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America is Falling Behind in Social Progress


This is going to be an article about an article, as usual, since I mostly just review the news here; but this time I read it in a printed magazine.

The first thing about the article is the graphic on the first page: it shows relative levels, by country, of “Access to Basic Knowledge” and “Health and Wellness” and shows the United States relative to other countries.  For Access to Basic Knowledge, Japan is #1, and the US is #45; for Health and Wellness, Peru is #1 and the US is #68.

The title of the article is Putting Social Progress on Par with Prosperity.  The man interviewed in the article is Lawrence University Professor Micheal E. Porter, who has developed a Social Progress Index or SPI, which measures social and environmental progress on multiple dimensions, all independent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and designed to evaluate how well a country takes care of and provides liberty for all of its citizens.  133 countries were ranked on this multidimensional scale, and the US came out sixteenth overall; by comparison, the US has the sixth highest gross domestic product per capita.  Basic needs, including food, water, shelter, safety; basic education, health, and sustainable environment; freedom of choice, freedom from discrimination, access to higher education: these are the three dimensions rated on the main scale.

Porter says, “We had a lot of firsts in social progress over the years in America, but we kind of lost our rhythm and momentum.”  The article continues, “About 20-30 years ago for reasons Porter says he cannot completely explain, the rate of progress in America began to slow down.  As a society, he points out, Americans slowly became more divided, and important priorities such as healthcare, education, and politics suffered.”

The mechanism behind society’s downfall starts with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.  For the last thirty-five years, Republicans in particular and rich people in general have been chipping away at the wealth of the “middle class” and below and creating more ways to prevent poor people from voting.  The top 1% had 10% of the pre-tax income in 1979 and, in 2007 reached a high of 23.5% pre-tax and 16.7% post-tax, among the most lightly taxed top 1% in the world.

The amounts of money that could be reaped by a reasonable increase in taxes have been minimized by Republican critics of Democratic tax policy, but in fact considerable sums can be raised by small increases: for example, if the top rate went from 33% to 40%, $156 billion a year would be had, a long ways towards eliminating the current deficit of $400 billion a year.

Porter says that a long history of “anti-progressive politics” and “bad economic policy” has caused the fragmentation of society and prevents reform of the justice and policing systems (that has the highest rate of imprisonment in the world) and the educational system(which is not doing well), not to mention our infrastructure, and most importantly, our tax system.  At the same time, the US is more threatened now, economically and militarily, than it has been in many years.

Ironically, Russia has returned as a military threat after being defeated by Reagan’s military posturing and heavy spending on military threats like the “Peacekeeper” multiple-reentry vehicle nuclear missile.

Eventually, a demographic shift towards Mexicans will overwhelm Republican gerrymandering of the House and obstructionism in the Senate; by then, conditions may be so bad that radical measures will be needed to restore the country towards normalcy.

Porter says that he is working with “leaders on the national level” in several countries, including Brazil, Colombia, and Paraguay, where the SPI is a central part of their “national development plan.”  He says, “We’re encouraged– but we’ve got a long way to go.”

The article can be reached here:


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