This week, decline is on my brain. Specifically, the decline of America.
"There's not a country on Earth that wouldn't gladly trade places with the United States of America," President Barack Obama said, denying Republican assertions that the country is in decline.
Clearly, we believe our country is in decline--polls show that Americans think the next generation will live worse than we do. Pessimism about the future is reflected in a 2011 survey in which 57 percent of the public identified the United States as the world's most powerful nation but just 19 percent thought we'll still be No. 1 twenty years from now.
Now The New York Times reports that life expectancy for white people without a high-school degree fell between 1990 and 2007.
"We're used to looking at groups and complaining that their mortality rates haven't improved fast enough, but to actually go backward is deeply troubling," the newspaper quoted John G. Haaga, head of the Population and Social Processes Branch of the National Institute on Aging.
Even the two major presidential candidates seem to think that the United States doesn't have much of a future. During his 60 Minutes interview, Obama was asked what his big idea was for his next term. Interviewer Steve Kroft mentioned the Marshall Plan and sending a man to the moon as examples of big ideas.
"I think there's no bigger purpose right now than making sure that if people work hard in this country, they can get ahead," replied Obama. "That's the central American idea. That's how we sent a man to the moon. Because there was an economy that worked for everybody and that allowed us to do that. I think what Americans properly are focused on right now are just the bread-and-butter basics of making sure our economy works for working people." A nonsensical answer.
Though depressing, Obama's pessimism is dwarfed by Mitt Romney's.
Romney's 2011 tax returns reveal that not only did he bet against the value of the American dollar, he received a quarter of his income from investments in other countries.
Romney is literally betting millions that the U.S. economy will head south. That foreign equities will outperform U.S. stocks. He even bought shares in the Chinese state oil company, which has contracts with Iran. He's worse than a hypocrite. He's an economic traitor.
But the United States has a future. Who will lead us into that future?
Obama has the edge in the polls, partly because he presents a less somber vision.
The United States is rich. The problem is that our wealth has become so unevenly distributed that there is no longer enough consumer demand to support the population. If we began focusing on the problems of poverty, unemployment and underemployment, as well as rising income and wealth inequality and then fix them, we'll be OK.
I don't think we'll be OK.
We don't have to be in decline. Some liberal elites, like Fed chairman Ben Bernanke and investor Warren Buffett, understand the need to redistribute wealth. They're one side of a split in the ruling classes. Unfortunately for the system and for many Americans, they're losing the argument to greedpigs like Romney.