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It's the infrastructure, stupid!
September 16, 2010 10:02 AM   Subscribe

Is the United States becoming a third world country? Macleans thinks so. So does Arianna Huffington. Chris Hedges talked to Ralph Nader and they figured out who's to blame. Thank goodness Michael Kinsley has a solution to the problem.
posted by valkane (103 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
None of those people have been to a third world country. The significance of access to clean water and stellar health care (even if through massive debt) cannot be overstated.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:05 AM on September 16, 2010 [25 favorites]


i blame freedom
posted by clavdivs at 10:06 AM on September 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


Is the United States becoming a third world country?

no.
posted by heyethan at 10:09 AM on September 16, 2010 [10 favorites]


But that’s okay. You won World War II, so we are going to take care of your debts, cover your extravagances, and go along with your little pretense that you paid for it and are entitled to it

that nazi dental plan sure would have been a killer.
posted by clavdivs at 10:09 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


To be fair, pretty much any part of Macleans magazine that isn't written by Paul Wells can be safely ignored, unless he's writing about jazz music.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:10 AM on September 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yes, I did read all the articles. None of them talk about how long it would take our infrastructure to crumble to third world status. Our babies are not dying of malnutrition and preventable diseases like Cholera. I'm as much a socialist as the next guy, but calling America a third world country is fear mongering and inaccurate. If we want to change things and protect the middle class, don't start by presenting easily refuted hysterical statements.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:10 AM on September 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


I liked Bill Maher's formulation: Why can't America get it up any more?

The short answer is that the military-industrial complex looted it into bankruptcy.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:11 AM on September 16, 2010 [20 favorites]


Boomers are not primarily responsible for America’s debt crisis.

Right, because none of you fuckers has been voting for Reagan's policies for 30+ years.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 10:12 AM on September 16, 2010 [36 favorites]


"Banana Republic" is the one-liner of choice. If the financial industry or military industrial complex need a few trillion dollars of public money, that's no problem; if the public sector wants 50 billion for infrastructure development, sorry, the country is broke. Note that the above numbers are not hyperbole.
posted by MillMan at 10:12 AM on September 16, 2010 [55 favorites]


The 'Third World America' webpage at 'The Huffington Post.'
posted by ericb at 10:12 AM on September 16, 2010


So does Arianna Huffington.

Some friends of mine were just laughing our asses off over that book title. She is a millionaire who runs a website that makes money by not paying anyone. I and thousands of others are offered "exposure" on a weekly basis to provide her ad revenue.

There is quite literally no single person in this country more hideously full of shit than this woman, a blatant and callous opportunist of epic levels. The sheer, utter balls of this woman to write a book about the "third worlding of America" and then go to yet another interview pretending to care about the plight of the working class. Every time someone puts her up as some kind of icon of progressive achievement a little part of me dies.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:13 AM on September 16, 2010 [39 favorites]


Ugh. You'd think that people could just make their point without resorting to ridiculous hyperbole that shows a lack of understanding of the lives of most of the rest of the world. Nothing telegraphs your absurd sense of entitlement quite as much as comparing middle class America to third world countries.

Also, the first link goes to the last page of a three page article. Maybe the OP should ask the mods to change the link to the one page version.
posted by ssg at 10:14 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Say.. weren't we suppose to have been divided up amongst China, Europe Canada and Mexico sometime last year?

Seems like you never go broke promoting eschatology.
posted by edgeways at 10:16 AM on September 16, 2010


And I agree with stoneweaver. Our infrastructure is absolutely in decline, but at current levels of investment it will be many decades before the country resembles India - or even parts of a country like Italy for that matter.
posted by MillMan at 10:16 AM on September 16, 2010


Is the United States becoming a third world country?

Make 2/3rds of the population dirt poor for long enough so that they won't care about public utiliites, clean water, public education, etc. and privatize everything in sight. Yeah, you easily get there in about 20-30 years in the US, once the generation that expects/demands those things dies out. Especially since most people are prone to not think about this stuff in the long term. My grandmother certainly didn't need a car in Los Angeles in the 30s and 40s, and thought she never would, so never learned to drive - 60 years later, and they're just now rebuilding a public transportation infrastructure.
posted by peppito at 10:20 AM on September 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


Yeah, "Third World" is the wrong metaphor. It's a dying empire, which will, internally, look like the third world in some parts.

Basically the US, as a country, is like a rich person that spent an amazing shit ton of money on the best imaginable security for his house, ringing it with multiple moats, missile launchers, thousands of full-time heavily armed guards with the best possible weaponry and equipment, and on and on and on. In fact, this person went so overboard that he borrowed from anyone who would lend to him for all this crazy security. And while the multi-decade project of building this security apparatus was going on, he neglected to pay any attention to the source of his wealth. One by one, the companies he held stock in dissolved, the buildings he owned fell empty because of neglect, the partnerships and social contacts that ensured he stayed on top of the game fell away. His industries were eclipsed by newer, nimbler players. And by the time his security was perfect, he knew nothing but fear and hadn't yet realized that he no longer had anything worth protecting.

We're currently at the point where the creditors can still be kept from collecting by the massive military machine we've built, but eventually we'll run out of money to pay them, too. And then the whole house of cards comes down.
posted by rusty at 10:20 AM on September 16, 2010 [55 favorites]


Macleans is horrible.
posted by Shepherd at 10:22 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


clean water

...as long as you don't live near any hydrofracking sites.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 10:24 AM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well, at least the worse the economy gets, the more the military becomes the best job option for poor Americans, so that any cuts hurt them first.

No, wait, that's an awful situation.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:30 AM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Hedges has a solution too, which I'm sure will whip us back into shape as a "first world" superpower in no time:

Investing emotional and intellectual energy in electoral politics is a waste of time. Resistance means a radical break with the formal structures of American society. We must cut as many ties with consumer society and corporations as possible. We must build a new political and economic consciousness centered on the tangible issues of sustainable agriculture, self-sufficiency and radical environmental reform.
posted by bearwife at 10:31 AM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


There is quite literally no single person in this country more hideously full of shit than this woman

You've not seen two girls, one cup?
posted by MuffinMan at 10:31 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


No single person.
posted by rusty at 10:33 AM on September 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


If the argument is made that the distribution of wealth is starting to resemble that of a third world nation, I'm on board, and have been for a few years. We're not going to start begging in the streets en masse any time soon, and I don't foresee the middle class being blinded by religious wedge issues for too much longer. At a certain point the electorate will be roused out of it's political apathy, and hopefully towards a constructive goal like rebuilding the middle class, instead of a destructive goal like a witch hunt for a hidden enemy.

Of course, there is a line. The line, hopefully even the ruling business leaders know not to cross, is when the majority of the country is too poor and too ignorant to buy or create anything. You can't sell iPads or convertibles or ringtones to illiterate sharecroppers or unskilled laborers who don't have enough to eat. The question is how hard they are going to push everyone to that line to enrich themselves, and if they will accidentally cross it. Then we'll move from an extremely wealthy nation with high inequality, where the poor are still better off than most of the world, to a nation in economic free fall, crash landing into the libertarian wet dream of private security forces protecting the walled gardens of the rich, while the vast majority of Americans wallow in poverty.

That will be the death of Meritocracy, the return of Aristocracy, and it will close the book on America as we have known it.
posted by notion at 10:33 AM on September 16, 2010 [9 favorites]


Arguing about how the United States is becoming a third world from your computer seems a bit ironic. "Look at how bad we have it!" they say to you on the radio, who are driving down a four-lane freeway, drinking a large hot coffee drink not because boiling the water made it safe to drink, but because there was a drive-through coffee shop on your way to somewhere else. "Look at how bad we have it!" they say to you in books that are available through chain-stores in shopping malls or online shops who will send the book to you for no extra charge, and allow you to track the progress through your computer.

There are different levels of development throughout the US, from tightly-packed metropolises to rural communities that are drying up, once the Big Industry that once powered the town moved to somewhere cheaper. And then the US is supposed to offer freebies to major companies to bring them back? Anything offered "for free" means someone else is paying for it.

How can the US offer free power when municipalities are looking at turning asphalt roads back to gravel to save on maintenance? The municipal "goodies" (street lights, libraries, schools) are cut back beyond the bone. The US expansion boomed in the post-war economy of the 1950s, and now it's crumbling because there isn't the money to maintain such development.

The major cities aren't going anywhere, but the little towns are fading out. They're not turning into "third worlds," but more rural. The US major infrastructure is still intact, it's the edges that are falling apart.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:33 AM on September 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


Or maybe we just need a Norman Borlaug to create a type of sugar that grows in less tropical areas and which would make a highly efficient bio-diesel.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:33 AM on September 16, 2010


Well, at least the worse the economy gets, the more the military becomes the best job option for poor Americans, so that any cuts hurt them first.

No, wait, that's an awful situation.


You're suggesting the mega-defense contractors (Boeing, McDonnell Douglass, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, L-3, General Dynamics, etc.) that get their funding from the military are using the ranks of American poor who form the rank so of the ground forces as a human shield to protect their funding?

No, wait, that's an awful situation.
posted by peppito at 10:35 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe not all the way down to Third World, but we're definitely headed for Lower First. Maybe even Upper Second.
posted by notyou at 10:36 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


You're suggesting the mega-defense contractors (Boeing, McDonnell Douglass, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, L-3, General Dynamics, etc.) that get their funding from the military are using the ranks of American poor who form the rank so of the ground forces as a human shield to protect their funding?

From my chair in Northern Virginia, yes, that's exactly what I'm suggesting.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:37 AM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Fuck off. No. Really.

The Huffington Post is the Daily Mail. They just spell the word harbo(u)r differently. That's it.

I'm sure there is a point to be made here about spending power, infrastructure and debt, however using the words 3rd World is for one purpose and one purpose only. Fear. Fear of the USSR, then fear of drugs, then fear of terrorism, then fear of WMD, then fear of Islam, now fear of being poor.

As Stoneweaver so succinctly put it - these people don't know what 3rd World means. It's not a Mosque at Ground Zero, there never were Death Panels, the US will not become a 3rd World country. It's not true and it means nothing.
posted by jontyjago at 10:38 AM on September 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


Cynical point of view:

Macleans says the US is falling apart. I don't think I've ever trusted Macleans for any article. The only ounce of credibility might be an "outside view," but Macleans also likes to bash the US for good measure (pleasing the audience).
Huff has a book that says the US is turning third world. This is also known as FUD, and FUD makes damn good money.
Nader/Hedges blabber about corporations are fascists, the teabaggers are a problem and poor people are poor.
Kinsley says estate taxes will fix most of it. And blame the baby boomers for everything.

All four articles stink of talking heads doing what they do best.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 10:39 AM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I like how swiftly they think one plummets from unquestioned hyperpower to third world disaster. There are variegations in between, you know. The USA is a big country whose time as number one is more or less up at that position, so now we're left with richer areas and poorer areas, bright spots and problems. I don't see an end to this recession/depression in the near future, but it's a far cry from the apocalypse some people predict (and seem to want).

Squeaking and belching on the Huffington Post about how we're a third world country doesn't really mean anything, unless you're colossally ignorant of both third world countries and life across the US as experienced by people of all income levels.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:40 AM on September 16, 2010


None of those people have been to a third world country.

How would you know this? Ugh. You'd think that people could just make their point without resorting to ridiculous hyperbole.
posted by peppito at 10:40 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


jonyjago, I'm pretty sure most of us agree with you, but that doesn't mean that the U.S. isn't in a certain seemingly intractable situation right now w/r/t "spending power, infrastructure and debt," and that's what we're talking about.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:41 AM on September 16, 2010


Is the United States becoming a third world country?

What the fuck does that even mean?
posted by Artw at 10:41 AM on September 16, 2010


I like how swiftly they think one plummets from unquestioned hyperpower to third world disaster. There are variegations in between, you know.

Is the US turning into... *gasp* BELGIUM?
posted by Artw at 10:42 AM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I blamer it on TV and video games
posted by Postroad at 10:42 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is the United States becoming a third world country?

What the fuck does that even mean?
posted by Artw


Apparently we're leaving the Western bloc and not joining the Warsaw Pact.
posted by COBRA! at 10:44 AM on September 16, 2010 [22 favorites]


Anyhow, as for causes of The Decline, somebody somewhere recently said, "everybody knows the loan shark does better when the neighborhood is getting poorer, not richer."

That fits with my other theory, the one about the gloves coming off with the collapse of the USSR.
posted by notyou at 10:44 AM on September 16, 2010


Is the US turning into... *gasp* BELGIUM?

Well, the beer's been getting a lot better.
posted by box at 10:45 AM on September 16, 2010 [8 favorites]


What the fuck does that even mean?

According to the Vatican, it means having a "multicultural society".
posted by dng at 10:45 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I like how swiftly they think one plummets from unquestioned hyperpower to third world disaster. There are variegations in between, you know.

Is the US turning into... *gasp* BELGIUM?


It's funny, though, and not just because I predict a collapse of the US government due to friction between our Flemish and Walloon elements - I was going to compare the US to the EU. Is the EU "rich" or "poor?" Well, neither, really - it's an enormous economic bloc with richer areas and poorer areas, bright spots and problems, etc. etc. etc., and not even the poorest countries in the EU (or even the bankrupt ones!) would qualify as third world nations by any sane measure.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:48 AM on September 16, 2010


notion:
Of course, there is a line. The line, hopefully even the ruling business leaders know not to cross, is when the majority of the country is too poor and too ignorant to buy or create anything. You can't sell iPads or convertibles or ringtones to illiterate sharecroppers or unskilled laborers who don't have enough to eat.
I disagree. There are lots of other ways for the powers-that-be to avoid crossing that line:
  • Get Americans to buy more than they can afford.
  • Get other countries to support US debts.
  • Promote consumerism in other, growing economies.
And, of course, they've been doing all these things, for a long time.

Predicting the imminent triumph of the proletariat underestimates the wiles of capitalism, I think.
posted by jiawen at 10:58 AM on September 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


Is the US becoming a third world nation? No, of course not. But if you spend any time in major east Asian and European cities, it's hard not to escape the feeling that the world is passing America by. I know whenever I come to the US I tend to feel like I've gone back in time somewhat. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think I read somewhere that this generation of Americans is the first generation to be, on average, poorer, shorter, and to have a lower life expectancy than their parents. You can't acknowledge that statistic and not realise it has dire implications for American society as a whole, even if you and your peer group are taller and richer than your parents.
posted by modernnomad at 11:03 AM on September 16, 2010 [16 favorites]


Really? A third world country? Puhleeze. We're better off than everyone but Germany right now. Just look at the economic indicators.

We're in a bad spot yes, but the rest of them are worse off.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:05 AM on September 16, 2010


You can't acknowledge that statistic

Or cite it, apparently.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:07 AM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I get all the protests here about Huffington, etc., but the OP used the word becoming, not is, a third-world country.

There's kind of a difference.
posted by Camofrog at 11:07 AM on September 16, 2010


We're better off than everyone but Germany right now.

It's this kind of ignorance that doesn't help the situation of your country.
posted by modernnomad at 11:08 AM on September 16, 2010 [12 favorites]


Um ..... better off than everyone but Germany?

Please refer to what modernnomad said above.
posted by blucevalo at 11:09 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]




Is our childrens learning?
posted by blue_beetle at 11:11 AM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


My understanding of the reference to the third world in the Macleans article is not that it's becoming a third world country so much as it is in fact diverging from its roots as a country built on "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". It's all relative. I don't necessarily agree with the insulting comparison, but this is just how I read it. The title of the Macleans article is not "America is a third world country", it is "Third world America", where 'third world' is a descriptive term to separate the subject from what we think of simply as 'America'.

It's like saying "This is some shitty foie gras", where it's only 'shitty' in comparison to most foie gras, but probably better than anything the majority of people will ever get to eat.
posted by sunshinesky at 11:16 AM on September 16, 2010


It's not a coincidence they stock Macleans by the chocolate bars and other crap at the supermarket checkout. A thoughtless guilty pleasure with no lasting positive effects.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:16 AM on September 16, 2010


On measures of well-being, the US scores 14, according to this survey. That's not better off than everyone but Germany. That's behind Brazil, Panama, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Canada, and several European countries.
posted by blucevalo at 11:16 AM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


(And Germany is 33rd.)
posted by blucevalo at 11:17 AM on September 16, 2010


XQUZYPHYR: Every time someone puts her {Arianna Huffington} up as some kind of icon of progressive achievement a little part of me dies.

I had no idea HP wasn't paying its writers, and that will definitely make me think twice about my participation there. I generally have seen the site as stealing traffic from retards like Drudge and Breitbart, and a good forum for progressives and liberals, therefore a good thing. But when they blatantly steal FPP from Mefi, with zero attribution, that annoys the hell out of me. Not to mention the way they've copped many of the features of Mefi, that the community has developed together over much time and MetaTalk sweating and debating, that's sorta weird. But I guess imitation is the highest form of...etc...
posted by Skygazer at 11:21 AM on September 16, 2010


Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think I read somewhere that this generation of Americans is the first generation to be, on average, poorer, shorter, and to have a lower life expectancy than their parents.

citation needed, please!
posted by Theta States at 11:23 AM on September 16, 2010


Here's a story from today about the poverty angle of it, and here's one about the life expectancy angle, at least of women.

Thank you for providing some links. I don't argue against the fact that the numbers of the poor are growing in America. It's interesting about the female life expectancy issue. It's also interesting that the leading theory is that the drop for those women is due in large part to smoking, blood pressure, and obesity (incl. related diabetes problems), especially considering the links between those lifestyle factors and poverty. It's also interesting how they point out how life expectancy can rise or dip suddenly, as happened with the Spanish Flu of 1918, etc.

I would find exploring these issues in depth to be more interesting than the Chicken Little-ism of saying that having more poverty automatically means some slide into being a third world country. It's just not very helpful as far as rhetoric goes.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:26 AM on September 16, 2010


Right, because none of you fuckers has been voting for Reagan's policies for 30+ years.

Hey, now. A non-trivial, non-zero number of boomers have been harping on this shit non-stop since the 60s but like Cassandra, nobody's listened to them.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:27 AM on September 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


Recessions end, political parties go in and out of power, jobs are created and lost, people are born and will die, wars start and end.

But, regardless, life has always gone on, and will continue to do so. The United States isn't going to just vanish. There are a lot of steps between now and the end of all things as we know them, and humans tend to be pretty resilient.

Are things bad now? Yes. But in the grand scheme of things, I'm not worried. Life goes on.
posted by reductiondesign at 11:27 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think I read somewhere that this generation of Americans is the first generation to be, on average, poorer, shorter, and to have a lower life expectancy than their parents.

Haha, yes, the weight of the world and their own inferiority have caused them to shrink in stature!
posted by zephyr_words at 11:29 AM on September 16, 2010


citation needed, please!

Already provided above Theta States, but here's another anyway: "Overall, this next generation of Americans could be the first to have shorter, less healthy lives than their parents."
posted by modernnomad at 11:32 AM on September 16, 2010


I'm pretty sure most of us agree with you, but that doesn't mean that the U.S. isn't in a certain seemingly intractable situation right now w/r/t "spending power, infrastructure and debt," and that's what we're talking about.

Absolutely right - like I said before I got all angry, there is a point to all this - a real issue that needs discussion. It's just that framing it in the way it has been framed here is not done to promote debate. As per usual.
posted by jontyjago at 11:36 AM on September 16, 2010


From the Hedges article:

The failure of liberals to defend the interests of working men and women as our manufacturing sector was dismantled, labor unions were destroyed and social services were slashed has proved to be a disastrous and fatal misjudgment. Liberals, who betrayed the working class, have no credibility.

This. A thousand times.

This country has been, and is being, systematically sold out from under the citizens. This is class war, it's always been class war, and it always will be class war.Yet most Americans still swallow the horseshit that we are a "classless" society.

Every benefit of our system has been signed over to the rich and powerful, while every cost has been crammed down the throats of the rest of us (or just plainly ignored - i.e. crumbling roads and bridges, power grid blackouts, exploding gas mains, etc). We are witnessing the payback. And it's not like a lot of this hasn't been avoidable- corporate America is doing just fine, thank you.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:38 AM on September 16, 2010 [15 favorites]


Already provided above Theta States, but here's another anyway: "Overall, this next generation of Americans could be the first to have shorter, less healthy lives than their parents."

"Could be," those lovely words. Also, while there are US-specific issues with regard to obesity, the US is not the only country with an obesity problem. This is a serious issue, but it is distinct in many ways from the general discussion as to how far America will decline as a result of its not being "the" hyperpower.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:40 AM on September 16, 2010


It's the infrastructure, stupid!

This. This. This. A thousand times this. There is so much work to be done on our commons, and financing it now would stimulate the economy as well as save money in the long run. Why, oh, why don't we have leadership that can act on this simple and obvious truth.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:45 AM on September 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


The United States isn't going to just vanish.

The Easter Bunny wearing a monocle and riding a chartreuse unicorn festooned with the Stars and Stripes isn't gonna fly out of my ass either. Who said anything about the United States vanishing?
posted by blucevalo at 11:47 AM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


We're better off than everyone but Germany right now. Just look at the economic indicators.

Yes, our rich people are getting richer faster than anyone else, I guess. But if they're doing so at the expense of a decaying social and physical infrastructure, I'm not sure that equates to being "better off."
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:48 AM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


This. This. This. A thousand times this. There is so much work to be done on our commons, and financing it now would stimulate the economy as well as save money in the long run. Why, oh, why don't we have leadership that can act on this simple and obvious truth.

Because having the government work on infrastructure would make us as socialist as Eisenhower and Nixon, and we can't have that. Or can we...comrade?
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:49 AM on September 16, 2010 [9 favorites]


"Could be," those lovely words. Also, while there are US-specific issues with regard to obesity, the US is not the only country with an obesity problem. This is a serious issue, but it is distinct in many ways from the general discussion as to how far America will decline as a result of its not being "the" hyperpower.

Indeed. As I clearly said in my first comment, I don't think the US is on its way to third world status. That's a patently absurd claim. But if you live or even just spend a decent amount of time in various other countries it's easy to see that the US is on a trajectory away from its previous dominant position, and issues like health, education, and life outcomes naturally play into that. Whether or not that's a problem is really up to American citizens to decide, not people like me. If it were my country, I wouldn't be satisfied with answers to questions like "why are our kids so unhealthy? why do our kids score outside the international top 10 on science and math scores? why are working class women dying young? why is there such a gap between rich and poor in our country?" that amount to "oh, other places are fucked too."
posted by modernnomad at 11:51 AM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


If it were my country, I wouldn't be satisfied with answers to questions like "why are our kids so unhealthy? why do our kids score outside the international top 10 on science and math scores? why are working class women dying young? why is there such a gap between rich and poor in our country?" that amount to "oh, other places are fucked too."

I'd say that figuring out why the income gap is so steep - why we accept this - and why so many people seemingly vote to preserve that gap - carries an answer to your previous questions. Why are "our" kids so unhealthy? Millions upon millions of Americans are in a separate class from the obese poor. Millions upon millions of Americans are middle-class-and-up people whose kids go to college (colleges where many foreign students attend!) and are actually quite well-educated. Millions upon millions of American people either actively or passively don't give a shit about how poorer women in so many places in America are dying earlier due to what we were discussing earlier.

So you go up to your average middle-class American voter, and very often the answer you get is something on the order of "that's not my problem." Because the income gap is steep, as are the differences between the daily life and social circles of the various classes in this country.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:58 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you want to be a democrat, there is no logically tenable position shy of communism (with a small 'c', not Soviet big 'C"). Hedges makes no sense when he writes:
"It is anti-corporate movements as exemplified by the Scandinavian energy firm Kraft&Kultur that we must emulate. Kraft&Kultur sells electricity exclusively from solar and water power. It has begun to merge clean energy with cultural events, bookstores and a political consciousness that actively defies corporate hegemony."

How is that anti-corporate. It's textbook corporate, that merging of product with identity and lifestyle. They have to do this because obtaining energy that way is more expensive than through fossil fuels. So the Kultur part is pure marketing/spin. ADM supports public television, so I guess ADM is a good company? How about the energy company make a shitload of money selling oil like Exxon, and then donating those gigantic profits to Kultur? Oh, right, that's crazy. We'll donate only anemic profits to culture.

It's so much postmodern bullshit. Buy X and a portion of the proceeds will go to a charity that stands opposed to the damage caused by X. This is an attempt to integrate forgiveness for consumption into the act of consumption itself.

We need to be absolutely modern about this. You need to acknowledge the inherent shortcomings of the democratic society, and cast it aside. The solution lies in science and social progress. The consumer society needs to be replaced by a social society, where people base their lives on the actions they take and not the shit they buy. To get there, you need to stop alienating people from each other, and force them together. You get there with gross asymmetry between the consumer choice and its social alternative.

For example, public transportation should be free - literally zero dollars. It would be paid for by astronomically high gas taxes, car taxes and road tolls. We would literally have to make a social choice that cars are inferior and their use discouraged.

You do this, and you soon discover that you don't need to spend so much on infrastructure. If people aren't buying junk they don't need, that junk doesn't get here from China on boats that have to dock in ports, get transferred to rail cars, then to tractor trailers that go on long haul highways, then to grotesque shopping malls, which in turn require a snake pit of roads and thruways. And a side benefit is because this junk isn't made here, we don't lose a lot of jobs by getting rid of it. china does, but that's their problem.

And you do this in every other aspect of life. Medicine: Go for the sugar and fat tax. Legalize pot and tax the shit out of it.

To really correct the problems in society, you have to make a radical social choice to eliminate the illusory freedoms provided under consumerism (the false choice among commodities for which a need is created artificially by the dominant ideology) and elevate true freedom (the freedom from the anxieties of basic human survival). You integrate the consequences of consumption into the consumption itself, and force peopel to act in full understanding of the consequences.

This is where Hedges goes wrong. He complains that institutions aren't democratic, but rather co-opted by wealthy corporations. But they were never democratic, not in the way we understand that term today! They aren't supposed to be. The entire American constitution was predicated on the assumption that the voter, the fundamental unit of a democracy, was a wealthy educated landowner. The Constitution assumes that the wealthy elite don't need to influence the government through back channels, because only the wealthy elite can elect the government in the first place. He might as well be complaining that sugar doesn't taste salty like salt.

From the perspective of the left, anything short of this is defective compromise. The radicals greatest opponent is not the conservative, but the liberal. Because the liberal is the pleasant face of dominant mythology. Anything short of radical transformation leaves some aspect of the old system intact, and as we know from history, eventually the old system will grow and spread like cancer, and take over the entire edifice.

But if you such a radical undertaking, you also have to accept that the great adventures of capitalism are entirely out of the question. The egalitarian, dignified society doesn't send people to the moon. Desperate capitalist hegemonies do, because they are trying to prop up deteriorating myths with grand and magnificent spectacles. The consumer society produces as its consequence the art factories in Hollywood and New York, because it industrializes everything, including the production of art. Rest assured that the hobbled compromise that is liberal democracy will ultimately give you free healthcare, but it will also ensure that you have to use it. They will give you doctors so they can make you sick. They will sell you affordable insurance so they can sell you sexy unsafe cars. They will give you the trendy thing and be there to collect it from the garbage when they can sell you the countertrendy thing. They will treat you to boom so they can enjoy the bust. They'll make sure you're rich enough to desire things you don't have but are poor enough that some are outside your reach.

So you have to pick. You choose between a radical restructuring of modern society or ruthless global capitalism upholstered in postmodern liberal democracy. You choose between a poverty of consumer choices on the one hand or the poverty of the consumerist life on the other. Those are the only two choices. The fundamentalists and the fascists are merely reactionaries. Their problem, quite literally, is that they find your lack of faith in your own ideals disturbing.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:00 PM on September 16, 2010 [16 favorites]


Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren:1930 pdf via
posted by hortense at 12:02 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


The fundamentalists and the fascists are merely reactionaries. Their problem, quite literally, is that they find your lack of faith in your own ideals disturbing.

There is a whole lotta truth in that statement.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 12:07 PM on September 16, 2010


There is quite literally no single person in this country more hideously full of shit than this woman, a blatant and callous opportunist of epic levels.

It's especially ripe coming from her, given that she has welcomed the anti-vax, anti-science woo-woo crowd to her site with open arms, exposing her considerate audience to their inanity. If you want to talk about third world conditions, lets talk about the huge rise in completely preventable diseases like whooping cough, mumps, measels, etc. as a direct result from people reading these assholes on the Huffington Post and other sites and refusing to get their kids vaccinated.
posted by Rhomboid at 12:08 PM on September 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


There is quite literally no single person in this country more hideously full of shit than this woman, a blatant and callous opportunist of epic levels.

It's especially ripe coming from her, given that she has welcomed the anti-vax, anti-science woo-woo crowd to her site with open arms, exposing her considerate audience to their inanity. If you want to talk about third world conditions, lets talk about the huge rise in completely preventable diseases like whooping cough, mumps, measels, etc. as a direct result from people reading these assholes on the Huffington Post and other sites and refusing to get their kids vaccinated.


Well, that's all well and good, but once they (the conservative upstarts around here) start to slander you with statements like "Who OWES you a public health system?" I wonder what your response will be? I think convincing people, honestly and truly, that their health and well-being is even considerably due in part to the well-being of people they don't know and have never met is becoming less and less easy as this generation takes all that the previous generations fought (and died in the streets) for granted and throws it all away.
posted by peppito at 12:18 PM on September 16, 2010


+ for
posted by peppito at 12:19 PM on September 16, 2010


My study of China has taught me that decay in infrastructure always precedes dynastic change. When the central government loses the will to maintain infrastructure it has lost the will to govern, and will eventually lose the mandate of heaven. Hopefully the republic will fall sooner rather than later.
posted by banal evil at 12:36 PM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


The Hedges piece isn't about America becoming a third world country, it's about the selling out to big money and the breaking down of the middle class.

about which he is quite right.

+ what was said before.
posted by Substrata at 12:42 PM on September 16, 2010


My study of China has taught me that decay in infrastructure always precedes dynastic change. When the central government loses the will to maintain infrastructure it has lost the will to govern, and will eventually lose the mandate of heaven. Hopefully the republic will fall sooner rather than later.

Oh great, now we have to worry about nomadic horsemen.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:53 PM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Third World
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
posted by BinaryApe at 12:54 PM on September 16, 2010


This sorta moaning and whining from people like Huffington is dangerous and stupid. I know she thinks that she's being the canary in the coal mine and bringing attention to the plight of the poor and the general decrepitude 30+ years of voo doo economics and deregulation and Wall street and corporate hand jobs by the GOP have wrought, but the last time this country began to feel this sense of it's best times being behind it. We got Reagan in 1980. Basically the first charismatic motherfucker who came along and put on a happy face and a worry free "can do all-American" attitude and the electorate went into a swoon and swallowed the act without pause.

As a kid and I remember being happy Reagan was becoming President. Carter was such a sad sack sap, who'd let himself the country be held hostage for 400+ days (i.e., the Iran hostage crisis) and couldn't even get a proper rescue going without the whole thing being yet, another disaster, another embarrassment for the country with more dead soldiers. It seemed he could not do anything right. It was one disappointment after another. I mean, I was a pre-teen kid, what the hell did I know, really, not much, but I think I was fairly accurate in gauging the mood of the country and it was one of "bad news" fatigue. Carter was too thoughtful, too serious, too responsible and so: too boring, with no sense of the broad brush flourish needed to renew his leadership and to get the country out of it's malaise of fatigue with decay and foreign policy failures and a general sense of no longer really being the number one greatest country on the planet earth of all time forever(tm): AMERICA.

I feel we're dangerously close to that moment here now. The polls are sucking. The news is miserable. Obama, in spite of a little fighting spirit last week, seems stagnant in his leadership. The appointment of Elizabeth Warren to the Consumer Financial Protection Agency is a big plus and has made a lot of progressives happy, including this one, but it seems to barely have made a dent in the news (unless I'm mistaken and haven't gathered up the 24 hour news cycle well enough).\

Obama is a brilliant politician, most can agree on this, but I am beginning to get antsy that there isn't going to be much done to help the Dems in the midterms. Who knows, perhaps it's just a matter of waiting until "you see the whites of their eyes" and they're gauging the electorate a certain way. I do think the GOP is peaking a bit too early, but if there isn't a major announcement soon, the kind that will truly grab and hold the country's imagination and make it understand, in a compelling way what the Dems are doing (and for fucks sake Obama is a writer, and an excellent one at that, where is the fucking compelling story dude??), and what needs to happen to make things better and, hey kids!! Check this action out- sorta enthusiasm from him and from the Dems in Congress, the nation is fucked. And the next two years will be one misery of regression after another and some smart fucker on the Right, and I don't mean Palin, Or ROmney or Jeb Bush (No way I can believe another Bush will ever be elected POTUS again. But perhaps he will change his last name, who the fuck knows with these people what they're capable of...), but there's someone out there with the right skill set and the right look and pedigree, A la Reagan, and the GOP is going to hire him to step in and be the BIG HERO again, and remind America WHAT IT'S ABOUT again, and 2012 is beginning to scare me.

Because if that plays out, the present "third world America" Huffington sees, is going to be like a rarefied dream compared to the crumbling and decay and barbarism and brutality and poverty of another plutocratic watershed.
posted by Skygazer at 1:00 PM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is an attempt to integrate forgiveness for consumption into the act of consumption itself.

Ha! I knew Pastabagel was Zizek!

But they were never democratic, not in the way we understand that term today! They aren't supposed to be. The entire American constitution was predicated on the assumption that the voter, the fundamental unit of a democracy, was a wealthy educated landowner.

Quoted for emphasis of truth. Democracy started as, and has remained, a system where the owners of the country get to decide how it is run.
posted by rusty at 1:01 PM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


excreted by PastaBagel;

But if you such a radical undertaking, you also have to accept that the great adventures of capitalism are entirely out of the question. The egalitarian, dignified society doesn't send people to the moon. Desperate capitalist hegemonies do, because they are trying to prop up deteriorating myths with grand and magnificent spectacles. The consumer society produces as its consequence the art factories in Hollywood and New York, because it industrializes everything, including the production of art. Rest assured that the hobbled compromise that is liberal democracy will ultimately give you free healthcare, but it will also ensure that you have to use it. They will give you doctors so they can make you sick. They will sell you affordable insurance so they can sell you sexy unsafe cars. They will give you the trendy thing and be there to collect it from the garbage when they can sell you the countertrendy thing. They will treat you to boom so they can enjoy the bust. They'll make sure you're rich enough to desire things you don't have but are poor enough that some are outside your reach.


It. They, they they. Who's it/they? The lines about doctors/illnes and insurance/cars - total tinfoil asshattery, and neither true or instructive, just evidence of a flawed thought-process.

Yes, there's some collusion, self-interest and willful ignorance and downright malfeasance going on in the world, and some bad actors wielding disproportionate power , but even I know that as comforting as it might seem, there is no single complete "liberal democracy" system "enslaving" us and orchestrating all the bad that befalls us. It's just the messy product of clashing systems - capitalism vs governing, free enterprise vs social order, and like any human construct, it's messy and imperfect. And subject to change.


... But [the founders of the United States] were never democratic, not in the way we understand that term today! They aren't supposed to be. The entire American constitution was predicated on the assumption that the voter, the fundamental unit of a democracy, was a wealthy educated landowner.


The US Constitution is a magnificent foundation for modern government. Moreso because it contained the mechanisms by which it could be improved and updated to reflect progress. It may have started as a vehicle for the gentry, but it's now one citizen one vote, for better or worse.

I'm still with Churchill on this - democracy is the worst possible system of governance, except for every other. What could replace it?

I do see light at the end of the tunnel. Instead of a flat spectrum of libertarianism/capitalism at one end, and centrally-planned communism at the other, I take heart from the "open source" movement which shows that self-interest can still be harnessed to produce a communal "good", and that my "winning' doesn't require that someone else has to "lose". Naive, I know, but it fits -MY- instincts and desires better than the purely capitalist or socialist models.
posted by Artful Codger at 2:41 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I see a lot of bile and misdirection in the comments here, as late as I am to the party. I understand where a lot of it comes from, since the post references Macleans and Huffington (both of which I would admit are facile sources). It's easy to shout 'no' vehemently also where most of the possible source material - popular media - is accepted to exaggerate as common knowledge.

So ignoring the ad-hominem attacks and misinterpretation of the original post, which was 'is the US *BECOMING* a third world country, not *IS* a third world country.', you'd be left with something much closer to the relevant point that was the original intention to discuss.

Also the default comparison to some African country isn't really applicable. I don't have a ready mental model of any other empire that went through a significant decline not imposed by conquest other than maybe the Roman Empire? The easiest way to convey the idea (and it conveniently go hand in hand with easy media hyperbole) is 'third world country'. No, obviously the US isn't going to turn into a modern-day poor African country.

So I guess what we're really left with is 'Is the US in definite decline?' .. Which doesn't leave us with a proper 'ruler' to gauge how this could be true. I few solid darts thrown out I thought were MillMan, I'm mystified why this is simply never a valid discussion outside of raving left wing circles. Also the whole GINI coefficient makes the US look pretty bad. Or how about the average lifespan or health or height of citizens. As far as I know these are common long uses statistics to gauge the health and hopefully quality of life of a people. As most of you I find it hilarious that the simple gauge of average health and height of a people seems to be something many people in this country voice strong anger against improving when they speak against establishing national healthcare.

Suddenly to me what I as the original poster's intent starts to seem somewhat self-evident.

Also this is pretty disingenuous:

Arguing about how the United States is becoming a third world from your computer seems a bit ironic.

Why? That seems like some variation of an ad-hominem argument right there again. The fact that the US is a modern nation with lots of fancy toys and guns and computers and media doesn't automatically preclude the argument of decline. The point was this is a a modern country, constantly doing things or in situations that have never been known in recorded history. It's ludicrous to imply we can't discuss American decline until we all give up our computers. Maybe we'll usher in a terrifying new era of Apple-related decline, I'd cynically laugh.

I think I'll stop there instead of delving into putting the very design of our culture and consumerism under a harsh light. This topic could be carried away into trying to identify the entire folly of man as a whole, past present and future. Why bother when we don't even have to take flights of fancy and can just stick with accepted common knowledge only to see the discussion derailed into some kind of 24 hour news cycle static.
posted by BurnMage at 3:13 PM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


From the perspective of the left, anything short of this is defective compromise. The radicals greatest opponent is not the conservative, but the liberal. Because the liberal is the pleasant face of dominant mythology.
posted by Pastabagel at 3:00 PM on September 16

THIS A THOUSAND TIMES THIS!
that's why i hate it when people refer to me as a "liberal" blogger.
posted by liza at 3:31 PM on September 16, 2010


Of course, there is a line. The line, hopefully even the ruling business leaders know not to cross, is when the majority of the country is too poor and too ignorant to buy or create anything. You can't sell iPads or convertibles or ringtones to illiterate sharecroppers or unskilled laborers who don't have enough to eat.

I don't think this is a line. it assumes that Americans have some right to be at the top of, or even in, the value chain, when there is no reason to assume they need to be anywhere in the value chain. If its more profitable for the global market to sell to Chinese or Nigerians or Peruvians and for Americans to go and swivel, there is no reason that could not happen (in the long term).
posted by biffa at 4:44 PM on September 16, 2010


When I came to the USA, great chunks of it seemed (and kind of are) third world. Some examples:
- Some of my friends - from middle class families - suffered from the kind of third-world diseases I'd never expect in a developed country, because they lacked access to basic healthcare.
- The streets were littered with beggars (which is not really unique to the third world, but not something I'd seen in the developed countries I'd been to).
- The political system is rampant with corruption.
etc

I wasn't led to think "third world" by some rant, it was right there in my face, and absolutely shocking. Most people here are so used to it they don't notice it, they haven't lived in a country without those problems.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:33 PM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


How can there be a Third World when there isn't even a Second World any more? Shouldn't people understand what words mean if they're going to use them in magazine articles?
posted by Justinian at 6:51 PM on September 16, 2010


Can't believe nobody's linked to this yet, but here's Tim Noah's 10-parter (Slate) on growing income inequality in America, with the understanding that the extent of your wealth inequality is one of the ways you know you're in (or becoming) a Third World country.
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:09 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Shouldn't people understand what words mean if they're going to use them in magazine articles?

If speakers of a language generally understand a phrase to mean a certain thing, then it means that thing, irregardless of whether the data agrees with you or I.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:12 PM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Whoa, there Pastabagel. Clearly, you like your starch. That's fine. But the lipid hypothesis is deeply flawed and far from proven. Taxing fat is a bad idea.

We could tax hydrogenates, though. And I agree we should tax the living shit out of sugars.
posted by Leta at 8:35 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Once upon a time, it was an Understood thing in America that manufacturing was essential to the security of the nation. This led to unions and jobs and a strong middle class.

Then some how, manufacturing wasn't important anymore. Maybe the rich folks decided unions were such a big problem, it was better to get rid of manufacturing, and the unions with that. Who knows? The point is, the jobs are gone.

So, we're not becoming "third world"? If you say so. We are, however, becoming increasingly fucked, by whatever terminology suits. Other countries suck up our natural resources, manufacture stuff, then sell it back to us, all while we grow less able to pay for the stuff.

I'd like to remind many of you people that de Nile is more than just a river in Africa. All that emotion behind your rejection of the central premise of the post, I find, very telling. Scared? You should be! The further down you go, the harder it will be to get back up, and the lower quality of life for your kids and grandkids (assuming they survive childhood. Fewer manage, these days).

I understand why denial is such a comfortable spot, I really do. But the water isn't that deep, yet, and the sooner you jump in and start the effort, the sooner we'll halt the decline. But yea, at this point, it's all about halting the decline.
posted by Goofyy at 2:20 AM on September 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


Is the US becoming a third world nation? No, of course not. But if you spend any time in major east Asian and European cities, it's hard not to escape the feeling that the world is passing America by.

You have been fooled by your tourist experience. It is an easy mistake to make when you cruise through the nice parts of a city and then compare it to your lived experience in America.

I live in European city and I desperately miss North American modernism. Sure Europe has lots of things going for it - pace of life, healthy attitude towards work and so on....but live there for a while and your kitchen will flood in a strong rain, your flush toilets won't, that ingredient you need for your favorite recipe? You have to go to London to buy it.

North America has lots of problems but being more modern and efficient than the rest of the world isn't one of them.
posted by srboisvert at 3:33 AM on September 17, 2010


I live in European city and I desperately miss North American modernism. Sure Europe has lots of things going for it - pace of life, healthy attitude towards work and so on....but live there for a while and your kitchen will flood in a strong rain, your flush toilets won't, that ingredient you need for your favorite recipe? You have to go to London to buy it.

Bit of a blanket statement. Europe's big and pretty diverse. I live in the countryside in northern england, close to a major city. I can't think of a single amenity that I enjoyed growing up in New York that isn't available here. Except real Pizza and decent bagels.

Having come from a place without free health care, I now gladly pay high taxes for it and never take it for granted.

it was right there in my face, and absolutely shocking. Most people here are so used to it they don't notice it, they haven't lived in a country without those problems.

Also true. I notice it more and more every time I go home. Plus, the increase in TV screens everywhere, including the gas pump and seemingly a minimum of 10 TVs in every bar now.

Hard not to believe we're living in the midst of the end of something major.
posted by Hickeystudio at 4:32 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


From today's WSJ:

Lost Decade for Family Income

Arguing over the semantics of "third world country" is a distraction, at best. As long as these issues are political footballs, nothing significant can be accomplished.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:37 AM on September 17, 2010


You have been fooled by your tourist experience. It is an easy mistake to make when you cruise through the nice parts of a city and then compare it to your lived experience in America.

Not a tourist -- grew up in Europe and have lived in various European and Asian countries for years at a time, though have not spent longer than 6 months in a row in the U.S.
posted by modernnomad at 7:20 AM on September 17, 2010


that ingredient you need for your favorite recipe? You have to go to London to buy it.

Does every town in America come pre-stocked with all possible food stuffs?
posted by dng at 8:01 AM on September 17, 2010


The radicals greatest opponent is not the conservative, but the liberal.

Yes, I'm sure conservatives would be terror-stricken if left radicals and liberals spent all their time beating up on each other. Oh, yeah, they already do.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:18 AM on September 17, 2010


I live in the countryside in northern england, close to a major city. I can't think of a single amenity that I enjoyed growing up in New York that isn't available here. Except real Pizza and decent bagels.

On the other hand, you can hardly find Hob Nobs anywhere in the states.
posted by rusty at 11:32 AM on September 17, 2010


Damn, Hedges makes me crazy. How can someone so good at diagnosis be so bad at prescription?

The US is a corporatocracy (yes!). We're in dire straits (yes!). Quickly now: Make more credit unions in rural cities, wind power, and sustainable agriculture (Ye...um, aroo?).

What about election process and campaign funding reform? What about involvement in local politics? No? OK, how about even one concrete and practical example of what the average Joe can do to change things?

On the same note, how ironic that a liberal should frame his argument against corporatocracy in terms of "they" (the working class). WTF? My job's precarious, my insurance premiums spiked without any corresponding benefit, I get laughed at by Canadians, and my money is now rewarding banks for their terrible past decisions. I'm an average, angry, motivated citizen. Why the hell isn't the guy who wants to spark a revolution talking to me...and you?

Gah! Hedges... US elections are bought. Our infrastructure is crumbling. Wealth distribution is polarized. "Support sustainable agriculture for the little people" is just not the call to action we need right now.
posted by diorist at 5:47 PM on September 17, 2010




Aging gas pipes at risk of explosion nationwide

Funny that. It also works well as a description of the Tea Party...
posted by Skygazer at 8:29 AM on September 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


{lites firecracker}
posted by clavdivs at 2:29 PM on September 18, 2010


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