Time To Start Thinking

America and the Spectre of Decline

Book Cover: Time To Start Thinking

This book by Edward Luce contains some amazing statistics.

In 1990, California spent twice as much on Universities as prisons. Now it spends almost twice as much on prisons.

Page 12. Taxes are the price we pay for civilisation by Oliver Wendell Holmes.

From page 31. Think of the General Motors worker with his pension and health care plan. In the 1960's he earned $60,000 a year in today's prices. Walmart, which has the largest employer in the United States is General Motors equivalent in today's economy, pays it's 1.1 million mostly female employees an average of $17,500 a year, most of them without attached pension or health care benefits.

In the United States, it cost $2 38 an hour to pay for an employees health care coverage. In the remainder of the Rich world, it cost just $0.98. For most companies, including Kelly, healthcare costs often exceed profits.

From page 77, almost half of America's students fail to complete their college degree in the allotted time.

In ...  Austin, the Texas capital, a teacher with a PhD and 30 years experience is paid $62,000 a year.

from page 172, the United States has fallen to the lowest rate of income mobility in the industrialised world.

In 1960 the average soundbite for a presidential candidate on the major evening networks was 40 seconds. By 2008 it had fallen to 9.

America spends more on potato chips every year than on research and Development.

From page 195, the word "God", for example, does not once appear in the 4500 word US Constitution. When Benjamin Franklin suggested there should at least be a prayer at the start of the convention, Alexander Hamilton joke that America did not need more "foreign aid". When asked later why God has been omitted from the document, Hamilton said: "we forgot". It was an odd oversight by a group of drafters his attention to language is rivalled by few others in history.

A generation ago, the great American political economist Mancur Olson offered a brilliant insight into why stable nations tend to wind down over time. Long periods of stability gradually sap a nation's will to alter how the game is played. As success and press prosperity become normal, it gets even more difficult for proponents of reform to dislodge the coalition's that control the nation's resources.

Churchill famously said that Americans always do the right thing after exhausting all the alternatives.

Walmart's profit margins account for just 3% of it's revenues. If it decided to give a $6,000 healthcare and pension benefit to each of its 1 million employees Walmart would cease to be profitable.

America is off the charts. An American baby is twice as likely to die in its first year as a Scandinavian, German, or Japanese. More than twice as many Americans are obese as is average for wealthy Nations and America's prison population is more than 5 times the ratio of the next highest developed country. One in 7 Americans is on food stamps.

On its present course, the US faces a world of rising new countries that will compete with it ever more fiercely as its own power is declining. In order to slow and improve this steady leakage of power, the US must change course internationally, economically and domestically. It must also restructure to remain the world's most competitive economy. And it must address quality of life issues and fairness at home. But American politics is broken -- competing forces and interests have led to stasis. With change so tough, where now for a country where the middle classes are suffering as they have never suffered before, the pensions crisis is growing, the deficit out of sight, and radicalism waiting in the wings?

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