and those on the middle and lower rungs — while substantial — did not change much during this period.
   –   Beginning in the 1970s, economic growth slowed and the income gap widened.
   –   Income growth for households in the middle and lower parts of the distribution slowed sharply, while incomes at the top continued to grow strongly.
   –   The concentration of income at the very top of the distribution rose to levels last seen more than 80 years ago (during the “Roaring Twenties”).
   –   Wealth — the value of a household’s property and financial assets, minus the value of its debts — is much more highly concentrated than income. The best data available until recently did not show a dramatic increase in wealth   concentration at the very top (unlike the income data), but new research suggests that the percentage of wealth held by the very wealthiest also has risen sharply over the last three decades.”

Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
“A Guide to Statistics on Historical Trends in Income Inequality”
By Chad Stone, Danilo Trisi, Arloc Sherman, and William Chen

The spread of information and the speed by which it has spread has been nothing short of breathtaking since World War II. People relied on newspapers, magazines and radio during those years, but now have instantaneous access to people all over the world through social media like Facebook and Twitter. There are hundreds of radio and TV talk shows – most of which are partisan in nature. With a click of the mouse individuals can spread information worldwide, and talk show hosts can make articulate arguments on whatever issue they desire starting from their own political leanings, making their arguments, and ignoring facts and relevant information that might not agree with their political leanings. In a sense, they manipulate “P” to their own advantage and logically conclude “Q” which may be either true or just plain nonsense.

The manipulation of “P” is widely used to conjure up reasons to go to war. There wasn’t any real “Golf of Tonkin incident” that gave us a reason to vastly increase our military excursion into Viet Nam – and there were not any weapons of mass destruction that gave us just cause to invade Iraq the second time. Whether this manipulation of “P” was intentional or based on faulty intelligence is open to debate – but the result was that we did the “shock and awe” thing followed by a disastrous invasion and woeful attempt at nation building; and a majority of the people in this country now believe that the effort was not worth the cost.

Religion and its effect on the world are hot topics, and it is not the purpose of this book to take a stance – pro or con – about any type of religion. However, religion DOES exist, it is a fact, and it has had and is currently having an effect on the world – pro AND con.
Our forefathers founded this country as a secular nation – not anti religion – but secular with citizens having the freedom to believe what they want and to practice their religion without the interference from government. A principle reason for freedom of religion and the construction of a wall of separation of church and state was that our forefathers knew and understood the effects that religion can have on government. This fact is not lost on me mainly because my own great, great, great, . . . . , great grandfather was Roger Williams, the founder of the concept of separation of church and state and the colony of Rhode Island. He was a very religious man, and like our founding fathers, knew that religious beliefs can affect the premise in “P” implies “Q” – bad decisions can come from reliance on faith alone and without regard for the actual truth of the matter.

By far most religious people use their religion as a moral and ethical guide in life and, in some religions, to give hope about life after death. However, the Christian bible, the Torah, and the Islamic Koran all have passages that encourage violence. For example, while one of the Ten Commandments is, “Thou shalt not kill,” the same bible tells followers that if they encounter anyone who advocates the belief in any other god, that person must kill the offending individual; for good measure, the same passage tells the believer to kill the individual’s cattle as well. (Source: DEUTERONOMY 13:6, 8-15) The Koran tells true believers to kill infidels.

Literalists take these passages seriously. Despite the access that people all over the world have to information, the ferocity of religious fanatics has increased. The nineteen men who flew planes in to the World Trade Center and the pentagon did not do so for economic reasons; and the call for jihad is not based on anything but what is written in the Koran and interpreted as justification to kill infidels.

Centuries ago, Christians initiated crusades, initiated the inquisition, burned heretics at the stake, and in Salem, Massachusetts, hanged witches. (One of the ancestors of my sons – on my wife’s side – was hanged as a witch in Salem.)
There are television talk shows hosted by Christian fundamentalists who are preaching prophecy and the imminent coming of the rapture, Armageddon, and years of tribulation followed by the return of Christ to reign for a thousand years. They cite passages from the Book of Daniel and from Revelations as a source of their beliefs. Whether or not anyone else believes any of this is irrelevant – it exists and stems from a definite belief in the truth of a hypothesis (P) taken directly from the Christian Bible or Islamic Koran and believed to be true by faith alone. Whoever is right – or if both are completely wrong – is still open to conjecture. The fact is that conclusions drawn on these hypotheses or premises are being acted upon – often violently – and are a reality in today’s world. The subject, however flammable, is real and cannot be ignored. Our children are going to have to live with it.

We can see all around us the effect of global warming – the melting of the glaciers, the increase in violent weather, and the rising of sea levels. Yet there are those who debate the cause of this phenomenon – whether contributed by industrial man or just a geological cycle in the history of the earth. Are we doing anything about it? Not much, but there is a lot of talk going on.

So how does a young person these days face the future in this brave new world?

Carefully, I must say, and with a heavy dose of critical thinking. The next fifty years will not be like the past fifty years by any stretch of the imagination.

A young person must face the following facts:

• The world has limited resources.
• The world’s population is increasing and people are living longer.
• The US has a mountain of debt.
• Technology is advancing at a rapid pace.
• Access to information is currently and will become easier.
• Religion does exist and has an effect on the world.
• Democratic government requires debate and compromise by intelligent people.
• The gap between the rich and the poor is widening.
• Competition for well paying jobs is increasing.

It is every parent’s hope that their children will grow up and prosper in at least if not better lifestyle than they experienced as children. For those of us who were born during or before the baby boom, that was almost a certainty. Nowadays, I’m not so sure.

There is an estimate that approximately six million young people in this country from the ages of 16 to 21 have dropped out of school, are unemployed, and have virtually given up hope. There are approximately one million children dropping out of school every year – that’s one every 29 seconds or 7,000 per day. These young people face lives of low income, unemployment, poor health, living on public assistance, and being single parents.

These trends in this country are not healthy or conducive to growing a population of critical thinking and educated citizens who want to maintain a democratic way of life.

The problem is serious; if we do nothing, the future is not bright.

It is not enough to depend on or wait for government to solve this problem and make these problems just go away. We have to do it ourselves.

The critical skills are essential for an individual to manage his/her own career in the twenty first century; but they are also essential for us to maintain a democratic way of life. This means as students, as parents, as teachers, as career-minded individuals, and as citizens we need to have the ability to sort out truth from fiction, to think critically about the problems that face us, to communicate clearly with others our concerns and ideas, to apply technology to solve our most pressing problems, to work together as a team, to focus on the most important priorities, and to continue educating ourselves.

In essence, we need the critical skills to survive.

 

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