There is reason to be optimistic about the future. It’s true that the world is a safer place than it has ever been, that the world is a better place. Crime is down, the stock market is higher than ever, and the standard of living seems to just keep improving. To predict the next ten years on these statistics alone we’d say that things are looking up, the world is going to be better, and the good times will just keep rolling. But rarely is this not the case. When the times are good, why would anyone question that they will always be good?
The truth is the country can turn a corner and find itself in a very different place that no one would have predicted ten years before despite it being the path we were following all along. The truth is society is more than GDP and crime rates and people know this. People know that all is not well, that the country stands at a precarious point, that the worst is yet to come. The world is a better place but everything that helped get us to this point has crumbled. Like a business that fired all the employees and sold all its assets to report one last profitable quarter. How is it that the people know this when our experts and analysts and political leaders can’t even begin to comprehend it? It’s because the people are closest to the matter, they’re on the ground. You could call it intuition but the truth is we’re actually living it.
Over the last few decades we’ve lost our social cohesion, the fabric holding society together has been torn apart, and we’ve lost all faith in the institutions that used to hold the country up as they became gridlocked, corrupt, and unable to fulfill their duties.
Our public education is no longer an institution that seeks to improve the next generation, a grand effort to make the country better, instead it is a strict, bureaucratic system designed to push children through a series of hoops and tests. Our higher education is just as bad, a machine that profits off students and produces an abundance of worthless degrees.
Our criminal justice system is no longer designed to keep the innocent out of prison and stand up for society. Now it is a tool being run for profit and used to punish or threaten the innocent. Millions undeservedly have their lives and futures stolen from them. At the same time many are protected from ever facing justice by their wealth, corruption, or other influence. This is not justice and people know it. They know they live in a society that cannot be trusted to protect the innocent or stop the criminal.
Our government is run by lobbyists and party insiders with dedication not to the people or the country but to win elections, to win for their party, and to make money. We no longer have dedicated public servants, we no longer can elect regular people who just want to do good for their family, neighbors, and country. We elect politicians who work for corporations and interest groups, not the people. Politicians who would rather put the government in permanent gridlock than work together to pass laws that work. Our government is corrupt, it is gridlocked, and it does not represent us. How we believe in it?
Our businesses have changed their models away from innovation and building a lasting business to monopolizing industries and maximizing shareholder value. That is not how the free market works, that is not how capitalism should work, and that’s not good for business. People know this, they know businesses are as likely to cheat them as to benefit them. In the 2008 economic collapse people saw just how tenuous the new, global economy was, how insecure their investments, their jobs, their savings, their lives were and they have not forgotten. The bankers, the politicians, the economists can go on and on about how GDP is up, the stock market is soaring, and unemployment is down but the people know that nothing changed, the underlying problems were not solved, and the economy is one bad month away from crashing all over again. 2008 should have been a wakeup call, instead we glossed over it with bailouts and economic predictions of prosperity based on the same economic models that completely failed to predict the economic collapse to begin with.
Part of this is that we’ve conflated finance and business. Finance has grown over the last few decades to represent a much more significant portion of GDP despite not actually adding real value to the economy. Finance used to be properly regulated. Finance used to be a utility to spur the economy onward and to help businesses grow and expand. Now finance is the economy and the profits don’t extend beyond Wall Street.
Such degradation of our country’s institutions has a far greater side effect than just their own collapse. Social trust is at an all-time low. When social trust is low we won’t invest in each other, we won’t invest in our country, we won’t invest in our future. It all seems too complex, our problems are so monumental and so entangled that it seems no solution will ever present itself.
To accomplish great things, the things that we could not accomplish alone, we have to commit to each other, to our country, and our community. This point was in fact well made when our country began, in the words of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor”. I believe we will recommit to this pledge. I believe that when America faces its greatest challenges it digs deep down and finds what made it great, the commitment to the idea that collectively we are strong, that we were the first country to prove the people could govern themselves, and that the United States of America is greater than the sum of its parts. I believe in us.