Economy and social affairs

Awakening from a restless night

(Published in GralsWelt 64/2011)

When the USA is at an end, the “American dream” is followed by awakening from a restless night. Does the foreseeable great crisis offer the world the chance for a nature-friendly future?

Anyone who owns stocks is eagerly listening to the news from Wall Street. Because there is the most important exchange that provides guidelines for the rest of the world. When prices in New York fall sharply, German stocks regularly crash too. Subsequently, American securities generally recover faster than, for example, European ones. The USA is the strongest economic and military power, the leading political power in the western world, the “land of unlimited possibilities” with the US dollar as the world's reserve currency.

Limitless optimism

For two centuries, both emigrants and US citizens have been dreaming of easy money, of the proverbial career “from dishwasher to millionaire”. Those who work hard and strive with an iron will will also be successful. This "American Dream"[1] is based on historical experience:

In past centuries Europe consisted of comparatively densely populated countries with rigid class barriers and hardened structures that offered only limited opportunities for advancement. Politically fragmented, ravaged by wars, ruled by mostly narrow-minded princes in an absolutist way, there was little space for capable people who wanted to move up, and certainly not for courageous lateral thinkers.

The discovery of America then became the source of utopias of the modern age. Here the renaissance image of the “new man” could come true, or the dream of the Enlightenment philosophers of the free development of the creative personality.

The first immigrants to the “New World” - mostly members of religious minorities discriminated against in Europe - not only crossed the Atlantic with the Bible in hand, but also read Thomas More's (1478–1535) “Utopia”, Francis Bacons ( 1561–1626) “New Atlantis” or Thomaso Campanellas (1568–1639) “Sun State”. Since then, the idea has been anchored in US history that a divine plan would lead humanity to perfection in “God's own land”. This connection of a basic believing attitude[ii] With a liberal constitution, “in the realm of the good” (derived from Jefferson's “empire of liberty, empire of right”) can still be felt today.

In the USA, which was founded in 1776, courageous pioneers ventured into unexplored vastness. They saw themselves in a borderless land with seemingly inexhaustible resources, in which everything seemed possible. One boom replaced the other: first the fur trade, then the land grabbing as far as the Mississippi, the California gold rush, the conquest of the west as far as the Pacific, the railroad construction, the buffalo harvest, the large cattle drives, mining, oil drilling and industrialization, the gold rush of Alaska , mass production, the assembly line.

Those who missed a boom had to seize the next opportunity. Everything seemed possible, theoretically everything was open to everyone, and one's own initiative determined whether a path in life led to success or poverty or even death.

After the end of the Civil War (1865), the United States first experienced “productive chaos”, which soon turned into an unprecedented rise, and finally made the United States the first economic and military power after World War II. In the euphoria associated with the grandiose rise of the USA, it occurred to no one that the obviously flourishing American economy was rigorously exploiting its resources and based on the waste of energy and raw materials as well as the destruction of nature.

This impressive, apparently safe development, perceived as progress, has so far shaped our image of America: faster pace of life, continuous growth, mobility, flexibility, ever new challenges that are mastered brilliantly in the USA.

When John F. Kennedy announced the flight to the moon in 1961, he spoke of a “new frontier”, referring to the spirit of optimism during the conquest of the West. The founder of the software empire "Microsoft", Bill Gates, shows, among others, that this dream of rapid ascent to undreamt-of heights can also be possible today. This successful entrepreneur also rejects the historical and philosophical considerations that are so diligently cultivated in Europe when he writes:
"In our industry, things change so quickly that you can't take long to look back."

It is part of the self-image of US citizens to spread their own ideas about peace, freedom, human rights and democracy in the world. Nations that reject this good "American way of life" encounter incomprehension in the USA. In North America, as in Europe, it is often suppressed that
“… Neither democracy nor the fundamental rights of freedom are guarantees for progress in prosperity. In Europe there are rather some historical examples that democratic constitutions could only be enforced and permanently established after reaching a certain general level of education and after overcoming immediate existential hardship. "
Helmut Schmidt writes that in his book "The powers of the future" (8, p. 30).

In Asia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore were ruled by dictatorship before the economic upswing allowed democratization to advance, and China - currently the country with the greatest economic growth - is a long way from a democratically elected government.

From the dream?

The US has lived beyond its means for decades. The national debt is approaching the astronomical sum of 15 trillion dollars (that's almost 100 percent of the gross domestic product). The typical American is deep in the chalk with his card loans with banks; private debt is nearly $ 14 trillion. Hundreds of thousands no longer know how to pay off their homes after the collapse of the real estate boom that occurred recently in the economic crisis that it triggered.

The gap between rich and poor is getting bigger and bigger; nearly 45 million (out of 291 million) Americans are considered poor. The unemployment rate is currently officially 10 percent; if you add those who have resignedly given up and no longer appear in any statistics, it should be 20 percent (2). They all have to cope with a very extensive social network.

Wages are also no longer rising as quickly as a generation ago, and inflation-adjusted incomes are falling - at least among the middle class and the precarious. Loyalty to the company does not guarantee a secure job, any more than a frequent job change doesn’t bring in a higher salary every time. Even a first class education is no guarantee of a good income. Even many former top people have to deal with the crash of the "New Economy"[3] content with more modest salaries. If household incomes are not to fall, both spouses have had to earn money in more and more families for decades, instead of wanting to.

International competition has become tougher, and globalization is well on its way to ending the domination of western industrialized nations. Many industrial jobs were also lost in the USA. American and European workers are in competition with jobseekers in developing countries, who - not infrequently well educated - are “available” cheaper.

Does the globalization promoted by American governments herald the end of the American dream? With open borders, will the global economy become a boomerang hitting American (and European) workers hard?

Presumably that is the price that has to be paid for a world economy in which, as Peter Scholl-Latour puts it, "Profit-obsessed and disabled managers" (7, p. 51) have the say, sees their goal solely in monetary profit, even solely in “shareholder value”. It seems to have been forgotten that the economy is there for people and not people for the economy. The exchange between give and take, which must be balanced in order to maintain a functioning civilization, has fallen out of sight, as has the knowledge that ideal values really have value.

In the past, bad governments tried to escape internal crises by risking foreign policy adventures. But this path is becoming more and more difficult in today's world, and no state (including the overpowering USA) can hope that it can rehabilitate its finances through war and robbery. The US has also been going downhill since the Vietnam War. Due to immense armaments and exuberant war costs, the state had to go into debt more and more and lost its reputation and credibility in the world.

"In Europe, the word goes that our cause is also the cause of humanity, and that by fighting for our freedom, we are also fighting for the freedom of Europe."
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790).

"... it is morality and religion alone that establish the principles on which freedom can safely stand."
John Adams, 2nd President of the United States (1735–1826).

“Ah, Genoese, your dream! Your dream! Centuries after you were buried, the beach you discover makes your dream come true. "
From the “Hymn to Columbus” by the American poet Walt Whitman (1819–1892).

"This country is not governed by its citizenship, in which each of us has a vote, but by the stock exchange, which belongs to the shareholders according to its shares."
The American novelist Philip Roth (born 1933).

Europe as a model?

The American Jeremy Rifkin, well-known author, globalization critic, founder and chairman of the Foundation on Economic Trends (FOET) in Washington, sees the USA in decline. He says many Americans have doubts about the future of the once-undisputed American dream. But how can the economy, which has gone out of control, be tamed along the lines of the American model and directed in more humane ways? What can a USA look like that not only enables the rich and the punters to enjoy an American dream?

In Rifkin's opinion, using European examples:
"Our dream is based on unrestricted economic growth, material wealth and individual progress, but the European dream is based on quality of life, sustainable development and a nourishing community" (10).

The “old Europe” of all things should become a model for the US economy?
The European states are also heavily indebted. They groan under governments with weak decision-making, a clumsy, undemocratic bureaucracy in Brussels, suffer from unemployment and are gripped by global competition. More and more workers who can be fobbed off with low wages are pushing into the high-wage countries of Central Europe, and at the same time entire branches of industry are migrating to low-wage countries.

Many convenient social benefits have become “too expensive” in the global battle for sales markets and jobs. But cuts in the social network are experienced by the individual as a loss and provoke hard disputes between the social partners and between the political parties, which threaten internal peace and endanger the stability of democratic structures.

Last but not least, bailouts for the ailing euro are a burden on the European countries. The responsible German politicians no longer want to know that this currency was introduced rashly at that time - against the warnings of economists - without the necessary economic harmonization (as a price for German unity? Or as a replacement for reparations?). In return they claim that Germany is the greatest beneficiary of the euro; probably a preparation for upcoming demands, which could cost us dearly!

Will Europe find a way out of its problems that can become a model for the USA and other industrialized countries?

"Do you know the country where grabs and humbug flourish,
Hearts only glow for the dollar
Where money goes before aristocracy,
The cunning is high, the loyalty is low,
Do you know the country, there, there
If I would, if I had the choice, never move again.
Do you know the city, with all its dirt
There is an inn on every street corner
And in factories the brood of men sweat
Capital sucks its red blood
Do you know the city, there, there
Never let me, oh eternal father, pull.
You city on Michigan, full of woes and woes,
Where many a hopeful heart broke
The stars in the sky at night look at me
What has been done to you, you poor child?
Do you know the city, there, there
Don't let a thousand horses pull you. "
Emerenz Meier (1874-1928).

Crises as Opportunities?

A word that is often wrongly described as trite sees every crisis also - or especially - an opportunity. Crises are inevitably a powerful impetus to think about changes, reforms, developments and new ideas, and they increase the need to do something. Optimists hope that the current economic, financial (and political) crisis in the USA and the entire western world will lead to a new beginning, a new boom. According to the historical experience of the USA, every crisis so far has also been a transition to a new upswing phase.

Can we still hope for the coming boom in our time? To do this, the western world would have to adjust to a future in which many things are different than in the past three hundred years:

• Europe and then North America were the most innovative continents for centuries. In these times of the boom in the western world, it didn't matter that China was once the technology leader and that Europe was able to build on Chinese inventions. China and India were still the dominant countries in the 15th century[4], which together generated around 40 percent of the earth's gross national product, which was hardly noticed in Europe at the time. In the course of the 21st century, these two greatest nations are expected to come that far again.
From around the middle of the century, China will generate a national product like the United States, but will remain an emerging country for longer due to its high population figures in terms of per capita income.
In India, government birth control measures have been suspended so that its population is likely to surpass China's by the 21st century. Despite economic growth, India will therefore probably have to master greater socio-political challenges than China.
Serious environmental problems threaten in both countries.

• This is the end of the dominance of the white race. The far more numerous people of Asia will catch up economically and technologically; with the aim of becoming the best in the world. Neither economic nor military means will stop this; because the time of colonialism and the predatory wars is coming to an end. Neo-colonialism will also reach its limits with its exploitation of the underdeveloped countries. I believe that there is consensus among the world population that this is progress in the right direction.

• The struggle for resources that are becoming scarcer has begun, as can be seen not only in the example of oil. The times are over when Europeans and white Americans, who made up around 25 percent of the world's population around 1900, could see the remaining 75 percent as helpless objects of exploitation and appropriated resources all over the world - often by force. Powerful opponents like China are now getting involved!
Soon, water scarcity will also have an impact in many places (probably even in some states in the USA). Attempts by western corporations to privatize water supplies in developing countries and also to earn money from this shortage can trigger violent counter-reactions from those affected.

• The population explosion continues. Poverty refugees are looking for places to survive in increasing desperation. There are no recognizable ways out of this misery[v]. This is how, unconsciously, the greatest human migration of all time is taking place: Africa, where development aid has all but failed, and the Middle East are exerting strong migratory pressure on Europe; from Central and South America there is a corresponding flow of immigration to North America. Both continents - Europe and North America - are completely overwhelmed with hundreds of millions of immigrants. Even in China, the country with the greatest economic growth, 150 million migrant workers are fighting for jobs.

• From an ecological point of view, the long-term goal of every country should be to manage as much as possible with its own resources and to make itself as little dependent on imports as possible. Central Europe has the inestimable advantage here that it has good soil and sufficient rain. Innovations that bring us closer to independence from imports from overseas would be the most important safeguard for the future[6].
The associated departure from the "Monopoly capitalist manipulations that are nowadays nicely referred to as 'globalization'" (7, p. 114), and a world economy at any price, many economists consider a throwback to the era of mercantilism[7] misunderstand. But the glossing over, popular with politicians and even economists, cannot disguise the fact that globalization creates bigger problems than it solves. After the failure of socialism, a turbo-capitalism apparently dominates unchallenged, which exposes its ugliest sides in the globalized economy and in worldwide financial speculation. A humane alternative to this inhumane economy is urgently needed.

A future that is compatible with nature

The “old American dream” of continuous growth through the production of material things, this world-wide copied waste economy, is not sustainable.

The “European dream” propagated by Rifkin of the sustainable use of resources and social equilibrium contains some goal-oriented approaches; but he, too, is still a long way from a comprehensive solution to the problem.

The future belongs to the economical use of non-renewable resources, the intelligent use of one's own possibilities, the renouncement of superfluous exotic species and modesty (not poverty) in the material demands of life. One big trap we've fallen into is thinking of happiness as proportional to owning things.

A happy future requires the "natural dream" of an economy and society in harmony with nature. The design of this “ecological-social balance economy”, as an alternative to the globalization of predatory capitalism, should be the most important concern of politicians, ecologists and economists.

(1) Cooke Alistair, History of America, Pawlak, Herrsching 1975.
(2) Der Spiegel, No. 44/2010, page 72 f.
(3) Gates Bill, The Way Forward, Hoffman & Campe, Hamburg 1995.
(4) Hey Monika, The American Dream, TR-Verlagsunion, Munich 1990.
(5) Rifkin Jeremy, The European Dream, Campus, Frankfurt 2004.
(6) Scholl-Latour Peter, The Curse of the New Millennium, Goldmann, Munich 2004.
(7) Scholl-Latour Peter, Colossus on feet of clay, Ullstein, Berlin 2005.
(8) Schmidt Helmut, The Powers of the Future, Siedler, Munich 2004.
(9) Wuermeling Henric L., Die Lust an der Freiheit, TR-Verlagsunion, Munich 1987.
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[1] The term "American dream" astonishingly came about during the Great Depression of the 1930s, which also hit the United States badly. (see bibliography, 4).
[2] See bibliography (7), page 15: “About 80 percent of all US citizens attend church services every Sunday. In France the number of regular churchgoers has shrunk to seven percent, in England even to five percent. " Personally, the 80 percent seems credible for the flat country, especially in the Midwest, not for the metropolitan areas.
[3] New Economy = New Economy. Linked to the idea that computers and new communication media will create a new form of economy shaped by globalization. The industrial mass production would therefore lose its importance. The priorities now lie in the global competition for innovative ideas, in the processing of information.
[4] Cf. "China II: China and the Westen ”, under“ History ”and  “1421 - When China discovered the world "Under" Book Reviews ".
[5] Cf. "How many people can the earth take?", Under" Ecology ".
[6] Hopefully nobody thinks I would see a role model here in the quirky North Korean "Juche" ideology with its forced isolation.
[7] Mercantilism = the economic policy of the European states in the 17th and 18th centuries. Mercantilism was characterized by economic nationalism and state dirigism.