Even as a 15-year-old, on the other side of the ocean [The Netherlands], this president inspired me. His murder was a complete shock, how on earth could such a thing happen in America? I have read “The Thousand Days,” Arthur Schlesinger’s book about his stay in the White House, several times. It was the start of a deeper interest in America
“We are, as Lincoln said, ‘the last, best hope of earth.’ We are not just one more nation, one more same entity on the world stage. We have been essential to the preservation and progress of freedom, and those who lead us in the years ahead must remind us, as Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Reagan did, of the unique role we play. Neither they nor we should ever forget that we are, in fact, exceptional.”
Dick Cheney [former U.S. vice-president] – in his book “Exceptional, why the world needs a powerful America” .
There was a time, in the 1950s and the 1960s, when I couldn´t agree more.
For me, as a young boy, America was the really good life; the country of abundance. The land of freedom, of plenty of opportunities for those who want to work hard. My parents had already given me a deep admiration for Americans “because they liberated our country” in 1945…
I liked Norman Rockwell’s drawings, which I believed were striking sketches of American life, and American society. Pleasant images of everyday, yet special life of Americans and the families and communities in which they lived. They seemed to be happy, peaceful people…
And then, somewhere in the second half of the ’60s, different pictures began to appear: Vietnam, murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, Watergate…
photo: John Olson – The Life images collection [via Getty Images]
The belief that the United States is inherently different from other nations, that it is exceptional, has a long history. But especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union, America was more than ever convinced of being superior and having a unique mission to transform the world; to bring their democracy to other countries, especially to those in the Middle East, oil-rich and enemies of Israel.
More than ever, many in Europe shared that conviction of superiority, and vigorously pursued their desire to apply the American neo-liberal economic philosophy at the time in Europe as well.
30 years later, let´s have a look at what that neo-liberal ideology has done to the 90% majority of the citizens of the USA…
“God bless America, the greatest country in the world”,
the mantra that American presidents always faithfully recite at the end of their speech.
Especially since World War II, America has been the shining example for Europe, the source of inspiration in many areas, but certainly in that of the economy and business culture and management.
When, in the mid-1980s, President Ronald Reagan fully embraced the neoliberal ideology of Milton Friedman et al., England [Margaret Thatcher] and the rest of Western Europe quickly followed suit.
photo: Margaret Bourke-White, 1937
Based on a few essential themes for “ordinary people” [income development, health, education, infrastructure, security, democracy], I wish to discover if it is a good thing for Europe [and others] to still follow dutifully the “American neo-liberal economic paradigm”.
In 1979 the top 1% income earners had an 11.5% share of total national income; 35 years later that share had increased to 20%. For the bottom 50%, it was the other way round.
The bottom 50% did not increase its share of wealth – it stayed 36 years at 0%. The top 1% practically doubled its wealth share to nearly 40%.
Only two OECD countries had a worse poverty rate in 2019 than the USA. Ex communist countries like Romania and Bulgaria, as well as Mexico and Chili, had better rates than the USA.
Another way of looking at wealth distribution in the USA [2014 this time]: the top 30% of Americans own 92% of the wealth. The vast majority, 70%, owns 8%.
Productivity – real output per hour – increased steadily. Until 1970 approximately, wages increased in parallel with productivity. Since then, there has been a zero wage increase.
In the last 10 years, the official federal minimum wage [which is not the same as a “living wage”; not by far] remained unchanged. At the same time, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans increased by nearly $2.000.000.000.000.-
photo: Dorothea Lange
In America, 13 million children are poor
[source AECF 2018 data].
That’s 1 in nearly 5 kids.
Child poverty has remained high for decades. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which is made up of 37 countries, reports that the United States is consistently ranked as one of the worst in child poverty rates.
As far as I am concerned, there is nothing left here of “the American dream”. The inequality in the USA is simply appalling.
In 2019 the CEO-to-worker ratio was 320 [Economic Policy Institute].
“Is Denmark the new American dream?”
I strongly recommend that you read this article by Jacob F. Kirkegaard – Peterson Institute for International Economics:
Nowhere in the world is more money spent on healthcare than in the USA. Both in terms of the share of the economy [16.9%], which is more than 50% higher than Germany and France, but also per head of the population. These are 2018 data – OECD.
This graph is based on OECD 2014 information and shows that the USA spends 100% more per head of the population than Canada [which, by the way, has a public health care insurance system, like many European countries].
These exceptionally high expenditures by the US citizens might have to do with their food culture and the subsequent obesity problem of American citizens….
These are data from 2019, and an indisputable source. They show that the prices that are charged to patients for hospital services and prescription drugs differ enormously between the USA and other countries.
My hip replacement costs 75% less in The Netherlands than in the USA. Bypass surgery is even less expensive. Prescription drugs are in most cases 90 – 70% less expensive…
Very much more troublesome in my view is the fact that 50% of the US population spends only 3% of the total expenditures. 75% of the American population spends only 14% of the total [2017 data].
According to the US Census Bureau, the number of American citizens who are uninsured in 2020 is around 31 million in a population of 331 mln.
A majority of Americans continue to say the federal government has a responsibility to make sure all Americans have health care coverage. [PEW Research Center 2020]. The medical care and farmaceutical industry will not allow it to happen.
Life expectancy is better in Andorra, Singapore, Republic of Korea – just to mention a few. The 34th ranking in 2014 is remarkable. Besides that, since 1998 the increasing trend of life expectancy in OECD countries starts to deviate from the US and that of the latter has even leveled off since 2011. Life expectancy at birth for the total U.S. population was 77.8 years in 2020 – a decline of 1 year from 78.8 in 2019. Which is unique among OECD countries.
These OECD data were published in 2017. Average annual tuition fees at bachelor´s level are a multiple of those in Western Europe. For the master´s level, the picture is the same.
Since 2003, student loan debt volume has exploded to $1.380.000.000.000.- [2018 data].
According to Federal Reserve estimates in Q3 2020, this had increased to $1.7 trillion. Most borrowers have a loan debt of $25.000.- to $50.000.-, with an average of approx. $33.000.-
An excellent, but a sobering report about the state of the art of primary education in the USA has been published in July 2019 by the Center for American Progress and can be found here:
It seems that the USA is a crime-ridden society: nowhere in the world are there so many individuals behind bars…. Data of 2018 show nearly a factor 7 more than in Canada [incarceration per 100.000 population], or more than a factor 10 compared to The Netherlands and Denmark.
The USA still executes the death penalty [22 times in 2018], just like a very few other countries in the world today: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Jemen [source: Amnesty International, 2019 report].
The authorities certainly consider the situation to be dangerous, given the equipment and tools provided to the police – hardly any different from the military …
photo [left]: Jonathan Wiggs – Boston Globe via Getty Images
Of the 857 million civilian-held firearms estimated in 2017, 393 million are in the United States. The United States has 4% of the world’s population, but its civilians hold almost 40% of the world’s firearms.
source: The Small Arms Survey – a project of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.
The exact number of U.S. gun owners is unclear because federal law prohibits a central registry of firearms owned by private citizens. About 40% of Americans own a gun, according to surveys from PEW, Harvard, and Northeastern.
Obviously, Americans feel that the government is not providing them enough protection.
The National Rifle Association has 5.5 million members and is a very powerful [lobby] organization.
This link will bring you to an article in CounterPunch, dated March 26, 2021. Its author is Henry Giroux, and I read it weeks after I had completed this web page. I highly recommend it:
In 2010, Washington Post´s investigative journalists Dana Priest and William Arkin published their first article about secret intelligence services in the USA.
They informed the public about the 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies in 10,000 locations that were dealing with counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence.
The intelligence community as a whole would include 854,000 people holding top-secret clearances.
This was all before Edward Snowden´s revelations in 2013. See the revealing article here:
The USA is “securing” itself [and all of us] with the most formidable military force the world has ever seen.
To bring peace and democracy all over the planet, it maintains nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries and territories abroad. Britain, France, and Russia have about 30 foreign bases combined.
The United States’ total nuclear inventory is 5.800, with around 3.800 active warheads in the stockpile and another 2.000 retired warheads awaiting dismantlement.
Under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty the United States is allowed 1.550 nuclear warheads on 800 strategic launchers, only 700 of which can be deployed.
“Keeping the world save” has been a clear priority for the USA. Especially since World War II, and also after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The 9/11 attack brought the defense budget back to level and on an upward trend.
The Military has for a long time been much more important than issues like employment, health, education, infrastructure, environment….
photo: John Moore – Getty Images
The World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Competitiveness Report typically listed the USA in 13th place among the world’s nations when it came to its infrastructure quality. It had been ranked 5th in 2002. In 2020, that organization ranked the U.S. 32nd out of 115 countries on its Energy Transition Index.
American roads, bridges, sewage systems, electric grids, waterways, airports, railways, drinking water systems, parks, and more are distinctly outdated. Even its crucial telecommunications sector is below par.
Not only for presidents, by the way. But especially for them. The 2020 elections gave an increase again – a trend that has already existed since decennia.
Especially after the landmark decision of the Supreme Court of the United States concerning campaign finance in 2010 [Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commission]. Which made independent expenditures for political communications by corporations, non-profit corporations, labor unions, and other associations possible.
Money talks. It has been shown before.
The start and rise of neo-liberalism in the USA has its origins in the Mont Pèlerin Society, an organization founded in 1947 by, among others, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. The enclosed article is a review of the book “Democracy in Chains”, written by historian Nancy McLean. This book adds an extra dimension to the history of neo-liberalism in the USA.
Could it be that the storming of the Capitol is the result of decades of neo-liberal economic policies? I certainly think so.
Photo [right]: J. Scott Applewhite/AP
art: Tom Blackford – photo: Nick Fewings
It might be a 15-minute read, but this article by Anne Helen Petersen in Vox gives you a good, but a staggering picture of the 2020 “middle class” in America.
For me, as a young boy, America was the really good life; the country of abundance. The land of freedom, of plenty of opportunities for those who want to work hard.
I hope that the USA will become such a country again. I have met many Americans, most of them good people. Energetic, enterprising, optimistic, go-getters.
For the world and itself, I hope they will bury neo-liberalism and reinvent America. That requires a formidable mind-shift and a radically different economic paradigm.