Friday, January 20, 2017

My Americanism

I'm a citizen of the United States of America by birth.

I've noticed some things shift as I've grown up here in the States (I'm 43 years old now). I don't fully understand how they've impacted me/us (my fellow citizens), but, I've found them notable over the years.

The Draft

Conscription has seen many changes over our short history, but when I think about "the draft" my parent's generation grew up with, compared with the "voluntary armed forces" system I grew up under, I realize that I've aged through a system with my generational peers that has a less connected sense of community. My parents grew up in a world where it was theoretically possible to be in a fox-hole with a fellow American that they'd never met before, pointing their guns at "the enemy" and risking their lives together. Living with this possibility would undoubtedly create some notion of common bond on a primal level. My generation, and forward at the moment, jettisoned this notion, and I think that caused a subtle fracture in our national community. Theoretically, the wealthy of my parent's generation could be fighting for their lives side-by-side with the poor, so, both extremes had to manage some level of civility in day-to-day life.

Well... not so much anymore. Not that the wealthy and the poor broke bread too often anyway, but if you are in one of those camps and you found yourself asking for help from the other in time of war, you'd want to have had things been civil between each other prior. Today, if the odds are near zero that the two camps would have to fight together, there's little survival connective tissue at play, and hence an adverse impact on "community" unfolds. Weave income disparity into the picture, and things get pretty rough.

Income Disparity

Over the course of my lifetime, the gap between the rich and the poor has become a canyon. Rather than spew the same stats we already constantly hear, reference http://inequality.org/income-inequality/ for some wild data. The point is, that income/wealth disparity fuels communal disconnect and discontent.

Mortgage Crisis

Home ownership was the "American Dream" for a few generations, and it turned into a nightmare in 2008 on my generation's watch. The Emperor wound up not having any clothes on for my generation, as mortgage debt markets collapsed onto themselves. The best characterization of the crisis came in the form of The Big Short (the book is best, but the movie is really good too). The primary economic motivator/engine for a few generations was manipulated on a scale that scarred my generation. The math has turned around for the most part, but that's no help to the majority of an entire generation. Importantly, nothing has taken the place of home-ownership for my generation; many people aren't pursuing "the dream" anymore. This has a profoundly confusing impact on our macro economic models.

Transportation Infrastructure Projects

Bridges, roads, rail, airports are falling apart in the United States. These are, or could be, the things that comprise the literal backbone of a society. They're crumbling here.

K-12 Education Spending/Infrastructure

Like our transportation infrastructure, the public school infrastructure is a dilapidated embarrassment. Our generations to come are educated by teachers often living near the poverty line, and in most cases even on the high-end of the salary spectrum, aren't being paid nearly what they should be. Our children go to school in buildings that are literally falling apart. You get what you pay for.

Higher Education Costs

Today, one can legitimately ask the question "is it 'worth it' to spend a small fortune to send my child[ren] to college?" This was a preposterous question for my parents to ask. Of course your kids went to college! For many today, getting through college without significant debt is not even feasible, and whether or not the economics come out on-balance in the end is in question.

Drones

We now have the infrastructure to lay waste to villages of people without ever seeing them face to face, or even having troops on the ground. It's a remote controlled killing machine, that we use for our needs, and that we let our friends, and enemies in some instances, borrow. Think about that for a moment.

Healthcare

The insurance infrastructure has injected a layer between the consumer, and the service provider, that is not rooted in any sort of reality of actual costs of goods sold. Instead, the prices we pay are a function of insurance models and abstractions of what insurance company costs are, not what pharmaceuticals or medical device manufacturers spend to create their products. Huh?!? How did we get here?

On The Bright Side

We finally regulated against credit card companies marketing to vulnerable college students, and credit card debt is at new lows. While I understand this can have adverse impact on macro economic money supplies like M1/M2/M3, I'll take that punishment over generations of people trying to claw their way out of revolving credit lines.

We might start to see some infrastructure spending. I just hope it's the right blend of private/public spend. I consider myself a capitalist, but here are some projects that simply should not turn profit... sorry.

Private industry may spark some innovation at scales that could cause significant shifts in how we operate as a country/world. Hyper-loop-like ground transportation projects, and the privatization of space transportation come to mind.

Blockchain backed currencies (e.g. Bitcoin). Theoretically, free flowing currency could yield market efficiencies that produce some good "trickle down" as money moves without fee burdens. Obvious downside here is money used for evil things, and tax dodging, moves unencumbered.

While I am saddened by the fact that we have such a vulgar, dishonest, childish, unintelligent, hurtful, hateful person holding our Presidential office at the moment, I myself sometimes employ the bull-in-a-china-shop approach to try and change thinking and old policies and ways of doing. I think there can be some accidental good that comes out of policy shifts in the future as a result of this Presidency. I'm just saddened we have the person in that role that we do, and I hope he, and the associated Congress, don't lay waste to what little we're hanging onto in the process.

There are moments in our lives in which we have to band together as peers and as a community, with disregard for our "leaders." I believe this is one of those moments in our history. _We_ must, peacefully, do what's right for our country and our people and our friends and peers and fellow citizens. What we've done by letting this person hold the position they now do, has cast a spotlight on the deep ineptitude of a broad swath of people we have, in many cases, asked to lead us in the form of our government. We have to do what we know is right, not what our politicians model for us.

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