Thursday, January 20, 2011

Social Contract broken in U.S.?

Yesterday on NPR's On Point, with Tom Ashbrook, I heard David Brooks of the New York Times, indicate his contention that everyone in the U.S. has to sacrifice some of the benefits to which they have grown accustomed, because the country cannot afford to pay for those benefits. He was thinking of sacrificing at least 1% of the care provided by the state for health, and/or social security.
The discussion focused on the Inaugural Speech of John F. Kennedy, in which the world heard the words, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country!"
David Brooks is well known as a voice from the moderate conservative right in the U.S. and I have great respect for his views, his person and his signfiicant contribution. He also articulated some differences between the time that speech was delivered and today. One of those differences is that in 1961, trust for government, he estimated, was running around 70%-80%...that is that people trusted government to do the right thing for the country. Today, according to Brooks, that figure is around 19%. I would think that figure is fairly accurate.
Why have the people lost trust in their government, in the U.S.? Could it be that the social contract has been broken by the government itself? Could it be that the government has taken the people for granted, for example, in thrusting the country into wars that either were not needed or were unwinnable. Think of the costs of Vietnam, and then the first Gulf War, and then the Second war against Iraq and now Afghanistan. Not only have those wars proven disastrous, politically, but they have sapped the U.S. Treasury, making it now necessary to make those cuts to benefits that government provides to ordinary people. The capacity of the U.S. to make and sell on the world market is impeded by the relative costs of labour to produce those products. The government must have seen this outsourcing coming and yet, like those large almost unmoveable war ships, and those huge corporations that are/were so difficult to turn around (IBM and General Motors come to mind) did very little to adapt to the seismic changes, perhaps from a perspective of arrogance. Certainly, there is evidence that some giant corporations did not make changes to their business model soon enough and convinced their shareholders that "everything was just fine" with the company.
It reminds me of the male tendency to avoid seeing the doctor, at all costs, including his life. "I'm fine!" is a line we have all heard, especially from very ill male acquaintances, too often very close to us, and for too long, making it difficult if not impossible for corrective interventions to be effective.
Another potential cause for the fraying of the social contract is that government leaders have a strong aversion to admitting mistakes. They have adopted, and all political persuasions are guilty, a posture of never acknowledging their mistakes publicly. Consistent with the corporate Public Relations Playbook and their-    public images of success,
            of not attending to the details,
            of not seeing the big picture,
           of not weeding out weak links in their human resource chain,
           of not doing any harm to the environment, or to their workers or their clients
           of not taking action when there are active alcoholics in strategic positions, unable to function adequately, let alone profesionally....
these failures must always trump the truth that those same corporations are not doing those things and they are also not telling the truth about their sins of commisssion or of omission either.
When the truth is sacrificed, especially in times of crisis, there can be little surprise that the social contract has been broken; and the people with whom that contract is supposed to be a form of protection, and a form of support and a form of inspiration lose trust and faith in those whose responsibility it was/is to preserve that contract, and they perhaps also lose faith in the capacity of the leadership to regain their trust, and that is when the body politic becomes desperate.
We see such desperation in Haiti, in Tunisia, in Angola, in Yemen, in Pakistan, in Iran, in Iraq, and the list of failed states grows every day.
As for the U.S., it too has the potential to become a failed state, if for no other reason than the hopes and expectations of its people have been raised so high by promises that may not be able to be fulfilled, while it continues to spend more on armaments than the rest of the world combined...
Now there is an indication of the results of a tsunami of both hubris and paranoia!

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