The U.S. has become a victim of one of the most common dalliances in the history of the world; not learning from its mistakes. That’s what hyper partisanship will do to a nation. That’s what hyper partisanship is doing to this country. It’s a huge diversion and it keeps the country from learning from its many mistakes.
Although expressed in many various ways, as far as I can tell, George Santayana first coined the phrase most apropos to the U.S. lazy arrogance when he said,
“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Winston Churchill is also credited with the variation:
“Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it”
Particularly when it comes to economic policy, history’s most successful economies have usually become so by learning, and thereby not repeating, mistakes made by their predecessor. Successful countries have learned from the policy successes of others, adapting them to local conditions. Eighteenth-century Britain learned from Holland; post-World War II Europe learned from the United States; and Deng Xiaoping’s China learned from Japan.
False Pride and Politicians
As a by-product of creative adaptation, successful economies have utilized cutting-edge technologies, spread them around the world, and in doing so, boosted global growth. There are some great opportunities for this kind of policy arbitrage if more countries would only take the time to learn from other countries’ successes.
For instance, while many countries are facing a jobs crisis, one part of the capitalist world is doing just fine: northern Europe, including Germany, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia. Germany’s unemployment rate this past summer was around 5.5%, and its youth unemployment rate was around 8% . Given the 25% unemployment, and 50% youth unemployment rate in Spain, with Greece, Italy, and Portugal not too far behind, northern Europe’s is extraordinarily low compared with many other high-income economies.
All of them use active labor market policies, school-to-work apprenticeships, including flex time, and extensive job training and matching.
With theUK and the Eurozone facing recession, if not downright depression-level unemployment (Spain & Greece), and China running into the brick wall of a vibrant economy with no global customers, Republicans actually CAMPAIGN on the idea of austerity, although in reality, no Republican administration since Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929) has reduced the deficit by as much as $1.00.
In addition, they insist on forcing their social ideologies onto all Americans, not because they have a problem with immorality, but because they think it will get them elected.
Similarly, in an age of chronic budget crises, Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland run near-balanced budgets. All three rely on budget rules that call for budget balancing to be performed in regular cycles. All three take a basic precaution to keep their entitlement spending under control by requiring a retirement age of at least 65. Universal medical coverage also keeps entitlement spending under control. And pension costs are much lower than in France, and Greece, for example, where the retirement age is 60 or below, and where pension outlays are soaring as a result of bad or downward cycling of economic conditions so people simply retire.
In particular though, rising health-care costs, in most high-income countries (Canada, the European Union’s Western economies, and Japan ) manage to keep their total health-care costs below 12% of GDP, with excellent overall health outcomes for their respective populations, while the US spends nearly 18% of GDP, but with unquestionably second-rate health outcomes.
Oh, and America’s is the only for-profit health system of the entire bunch.
A new report by the US Institute of Medicine has found that America’s for-profit system squanders around $750 billion, or 5% of GDP, on waste, fraud, duplication, and bureaucracy.
But America, with it’s supposed predominantly Judeo-Christian values, especially in Republican confines, do not think they should be their brothers’ keepers. It’s every man, woman and child for themselves and the economy, as well as the mental constancy of its population.
Despite successes and failures more easily found today than ever before via the internet, Americans have become greedy, fat, lazy, bitter, divided and self-centered like never before. Sure, if one’s neighbor’s house catches on fire, one might try and help as long as it doesn’t interfere with the viewing of that night’s prime time television line-up or a football game.
The U.S. does the same with its politicians and economy. Instead of deciding on an economic system and sticking to long enough for it to work, be it Keynesian, Austerity, etc., the U.S. politicians have successfully forced Americans to choose one-side or another in increasingly hard-core, inflexible positions.
Purity of one’s ideological stance is ultimately more defining than one’s belief, much less practice, of right vs wrong. How else can there be justification for the “religious right” to be so completely indifferent and in many cases disdainful to the suffering of other Americans.
Too many Americans think that proclaiming ones patriotism is tantamount to practicing ones patriotism (see Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, ALL of FOX News). It’s not.
Current presidential candidate Mitt Romney actually protested FOR the War in Vietnam while in his own life, did everything possible to avoid actually SERVING in any branch of the Armed Services or Reserves.
So Many Problems So Little Concern for Anyone but Themselves
With oil costs surging, a few countries have made a real difference in energy efficiency. The OECD countries, on average, use 160 kilograms of oil-equivalent energy for every $1,000 of GDP (measured at purchasing power parity). But, in energy-efficient Switzerland, energy use is just 100 kg per $1,000 of GDP, and in Demark it is just 110 kg, compared with 190 kg in the US.
With the obvious deleterious effects of climate change, several countries are demonstrating how to move to a low-carbon economy. On average, the rich countries emit 2.3 kg of CO2 for every kg of oil-equivalent unit of energy. But France emits just 1.4 kg, owing to its colossal success in deploying safe, low-cost nuclear energy. Sweden, with its hydropower, is even lower, at 0.9 kg.
In an age of intense technological competition, countries that combine public and private research and development (R&D) financing are outpacing the rest. The US continues to excel, with huge recent breakthroughs in Mars exploration and genomics, though it is now imperiling that excellence through budget cuts. Meanwhile, Sweden and South Korea are now excelling economically on the basis of R&D spending of around 3.5% of GDP, while Israel’s R&D outlays stand at a remarkable 4.7% of GDP.
The countries highest on the ladder of life satisfaction are Denmark, Finland, and Norway. Yet there is hope for those at lower latitudes as well. Tropical Costa Rica also ranks near the top of the happiness pyramid. What we can say is that all of the happiest countries emphasize equality, solidarity, democratic accountability, environmental sustainability, and strong public institutions. All considered by one of two major political parties in America with passive, and in preponderance aggressive disdain.
So, in the aggregate, a perfect country might include the
- German labor-market policies
- Swedish pensions
- French low-carbon energy
- Canadian health care
- Swiss energy efficiency
- American scientific curiosity
- Brazilian anti-poverty programs and
- Costa Rican tropical happiness.
Of course, realistically, most countries will not attain such harmony anytime soon. But, by opening our eyes to policy successes abroad, and at the very least stop repeating the failures of the past (see Great Depression) maybe our grandchildren will not have to endure the hate, income inequality, religious divisions, racism, and what is quickly becoming a return to feudalism, that I am seeing today.