Precariously afloat on ocean of debt

While briefly discussing politics with a friend.., I commented that I wished I had the option to vote for “no President at all” because our country has been going steadily downhill for the past 50 years. Why do I feel this way? After all, the government constantly tells us we are in a period of unprecedented freedom and prosperity.

It is difficult to find economic indicators to paint an accurate and realistic portrait of what has taken place in the last 50 years in America. For example, with regard to manufacturing jobs, various analysts provide statistics to prove that manufacturing jobs are near all time historic highs and alternatively that manufacturing jobs in the USA have all but disappeared. Figures on the value of American manufactured goods are meaningless, because these figures include the value of goods that were once manufactured in the USA, but have since been off-shored and are now completely manufactured in a foreign country. (For further information on this, refer to Internet comments by Dr. Paul Craig Roberts or by Economist Susan Houseman.)

The best way I can think of to present my view on what has taken place in the past 50 years is anecdotal. This ain’t scientific, but it will have to do. My step-dad was a blue collar worker with an eighth grade education. Fifty years ago my family lived in a large nice home in the Wallingford District in Seattle, near Lincoln High School. This was a blue collar neighborhood and our situation was typical. My mother never worked outside of the home, which was also typical, after women dropped out of the labor force after the end of WWII.

At the present time, my younger daughter and her husband live in a nice Condo in the Fremont District of Seattle. She has an MBA and her husband is a professional Civil Engineer. They cannot afford to buy the home my blue collar step-dad provided with his sole earnings. To be completely honest, I should mention that my daughter has Cystic Fibrosis, thus her ability to work is limited. If she were able to work full-time, they could probably have a standard of living comparable to that enjoyed by my sister and I.

People are working hard, productivity is increasing, so what is the reason for this decline. In my opinion it is due to the ever increasing size of government. In 1957 total federal government spending – in current dollars – was $478 billion with a total population of 174 million. In 2006, federal spending was $2,708 billion with a total population of 302 million. But this is only a small part of the problem. This figure doesn’t include the tremendous cost of compliance with endless government regulations. It should be no surprise that American businesses have a difficult time competing in world markets.

In 1957, we had the world’s highest standard of living. Currently, with the tremendous shift in wealth from the middle class to the top one percent of the population, your living standard, compared with other nations, is strongly dependent on your location on the economic ladder. Those in the top five percent are best off living in America. Those in the bottom 25 percent, would be better off living in the bottom 25 percent of almost any European nation, including Greece.

As for freedom, how does one measure this concept? I believe one indicator is the U.S. prison population. In 1957, we had 195,000 State and Federal prisoners — an imprisonment rate of 112 per 100,000 – and in 2007: 2,330,000 or 686 per 100,000 population. How does this compare with other countries? Rates of imprisonment per 100,000 people for a few other countries are: Russia 664, England and Wales 139, China 117, Canada 102, Iceland 38.

I don’t have space to discuss that, as a nation, 2007 also finds us precariously afloat in a leaky life raft on a vast ocean of private and government debt.

There have been positive changes in the past 50 years – the Internet is the first thing that comes to my mind. Moreover, I believe the entire world would be better off if our government focused its efforts on basic research and turned away from attempting to micromanage America and run the world.

Mason Hess