Alex Yarde asks Americans to look closely at the ways in which our nation is failing its citizens.
In 2013 the United States of America has one of lowest degrees of social mobility of all high-income countries in the world. This means that a child born into poverty in the US is likely to remain poor. Children also represent a disproportionate share of the poor in the United States. They are 24% of the total population but 36% of those living in poverty. Unfortunately, it seems that no group is ready to help address these alarming statistics. The private sector appears to be in a race to the bottom cutting wages and benefits for workers while bailed out banks are more flush with cash than ever. Our government, also, cannot seem to function in a way that serves anyone other than the elites that fund campaigns. By globally-accepted measures America, despite its vast wealth, is taking on many characteristics of a Failed State.
Typically, a Failed State means that a state has been rendered ineffective and is not able to enforce its laws uniformly because of the following five factors: high crime rates, extreme political corruption, an impenetrable and ineffective bureaucracy, judicial ineffectiveness, and cultural situations in which traditional leaders wield more power than the state over a certain area.
Below is a summary of how these factors seem to be playing out in America today.
1. High crime rates. The United States incarcerates the largest percentage of its population of any nation on earth. Our violent crime rates (rates of rape, murder, and armed felonies), however, remain the highest of any industrialized nation. Our gun ownership is the highest by far on the planet. Americans make up just 6% of the world population but own 1/3 of the total guns on earth. We, however, are no safer for it.
2. Extreme political corruption. Lawmakers often adopt policies that are supported by lobby groups that fund their political campaigns rather than policies that work for the common good. Bills are even written by monied interest groups that want them adopted and passed. Legislators, once they leave the public sector, look to become lobbyist themselves. Thus influencing legislators to do the work paid for by these groups they hope to get hired by one day rather than the constituents that voted them into office.
3. An impenetrable and ineffective bureaucracy. The unprecedented gridlock in Congress makes this Congress the least effective ever. With half the year gone, they have passed just 15 bills. Sen. McConnell of Kentucky has used the filibuster 413 times. Almost twice as much as when Democrats held the minority from 1995 to 2001. However, they voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) 40 times and voted on new anti-abortion legislation 20 times. None of these items would or will become laws but that did not stop these numerous symbolic votes that really just wasted time and the resources of the government. Congress failed to focus on the real issues of job growth, infrastructure overhaul or bank regulation. Vital issues that might have a chance of passing and doing some good for everyone.
4. Judicial ineffectiveness. Most Americans believe the country’s criminal justice system comprises an ineffective, purely punitive approach to crime. Three major findings are: Americans want to attack the underlying causes of crime rather than the symptoms; prevention is the nation’s premiere criminal justice goal; harsh prison sentences are being reconsidered as a primary crime-fighting tool, especially for non-violent offenders. Our high incarceration rate impacts the economy by draining public funding and creating a “prison industrial complex” where there is competition from states to open larger prisons to fill with out of state prisoners.
There is little thought of family visitations, which are incentive for reform and no credible incentive for rehabilitation. This is a huge percentage of our population we discard. The Supreme Court is certainly no kangaroo court system (and here I think we do better than many countries) but even in this area we could do better. Justice Clarence Thomas should have recused himself from cases involving the health care reform law because his wife, Virginia, campaigned against it. Charges of serving while having a conflict of interest in a case diminish the power of the court and draw it further into politics. The Supreme Court should have an open and transparent system for deciding recusal requests. These types of rules help increase the public trust in the institution. Given the lack of trust in so many areas of our lives, it is important for the judiciary keep working to strengthen its reputation.
5. Cultural situations in which traditional leaders wield more power than the state over a certain area. There are places in United States where it seems that conservative Tea Party representatives run local government without concern for wider laws. These areas seem to be dominated by leaders who are unashamedly anti-intellectual, rabidly anti-choice and racist. For example, the State Legislature in Raleigh, North Carolina is passing or proposing laws that would make couples wait two years to divorce, remove the requirements that teachers have a college degree to teach core subjects and declare an official state religion.
In Texas, many women’s health care clinics are on the verge of being shut down. These closures follow actions in which the Texas Legislature not only slapped stringent conditions on reproductive services, like mandatory adoption classes and waiting periods, but also cut money going to the state’s Medicaid family planning program ― called the Women’s Health Program ― and blocked money going to Planned Parenthood for non-abortion services. This is effectively a death sentence for poor Texas women who depend upon these clinics for early cancer detection.
Despite these alarming trends in our society, incredibly, as a nation we still have an unrealistic, inflated opinion of ourselves. Leaders of both parties will often describe how “exceptional” America is in the world. But statistically that seems hard to prove. The US averages a 34 out of 100 by UN 5 year averages when looking at infant mortality. The United States ranks 26th in the world in literacy rates. We are #4 on the World’s Top Ten Wealth Disparity Rates according to OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). Unless we address a host of issues we as a nation have no right to rest on our laurels.
We need to get our collective house in order if we hope to remain an effective economic, military and social leader in the world. We must remain proactive not reactive on the world stage. This is the only way our children and grandchildren will compete with the rest of the world. Only when we can show the world we are serious about tackling our gross inequities will we deserve not to be lumped with the worst actors.
Photo: Flickr/Michael Cory