Is the United States crumbling as a nation?


Interview conducted by Jaime Ortega.



Jon Kofas

He is Retired university professor–Academic Writing — International Political Economy – Fiction


1) American Youth: The youth in the United States has become very anti-government and anti military. The youth in the past presented a lot more nationalist values which helped military enrolment. Is lack of military enrolment and patriotism a downfall of any world power in history?

Jon Kofas:  America’s youth is a reflection of the diverse society and its contemporary political trends. It is true that a segment of the youth is anti-government and anti-military but not nearly at levels America had seen during the last years of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal under Richard Nixon. One would need to go back to the Eisenhower administration when McCarthyism “Communist witch hunts” and the institutionalization of the Red Scare had driven the majority in society, including the youth, to nationalist conformity. The result of that intense sense of Cold War nationalism that transcended political affiliation in the 1950s and early 1960s was support for the US military in the early years of the Vietnam War.

As the middle class suffered casualties and the news from the front was that the war was unwinnable, the middle class youth turned against nationalism and militarism. This was evident during the 1968 presidential campaign with the candidacy of anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy that resulted in the loss of the Democrat party to Nixon. American youth was radicalized at the same time that there was a national movement for civil rights under Martin Luther King and a rising women’s rights movement, all involving young people mostly from the middle class. This convergence of protests movements by American youth as reflected also in cultural trends reflected dissatisfaction with the Cold War conformity status quo at home and abroad, but the kind of sweeping reforms the youth demanded never materialized. Although women and minorities achieved concessions within the political economy, this was limited to the upper middle class minority and women rather than cutting across class lines.

The political and financial elites reoriented America’s youth toward a conservative direction after the revolutions in Iran and Nicaragua in 1979 and the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. These developments accounted for a resurgence in nationalism and revisionist thinking on militarism not just by rural, religious Southerners, but a larger cross-section in American society that saw benefits to conformity during the decade of Glasnost and Perestroika under Gorbachev who laid the groundwork for the Soviet Union’s dissolution. In short, the youth saw tangible results in conformity to hawkish politics and identity with the nation-state because the US had won the East-West confrontation started under Truman.

At the same time, there was the euphoria that capitalism enjoyed a monopoly in the world and the US was its core to enjoy benefits that would filter down so all people could finally enjoy the American Dream. This was the image politicians, the media, businesses, and schools projected and those who wanted a “piece of the American Dream” had to conform. America’s youth was slowly discovering that the endless and unwinnable war on terror institutionalized at home and abroad came at a price of downward socioeconomic mobility, college costs higher and high-paying jobs fewer meant that the American Dream was limited to fewer and fewer people, while the promising middle class as the backbone of American society was fading. This reality accounts for the cynicism even conspiracy theories on the part of a segment in America’s youth in our time.

Some resorted to social media opposition to government and the military establishment as a way to have their voice matter in a world where only the voice of the political class and the elites it served really matters. Another segment of America’s youth tried even harder to conform realizing there is no alternative, other becoming nihilistic, giving up completely as the public opinion polls indicate on the issue of political activism and participation in local and national elections. This was especially the case with America’s minority youth that have a different perspective regardless of social class.

Unlike white youth that has positive social identities in a society with a long history of institutionalized and cultural racism (institutional practices endeavoring to justify inequality based on race and ethnicity), the black and Hispanic youth experience a different “American reality”. Their social status is not only economically determined, but ethnically/racially determined as evidenced by the reality of police arrests, court cases and prison statistics of black and Latino youth. Despite the Civil Right movement of the 1960s, laws and law suits against public and private sector institutional discrimination, and America’s first black president in the age of political correctness, the phenomenon of racism is a constant in American history because it is deeply ingrained in the culture and it manifests itself institutionally.

The dream of black and Hispanic youth transcending race and ethnicity through class – upward social mobility – is to a large extent real within the capitalist system, but young people know as well as the adults that the vast majority in their ethnic group will be left behind and suffer institutional discrimination just beneath the thin layer of political correctness at the workplace, when coming up against the criminal justice system, and other interactions in both the public and private sectors. The nature of capitalism is such that it subordinates such institutional discrimination to the domain of competition and viewing everyone as a valued consumer/investor in the political economy, except that the less one has to consume/invest the less valued that individual is, especially when he is black or Hispanic where societal and institutional stereotypes of cultural racism/ethnocentric apply.

Where does this leave minority youth, except dispirited because they realize equality of opportunity does not obviate social-cultural stereotypes, especially in the domain of the criminal justice system. That there are political groups as appendages of the Republican Party instigating xenophobia aimed at Hispanics, and right-wing media promoting underlying racist messages using code words such as “criminals” to refer to unarmed black youth shot in cold blood by white police officers only perpetuates cynicism about America refusing to abandon its apartheid past. When white police officers shoot black suspects on average twice a week, according to the FBI, and use excessive force against Hispanic and black youth 98.9% of the time, according to a University of Nebraska study, the problem is very serious because the politicians have done nothing to change the culture of racism.

Despite this reality, black and Hispanic youth remain the backbone of the US armed forces along with the poor whites, while the upper middle class white youth talks about patriotism as its domain but defers to minorities and the poor to serve America. Not surprisingly, the Department of Defense target minorities and poor whites for recruitment, According to studies, only 70 percent of new recruits have a high school diploma, whereas DoD goal is to raise it to 90%. This blatant hypocrisy on the part of the wealthy whites was true in the early 21st century as it was in the mid-20th century.

The blatant hypocrisy here is that the political and financial elites have always projected the image of patriotism, when in fact such traits are actually much more prevalent among the poor and minority youth. This is largely because the marginalization from the institutional mainstream brings them even closer to embracing patriotism and service in the armed forces. The same does not hold true for the upper middle dominated by the white majority that has more realistic possibilities for upward social mobility within the mainstream of society.


2) Russian and Chinese Youth: On the flipside China and Russia’s youth have become very patriotic and nationalistic; will that help their countries rise faster to power to invigorate new superpowers? Will the US youth be ready for conflict if problems in the future arise with these emerging powers given the lack of nationalist values that once made the US a military superpower? Is that related to the fall of Rome? 

Jon Kofas:  It is understandable why the youth in Russia and China would be more nationalistic than in the US for several reasons. First, there is a resurgence of Russian and Chinese nationalism for different reasons in the respective societies. In the case of Russia, nationalism has replaced Communism as an ideology that the state promotes not only in the domain of electoral politics, but economic nationalism and especially cultural nationalism as a catalyst to unity in society now that a class-based system divides people more than it unites them. Although nationalism was a force that Josef Stalin promoted as much as his successors under the banner of “Soviet collectivism” and faced with a hostile outside world, today’s Russia has the state-supported Orthodox Church as a major force promoting nationalism.

In the mid-1990s, Russian nationalism among the youth was very high, partly because of political organizations under Barshakov and Zhirinovski trying to mobilize the masses into movements. Although these 1990s movements faded, there are various ultra-nationalist youth groups, some using violence that are anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic. Russian youth are generally organized from the top down, as is the case with “Nashi” political youth movement claiming to be democratic and anti-oligarchic, but in essence an NGO headed by Vladimir Putin’s supporters trying to create a broad popular political base. The catalyst to the youth in Russia is the “foreign enemy” trying to undermine Russia.

Russophobia that exists in Ukraine, Baltic States, Poland, and in some of the former Soviet republics also accounts for Russian nationalism.

Above all, the new containment policy of the US and Europe and Vladimir Putin’s nationalist politics are the strongest force that convince Russians across social classes, especially the youth, that they must come together behind their nationalist leaders, no matter the level of official corruption and private sector corruption linked to the state. Nevertheless, Russian nationalism among the young people is understandable also because the end of USSR and the realization of social and cultural freedoms that have shaped bourgeois values that did not exist under Communism.

To a large degree this is also true of Chinese youth. Considering the immense structural changes as much in China, as in Russia since 1990, the youth of these countries was born and grew up knowing nothing else but the promise of the new open economy and its cultural values. The realization that upward mobility is an achievable goal for a segment of Chinese youth accounts for greater optimism in comparison with the American youth knowing those same possibilities for upward mobility are becoming increasingly limited.

Mao and the Cultural Revolution generation are a distant memory for museums and the history books never to become policy again. No matter how admirable the idealism of the 1960s generation that tried to create a utopian society, the youth of contemporary China looks to global integration as its future rather the autarchy isolation that Mao had imposed. The value system of Communist collectivism gave way to that of a Western-based individual merit system under the market economy, with all this implies for a new social structure in China.

The youth in China is just a diverse if not more so than the American youth, given that class, gender, ethnicity, and geography plays a huge role in the social structure. The college educated youth in the largest cities – Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Dongguan, Chengdu, and  Hong Kong – constitutes the internet generation whose identity is much more influenced by cosmopolitan trends than the rural and less educated population suffering low incomes and low living standards. The urban-rural divide accounts for different perspectives, but the identification with a nation-state that has taken the country from isolation to global economic preeminence is in itself inspirational for Chinese youth that transcends class and ethnicity.

The tradition of dissent in China has been both within the Communist system as well as outside of it with those embracing everything from Western values to freedom of religion. The spring 1989 student uprising in Tiananmen Square that resulted in tragic killings by the security forces represented a nascent youth bourgeois democracy protest movement that inspired pro-democracy protests in early 2011 and ethnic and religious protests that represented diverse groups. In the last ten years or so, an online protest movement, also bourgeois in its modalities and goals, emerged to represent another dimension of where China’s youth may be headed.

Fingshu Liu argues that the internet has shaped Chinese youth identity in what he calls “online nationalism”. To some degree, these young people are somewhat apathetic about politics as much as their Western counterparts that feel nothing ever changes and there is nothing they can do about it. In post-Mao China, these urban college educated youth, however, represent the new trend in nationalism as they realize their country will become the world unquestioned economic power and this would have derivative benefits for them and future generations. In this respect, Chinese nationalism is driven by the optimistic scenarios of China as the new superpower overtaking the US. The Chinese “online nationalism” that Fingshu Liu refers is of course a universal phenomenon and hardly limited to China.

One could easily argue that the Arab Spring revolts had as their catalyst the internet, as did the protest movements in Spain, and the “Occupy Wall Street” youth protest that started in September 2011 and eventually died out three years later. Unlike the American youth, the Chinese and Russia are first generation middle class nationalists and have a different perspective driven not just by their historical past but optimism about the potential of their respective nations to achieve new heights in the global arena.

By contrast, the American youth, broken down by class race and ethnicity, lacks the sense of optimism because they realize the 21st century at best is going to be of America not losing its status in the world, not suffering further erosion of the declining middle class, and not experiencing a greater gap between the top ten percent of income earners and the rest of the population. “The Fall of Rome” syndrome is already evident in American society and the young people sense it, despite the political rhetoric about the American Dream and the media’s attempts to demonize foreign enemies as a distraction of the domestic structural problems.

Chinese American youth optimism about the future remained steady in the mid-50s but reached a peak in 2001 at 71 percent, before plummeting to 44% during the 2008-2011 recession, levels at which it remains today. Because in the US the mass psychology tends to place all fault with the individual when they become unemployed or do not make sufficient income, people have been indoctrinated to internalize what are otherwise external structural problems such as the political economy. By contrast, under Marxist ideology in Russia and China the emphasis was on the institutional structures that shape the individual’s life. Although Chinese and Russia youth have grown up on consumerist values, they come from traditions of collectivism and layers of tradition remain just below the surface of the currents trends – to borrow an old Chinese proverb.

While 93% of Chinese believe their country has a bright future, 67% believe they will become businesspeople. This level of optimism is the highest in the world, while Russia lags China in optimism but it is well ahead of the US with about 70% of Russian youth indicating they will be about the same or better off in the future. Whether for or against Putin youth organizations have a greater sense of shaping their future from within or outside the system. The Chinese are also optimistic about controlling their destiny within the new system. Similar trends are absent among American youth have yielded to resignation or conformity with only small groups defying the institutional structure at the root of injustice in society. Considering the US has a long tradition of believing it is in charge of its own destiny and that of the world, we see that trend in decline across the board and among America’s youth.


Workers and the Welfare State

3) Many companies nationwide complain to the government that many American workers (not all) do not perform as efficiently as other foreign workers and illegal immigrants who also work for these same companies.  For example, Alabama recently passed a law where illegal immigrants needed work permits. Do Americans companies need immigrants? And is the American labor become lazier compared to illegal immigrants?  It looks like in most universities all the Bachelors of Science are taken by mostly foreign students and few Americans! Will that have a long effect repercussion on the US?

Are American workers “inefficient” (producing more at a lower cost to their counterparts around the world) or are they the cause for the lack of “competitiveness”? Are US wages too high and productivity too low, and is efficiency measured only in terms of maximum profits to the exclusion of all other factors? Are workers the reason that US companies relocating to Mexico, Vietnam, China, Brazil and other countries as part of the de-industrialization process in the last forty years?

The argument that workers are fault for the ills of the US economy started during the first Industrial Revolution in England more than two centuries ago. During the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, the argument of worker inefficiency was used to prevent labor organizers and keep wages low and government away from regulating hours, safety and child labor. Clearly, a child, a woman and a minority male was worked more efficiently because they received considerably less than their white male counterpart during the period when trusts and cartels enjoyed unquestioned influence over all levels of government and the courts. 

 The New Deal changed labor-management relations, rationalizing the process within the capitalist system. However, as the US became more hawkish during the Cold War, domestic policy reflected a rightwing turn as well. The anti-union political momentum has its origins in the Truman administration that reversed the pro-labor policies of FDR and used the Cold War as a pretext to impose labor conformity to domestic policies. Because the economy was in an expansionary mode during the early Cold War and there were opportunities for the children of workers to secure an education and move into the middle class, conformity was inevitable as the American Dream was the reward.

De-radicalized pro-business trade unions went along with the government on foreign affairs and renounced the class struggle, focused only on “bread and butter” issues as part of the Democrat Party. Anti-trade union policies of the Republican Party that identified unions as appendages of the Democratic Party are part of the reason for the question of inefficiency. Another issue is related to the justification of globalization that transfers high-paying jobs to low-cost labor markets, thus driving wages lower in the US. Finally, there is the issue of preventing unionization where it does not exist, minimizing the influence of the already weak and ineffective unions, and simply busting unions as was the case during the Reagan administration. No matter what the argument, the assumption always revolves around the theme of maintaining capital’s monopoly influence in policy and maximizing corporate profits no matter the cost to society. This is no different than what took place during the Gilded Age.

According to the pro-business Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Germany has the world’s most productive labor force, while the US ranks third. Neither Germany nor the US have low wages compared with China and Vietnam, but they enjoy top world rankings from a pro-business international organization. Why then do politicians, the media, and well-paid pro-business consultants and academics-for-hire to businesses insist the US labor force is the problem to productivity?

On 31 July 2015, the US Federal Reserve released the second quarter labor report costs revealing that these were the lowest in 33 years. Despite massive rises in executive compensation and record corporate profits, politicians and media insist that wages are the problem in the economy. Where exactly is the empirical evidence to suggest that the American labor force on the whole, whether in the public or private sector, whether in the office or in the factory, whether in the commercial farm or the construction site is the cause for productivity inefficiency? If the business model is flawed, if management compensation exorbitant, if the child labor factory in Bangladesh makes the exact same garment five times cheaper under unhealthy and hazardous conditions, why is it the fault of the American worker and not the factory owner trying to squeeze out higher profits by exploiting children in the Third World?

The only reason that the US government, businesses, media and the IMF even raise the issue of worker inefficiency is to demand lower wages throughout the world, to crush labor unions, and to prevent new ones from emerging. If a 12-year girl in Bangladesh is making a few dollars a week, but her adult American counterpart is making $12 dollars an hour, is the conclusion that the American worker is “inefficient” or that the corporate employer is exploiting child labor in countries desperate for capital investment and no laws for children, safety, health and the environment?

It is ironic that politicians, journalist and economists against raising the minimum wage are either millionaires or very wealthy who would never concede giving one dollar more of their parasitically-earned income to reduce the public debt. If they honestly believe workers are not the people creating wealth, but instead they are the obstacles to efficiency, then why not abolish all labor laws, all labor-management regulations, outlaw trade unions and end workers’ rights, and let the employer decide what the worker is “worth”. If these measured are followed to concentrate capital even more than it is today in the hands of the wealthiest one percent, the question arises about what kind of social structure and political system would evolve in America where the middle class is presumably its backbone. 

Some sectors of the US economy including construction, agriculture, and manufacturing, employ foreign laborers, some of which are undocumented. This is also the case with domestic workers in the hotel and restaurant business where wages are low. Employers prefer to employ such workers because they are diligent, but also because they earn much lower wages than documented workers. For many decades employers have made the argument that employing Hispanic and other non-US-born workers is more efficient for them and they pass on the savings to the consumer. This is regardless of whether it is a commercial farm or a construction company. The trade unionists then turn against the undocumented workers, arguing the government is not cracking down on these people taking jobs away from American citizens. This is an old story of old immigrant workers making higher wages turning against the new ones earning much less. The media, government and businesses then argue that high paid workers losing their jobs simply do not have the “right skills” for the evolving job market, so it is their fault. If they just secure more education/training, they too could experience upward social mobility.

The downward social mobility in America has been taking place in the last three decades and it is continuing.  This has been a subject of many books and articles as well as political debates, with some liberal suggesting adjustments to the fiscal system and wage scales and conservatives arguing in favor of allowing the market to decide and individuals going back for more education to secure a good job. One area where the young have historically looked for upward mobility is the college degree, although studies indicate the political economy and social stratification is such that the average person will change several careers in a lifetime. Moreover, the demands of the market are such that whereas in the 1950s a high school diploma was sufficient to secure a job, in 2015 a Ph.D. is no guarantee the candidate will work in her/his field and make more money than a truck driver.

America’s educational system designed to provide opportunities for self-enlightenment and marketable skills in the workforce achieved its goal from the end of WWII until the end of the Vietnam War. When social welfare began to dwindle as resources shifted to defense and corporate welfare during the 1980s, radio personality Garrison Keillor made famous jokes about the unemployable English major. This was an indication that a college degree in the humanities was hardly sufficient to guarantee a job in the field of academic training. The reality in the 1980s was that any field outside of the hard sciences and business was difficult to secure a job, even with a Ph.D. A decade later, it became difficult to secure a job in fields once thought as safe, including areas in the hard sciences and law. Individuals with college degrees had to secure more and different training for employment. By the time the recession of 2008 hit, it was difficult to find a job in any field even for graduates of prominent universities.

Besides inability to find employment in the field of their educational training, college graduates had a massive debt from loans because costs had skyrocketed as the business model of education meant shifting the burden from the public sector to the student. High college costs excluded children of workers and lower middle class that could only afford local colleges, if at all, or going into the armed forces. Universities responded by introducing distance learning and e-colleges, as well as eliminating standardized exams ACT-SAT, both schemes to secure tuition income as competition increased. In the last three decades, universities have been evolving toward a business model where the administration behaves like corporate management and the faculty like workers, and students are consumers. This is reflected in salaries where there are huge gaps between the millionaire college presidents and professors, with exceptions in business schools.

It is not only that the corporate model of college has become very expensive and leaves out those who cannot afford it, it is also the case that an undergraduate degree is now like a high school diploma in the 1960s in terms of securing employment in a very competitive service-oriented economy geared increasingly to business and high tech positions amid an evolving proletarianization social process that provides people with titles such as “assistant manager” at a fast-food restaurant or an insurance office. College students know that they are no different than consumers because this is how universities treat them, their degree is no guarantee of upward socioeconomic mobility, and society does not value education but wealth that can be acquired by any means necessary, including unscrupulous or illegal methods. In short, the merit-based ideal of the 18th century Age of Reason no longer applies in the new Gilded Age of the 21st century.

The apologists of the corporate model of higher education argue that the problem rests with students who are not interested in math and science but opt for the humanities and social sciences where there is no gainful employment. They point to foreign students who gravitate toward those fields and become successful. This is indeed the case with foreign students, at least looking at this issue on its surface. Beneath this appearance are the following hard facts.

First, High School students in Europe, Russia and Asia have a much better training in math and science than their US counterparts because American secondary education has been deteriorating for decades. Therefore, when foreign students come to the US it is easy for them to take courses in math and science because of their educational training.  Second, foreign students do not have language expertise of their American-born counterparts, so they find it easier to focus on math and science. Third, a foreign student could have easily stayed in her/his own country to study humanities and social sciences, as they do, instead of coming here. The reason foreign students come to the US is primarily for the hard sciences. If they wanted to study poetry, they could have done so in their own country.

One would be surprised to discover that not just the US, but the rest of the advanced capitalist countries have a problem with unemployable college graduates, especially Europe and in fields of social sciences and humanities just like the US. Therefore, the problem is not that the US college student is so much different than her/his counterpart in the much of rest of the world, but that capitalism has a crisis of overproduction in college graduates as much as it does in every other commodity. The college student here and world-wide is nothing but a commodity subject to the market laws of supply and demand.  Education is a reflection of the crisis of capitalism that cannot absorb the commodities it is producing under the existing system. Because of the “brain drain”, the best and most talented continuing to leave their countries and come to the US, the long-term impact will be surplus graduates. The benefits from a surplus college-educated labor force will mean that employers will demand more for less from their employees. At the macro-economic level, this means downward pressure on all professions and living standards owing to excess capacity of college graduates in every field, including medical sciences. Conclusion: downward socioeconomic mobility as many studies indicate will continue as much in the US as in the European Union.


4) The Welfare State Debate:  1/3 of Americans live on welfare and most of them have no education some even exploiting for years the free benefits to live more comfortably never working. It seems like they don’t want to take on many low income jobs, whereas illegal immigrants and foreigners exploit these opportunities to earn money. Why haven’t Republicans or Democrats faced these realities?

According to a study in 2012, 35% of Americans were receiving some kind of “means-tested program” assistance amid the tail-end of the recession that started in 2008. The US federal budget in 2014 was $3.5 trillion, of which 34% went for national security and home security while Social Security, Veterans benefits, Medicare and health amounted to 52%. It is important to note that if we add research and development, NASA, and other defense-related spending not budgeted as such, the percentage rises. In 2011 for example the total costs for defense and related programs was $1.3 trillion, while “human security” programs that critics dismiss it as wasteful entitlements cost $2 trillion. Investment in human security vs. national security is an ideological debate among politicians, media, academics and others. Republicans and many Democrats believe that in an open society government priorities ought to be with defense not human security.

While very few people would question defense/national security spending, many since the election of Reagan constantly question “human security” as a “waste of tax dollars”. Critics argue that such programs only encourage the poor and minorities to be lazy and parasitic, an argument that was actually floated in England during the era of Adam Smith at the end of the 18th century. Republicans and many Democrats find nothing wrong spending hundreds of billions on the parasitic defense industry because this sector is associated with patriotism, regardless of whether it adds more security along with a rising public debt. However, these same critics vehemently object to school lunches to feed the poor, assistance for the mentally ill, subsidized housing for people that would otherwise be living in parks, and subsidized health care for the lowest income groups unable to afford immense hospital and prescription costs. It is important to note that the entitlement program money goes right back to corporate America – health insurance and corporate-owned hospitals, supermarket and drug store chains, pharmaceutical companies, and other businesses.

The objection is that the taxpayer is stuck with the bill for human security. However, there is silence when it comes to corporate subsidies and tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires. When was the last time that the media raised the issue of General Electric and Boeing receiving US export subsidies, despite the fact that these are extremely profitable companies? When was the last time that politicians and media objected to local governments subsidizing sports stadium for football, basketball and baseball, using taxpayer dollars, instead of building schools, parks and facilities for the homeless and mentally ill? Why is it acceptable to dish out one billion dollars for sports facilities in any given city but highly objectionable to feed, house and provide health care for the poor?

Considering the price of the ticket for a professional sports event, the government has no problem subsidizing the upper middle class fans and the investors in sports clubs, but it finds it abhorrent to provide a school lunch to the poor and medication for the elderly. Democrats and Republicans alike have no problem providing subsidies, lowering the tax rates and never closing tax loopholes for the corporate sector, any more than they have a problem bailing them out when in crisis as in 2008 to the tune of hundreds of billions in taxpayer money. Who is really parasitic in the fiscal structure that redistributes wealth from the bottom up, corporations and the top ten percent of income earners or the bottom one-third of the population receiving entitlement benefits?  

Part of the objection about entitlements is rooted in racism and xenophobia because of sterotypes that politicians and media have inculcated into the public.

The assumption that the media and rightwing politicians reinforce is that recipients are black, illegal Hispanics, and lazy white single mothers in a trailer park. The stereotypes are deeply ingrained in the public mind for decades because the mainstream institutions project such an image to justify transferring resources to defense and corporations. The reality is that the capitalist system is based on structural unemployment because of the process of appropriation and overproduction on a global scale. Politicians, business people, the media and many academics from universities to consulting firms and think tanks agree that “full employment is between 4% and 5%” -this is the official rate not the unofficial that is much higher, and it does not take into account part-time work. There is general agreement that a segment of the “potential workforce” must be outside the “active labor force” on a chronic basis for the “health” – profitability – of the market economy to keep wages low.

Of course, one way to deal with the chronically unemployed is to put them in work house or prison and force them to work for a room and board inside these institutions, something that many rightwing elements would love as they romanticize about treatment of workers during the early Industrial Revolution in Europe. In 1834, the British Parliament passed the New Poor Law that prohibited relief to any person refusing to enter into a workhouse that were essentially for profit operations based on slave labor conditions. This is one way to deal with the issue today amid globalization and neoliberal policies that dominate not just in the US but globally.

Savings can be realized from putting the chronically unemployed in institutions, and proceeds could be put to use for more defense spending so the US could better prepare itself to win wars such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as score major victories in covert operations such as Syria and Libya where US intervention produced even more jihadist guerrilla movements. Some of the savings could also go to subsidize the largest banks and corporations in a show of gratitude for taking their profits estimated at $2 trillion out of the country so they would avoid paying taxes.

Republican politicians and the media are constantly reminding people that poverty is a cultural problem caused by the individual’s character flaws rather than the capitalist system that assumes structural unemployment at 5% is “full employment”. When we eliminate the people unable to work because they are old, or unable because of disabilities, or they have children to raise this leaves a percentage of able-bodied people who could work at minimum wage of around $15,000 annually or roughly $4,000 lower than the poverty line which varies from New York to rural Mississippi. Ironically, critics of entitlements are also the advocates of not raising or even eliminating the minimum wage so that more people would live below poverty in unhealthy and hazardous conditions.

It is true that some people on welfare object to accepting work that pays lower than entitlement benefits including health care coverage. By contrast, Illegal immigrants have no choice and they take such jobs because they will live in groups and share expenses for everything. The 11 million undocumented workers in America are doing just about anything they can from hard construction work in all kinds of weather conditions to farm field work not because they enjoy it and they can make a decent living at it, but because the alternative is to return home or die here.

There are studies indicating that undocumented workers add about 10% of the GDP over the course of a decade. This is in sharp contrast to the rightwing populist rhetoric that undocumented workers are “taking” instead of making more wealth. The clear beneficiaries of this are businesses whose profits remain high because illegal workers are taking jobs that pay at or below legal minimum wage. Instead of striving to raise their wages to legal levels, rightwing politicians and the media use the example of the undocumented workers to lower wages for the rest of the labor force.

The fact that undocumented workers accept very low pay as a reflection of how employers exploit them can become a model for labor-management relations as many neoliberal advocates of both political parties and the right media would like. However, it is important to remember that when the 2008 recession exploded, many were saying how great it was that the US has a social safety net – unlike the 1930s – and the impact would not be as badly felt by society. The most ironic aspect about the debate on minimum wage is that wealthy politicians voting for tax breaks to businesses and the upper income groups are advocating maintaining the existing low-wages that have one-third of the population qualified for an entitlement program.  These same critics would never argue in favor of capping executive salaries and compensation amounting to 400 times higher than the average wage.

In the last analysis this is an issue of what kind of society people want as measured by a social contract based on a modicum of social justice. Looking at the growing income gap in the US in the last four decades, there is no doubt that social justice is virtually eliminated from any political debate. Human security issue that politicians, media, business, and academics rarely raise, while they have no problem emphasizing criminal justice and national security with the “war on terror” at the monumental distraction from issues that matter in peoples’ daily lives.


5) Illegal immigration has been an historic problem in American since the Guadalupe Hidalgo treaty. Back in the 1950’s the American economy was booming and in great shape with an unrestrained border and illegal immigration did not seem to be much of an issue as today. What is sinking the economy more into a sinkhole, the US citizens who are exploiting the welfare state or illegal immigrants who don’t pay taxes but do work to help market production rise?  

JVK: Undocumented workers are not so much an issue about economics but rightwing populist and often racist politics.  Throughout history immigrant labor had very solid benefits to the US economy and society and informed critics know this to be the case. Nevertheless, politicians and the media present the immigrant issue as a problem in the economy, though after 9/11 they link it to terrorism. Some rightwing analysts link undocumented workers who are nothing more than economic refugees to security and by implication terrorism, although there is no empirical evidence of such linkage. The following excerpt is typical of how rightwing analysts are using terrorism to instill fear in politicians and the public when it comes to undocumented workers.

“They (illegal aliens) also take away value by weakening the legal and national security environment. Even though they pose no direct security threat, the presence of millions of undocumented migrants distorts the law, distracts resources, and effectively creates a cover for terrorists and criminals. In other words, the real problem presented by illegal immigration is security, not the supposed threat to the economy.” (Tim Kane and K. A. Johnson, The Heritage Foundation). The linkage between terrorism and undocumented workers is as absurd as the one that undocumented workers are a destructive force in the economy; they sponge off the welfare system, pay no taxes, spread diseases, and commit crimes. Critics of immigration policy are driven by ideology, xenophobia and racism. Above all, they are hypocrites because they would never advance the same arguments in case of illegal immigrants is they came from northwest Europe.

Immigration has political, social, racial/ethnic, and cultural dimensions and it has been around since the founding of the Republic. John Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798 to limit the rights of immigrants because the Federalists in power viewed immigrants as part of the popular base of Thomas Jefferson who supported the French Revolution at the time. Half a century later the “Know Nothing” movement revived the “ethnic purity” argument in a country that was predominantly Anglo-Saxon but clearly one of immigrants, with African slaves and American native population whose lands were colonized. Coinciding with the Spanish-American War (1998), once again the anti-immigration elements organized against Asians resulting in the limitation of Chinese immigrants. This too was a reaction to the depression of the 1890s and the search to find a scapegoat for structural problems in the US economy.

Besides the government, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) vehemently opposed immigration on ethnic, racial and cultural basis. The AFL arguments notwithstanding about immigrants contaminating American “purity”, the status quo labor union wanted to preserve its monopoly in the field and opposed the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW founded 1905) that immigrants supported. The anarcho-syndicalist IWW trying to organize low-paid workers posed a threat to the pro-capitalist AFL whose labor base was the high-paid labor force made up of ‘natives’ (second and third generation immigrants) rather than recent immigrants. The opposition to immigrants, therefore, came not only from politically, religiously, ethnically “purist” groups but also from the largest organized labor group seeking to protect its monopoly in society. Opportunistic politicians took advantage of the conflict between the IWW advocating class struggle and AFL advocating class collaboration. Woodrow Wilson co-opted the AFL during WWI and Democrat politicians recognized the importance of having a segment of the labor movement on their side.

Not just in the US, but in Europe and Australia, politicians have been hammering to secure votes from an increasingly skeptical public about the underlying causes of social and economic problems that they attribute to illegal immigrants that organized labor also opposes. Xenophobia and racism are not the exclusive domain of the ultra-right wing elements that make no secret of their views about non-white Protestant Anglo Saxons, but even of moderates who yield to populist rhetoric about undocumented workers as the root of all economic and social problems.

In recent years, Mexicans are the targets of those raising the American flag against illegal immigration polluting the “purity” of American society. The ethno-centric views of those opposed to immigrants from Mexico and Latin America revolve around ethnicity, religion, and culture and have historical roots. The Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty (1848) ended the war that the US had declared against Mexico depriving it of all its territory north of the Rio Grande River and California. The Mexican population estimated at 80,000 in California, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona accepted US citizenship. However, land belonging to Mexican families transferred hands in the course of the war. The citizenship rights of Mexicans did not result in retention of their ancestral lands for the most part, causing friction also because this sent a signal they were second-class citizens as far as US government and courts were concerned, and treated accordingly in a society of high levels of racial/ethnic stratification before the Civil Rights movement.

During the Great Depression, the Mexican community suffered “pogrom-style raids”, while the US government forced more than 500,000 people, 60% of them US citizens, back to Mexico. Stereotypical racist images of Hispanics in American popular culture as lazy, criminal-oriented, trouble-makers that cause chaos in communities reinforced the racist tendencies among xenophobes. This meant that Hispanics were invariably on the fringes of the institutional mainstream, excluded from jury-duty in Texas before 1954 (Supreme Court case: Hernandez vs. Texas) and suffering the indignities such as store signs that read” “No dogs no Mexicans”.

During the expansionary cycle of the US economy in the 1950s and 1960s, the issue of immigration in general did not receive center stage in political debates, except at the cultural level where stereotypical images remained in the dominant culture about non-white minorities. The Civil Rights movement addressed some of these issues, but this affected mostly the middle class minorities as much in the Hispanic as in the black community. Because there was demand for workers to fill positions in the primary and secondary sectors of production, the political class and media did not emphasize immigration to the degree in the 1960s and 1970s as they did after Reagan came to the White House and the ideological and political climate moved sharply to the right. The undocumented workers issue remained at the core of US politics, especially under Reagan who fought against Civil Rights and workers’ rights. An enthusiastic supporter of agri-business in California where Hispanics were trying to earn a living wage with the help of Cesar Chavez, Reagan sent the signal to society that mainstream white Protestant America must be maintained against any encroachments from outsiders at a time that the US was engaged in counter-insurgency operations in El Salvador and Nicaragua. 

During the second Clinton administration, the government recognized the legitimate rights of Mexicans, but the legacy of ethnocentrism and the mindset of Manifest Destiny that prevailed in the 1840s have assumed new forms in the early 21st century. This is evident not just by the manner that Republican presidential candidate Trump described Mexicans, but actually the entire society according to public opinion polls. While 50% women claimed they felt discriminated and 52% of blacks, the percentage for Hispanics are at 61% with 81% claiming to have suffered some form of discrimination.

Attitudes of the public changed regarding immigration from the time the US passed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 when 1% deemed this the most important issue to 2014 when about one-third of Americans saw immigration as a threat to the American way of life and values; whatever this means, considering the heterogeneous nature of American society and the rightwing propaganda of linking non-white immigration with “domestic security”.

Despite the massive rightwing propaganda the media spews daily and politicians reinforce, the majority of the people believe immigrants strengthen the economy and society. However, from 2000 to 2015, the convergence of three developments changed attitudes toward immigration among an increasingly skeptical public that wants to blame some tangible entity for problems facing the country.  a) the war on terror that provided a political impetus to the xenophobes and rightwing elements; b) the deep recession of 2008; and c) the election of a black president that many white conservatives associate with diluting “American purity”.

It is not at all surprising considering that the media and politicians are constantly pointing to undocumented workers as America’s problem, as though if immigrants disappeared America would magically reclaim its glory of the 1950s. Arizona passed legislation forcing out undocumented workers and authorizing police to check the citizenship of people they suspect are illegal aliens. Politicians and other fear-mongers have been talking about erecting a wall to keep out Hispanics and terrorists along the US-Mexico border of roughly 1100 kilometers at the cost of billions to the taxpayers. This association of linking Mexico-US border security with terrorists is unmitigated fear mongering projected on to the public that has difficulty differentiating what is the role of the immigrant because of the way the rightwing media bundles the two completely separate issues.

Republican presidential candidate Trump opportunistically used the xenophobia issue to bring popular support to his campaign. “The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems. When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” The Trump xenophobic rhetoric actually achieved his political goal because it reflects two-thirds of the sentiment among Republicans and one-third among Independents and Democrats, according to the latest public opinion poll on immigration. A poll taken in 2011when the recession was still a reality revealed that the majority of Americans opposed not just immigrants but their children from attending public school and receiving any type of assistance to attend college.

Considering that the demographics of American society are changing and that Hispanics will be the largest minority group by the middle of the 21st century, there seems to be a divergence between this reality on the one hand, and the anachronistic racist attitudes of politicians and the media on the other. The question is why the political and socioeconomic elites stress this issue when they know very well that the country’s economic and political future is changing very rapidly owing in part to demographics. Whereas in 1960, Hispanics accounted for 3.5% of the US population and whites for 85%,it is estimated that in 2050 whites will account for 47% and Hispanics for 29%. Hispanics will have the potential to determine national elections, assuming the US will remain a representative democracy.

Fear of losing their privileged status and possibly political power has driven a segment of the majority voters toward xenophobia amid the war on terror. Stereotypical images of immigrants persist because the dominant white Protestant Anglo-Saxon culture perpetuates them in order to preserve the political economy and social structure that will be changing more rapidly in the 21st century. This is a classic case of old white northwest European immigrants opposing the new immigrants of color from Latin America, Asia and Africa. This is an issue of legitimacy that whites give themselves but exclude others as though an open pluralistic society is a private country club.

Right wing elements in politics, the media, and think tanks like Heritage Foundation use immigration as a distraction from the real cause of the growing socioeconomic inequality that has to do with neoliberal policies and military-solution-oriented foreign policy both the Democrats and Republicans support. Another dimension is that American culture is immersed in a long history of racism and xenophobia and the white majority fears that society is becoming more multicultural than ever. Instead of seeing cultural diffusion as a positive development enriching society in every respect, there are those who cling on to illusions of Anglo-Saxon Protestant “purity”, once an illusion of the Ku Klux Klan, now prevalent among otherwise” respectable” rightwing elements raising the American flag high against foreigners and terrorists.

This issue is not going away any time soon for two reasons. First, the US will continue drifting down the road of militarism regardless of costs to the economy in order to maintain its global leverage. Militarism will translate into greater xenophobia and right wing domestic attitudes if not hostile policies toward new immigrants. The second reason this will remain an issue in the political arena is because the next recession will revive calls to close the borders. This is what has taken place throughout American history from the 19th century to the present and it will continue as it does in Europe and Australia.


6) A lot Americans complain about the lack of opportunities to succeed, but is this really true? Many immigrants that come from third world countries start in low income areas and eventually climb the pyramid and end up living in better neighborhoods and have better education. Are Americans really taking advantage of the opportunities, or are they really insufficient opportunities to grow in the US free market?

America has always been described as “the Land of Opportunity”, but does it live up to its reputation on a sustained basis?  There are certainly opportunities during the expansionary cycles in the economy, but even those appear to have limitations in the last forty years. From the end of the Vietnam War until the present diminished opportunities exist because the US economy has shifted from manufacturing to service-oriented, accelerating with advent of China as the world’s manufacturing center and the relocation of company operations in all fields to India, Brazil, Ireland, and other parts of the world.

Capitalism has always been an international system with capital going it will realize the highest returns rather than maintaining loyalty to a nation-state. The international nature of capital with the opening of China’s economy as well as the downfall of the Soviet bloc simply created more investment markets while driving wages lower for the US middle class and blue collar workers. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated that the US economy lost 20 million jobs by the end of 2009 as a result of the recession of 2008, while more than 170,000 small businesses closed in the first two years of the recession.

There is no shortage of part time and low-wage jobs, while the full time and well-paying jobs are few. The creation of “contract workers” is one phenomenon of the new globalized economy operating under neoliberal policies. This is as much a reality in the US as it is in many countries around the world because multinational corporations figured a way around permanent full time work that entails greater profits. The new economy based on “contract workers” (rent-a-worker just like you rent a car) keeps employer production costs low, while the employee lacks jobs security, rights otherwise accorded to full time workers, and often has no benefits such as health care. In essence, this means that companies shift the burden of health care costs to the employee and the state subsidizing the employee. In the 1980s, there were just 05% of contract workers, while in 2014 the number had risen to 2.3%. Even more significant, this is a trend that will grow, considering more employers are using this option along with part-time workers.

Instead of examining the new labor conditions in the marketplace and new labor-management relations, politicians, the media, and rightwing consultants blame workers for failing to retrain and take advantage of the changing market conditions. There are studies indicating that immigrants will accept jobs that “natives” whether in the US, Europe, Australia or Canada will not take. Studies also show that immigrants tend to do better with upward mobility despite structural obstacles than “natives” for a combination of reasons ranging from the psychology of an immigrant to willingness to accept harder jobs and more than one.

The upward mobility of immigrants phenomenon doing better than “natives” pertains more to the second generation immigrants and not so much to first generation that encounter problems integrating fully into society. One explanation for the immigrants tending to grab at any opportunity and crave upward mobility is their fear of finding ahead of them what they left behind in the old country. The spirit of competition is much higher because they are outsiders whose psychology is very different than that of the native population. In fact, the American Dream has a much greater appeal to the immigrant worker than it does to the college student who has doubts about the institutional system delivering what politicians and the media advertise.

While the immigrant aims toward integration into the institutional mainstream, a segment of the native population regards it with suspicion. All immigrants, including black immigrants who know the history of racism in America, are actually driven by the same sense of excelling through conformity whereas the same people would not do as much in their own countries. However, as the chart below indicates, recent and long-term immigrants lag far behind the native population in every respect from housing ownership to income. The same holds true for Hispanics, who actually lag even more than the overall US immigrant population according to a study by the Center for Immigration Studies.     

Source: Center for Immigration Studies

In comparison with the socioeconomic conditions of immigrants, the economic and social situation of much of the African-American population is bad, and in many respects deteriorated since 1980, especially with regard to black male youth employment opportunities. Conservative and liberal analysts alike argue that the fault does not necessarily rest with a system in which immigrants seem to be doing fairly well, but with the African-Americans. After all, there is a black middle class and the US elected a black president twice. Therefore, there is no discriminatory institutional structure but individual responsibility for failure to succeed. There are consultants and inspirational gurus trying to tell people that a positive state of mind is all it takes to become successful. These people stress the values of individualism and never raise the issue of structures as catalytic in the life of the individual who must persevere over any obstacle society presents within legal means.

The US government, businesses and educational institutions have moved toward a broader definition of meritocracy since the Civil Rights movements by introducing Affirmative Action in education and hiring practices to even the playing field between the majority and minority populations. Kennedy signed an executive order in 1961 ordering that government “not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin” and “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” Conservatives, especially during the Reagan presidency, argued that affirmative action was a form of quotas for minorities, disregarding the long history of quotas for white males only in an institutional structure favoring white males to the exclusion of all others.

Affirmative Action simply extended the 18th century meritocracy ideal to women and minorities, but within these groups impacting largely the middle class and not the poor. After all, the concept of meritocracy was a bourgeois ideal and created for the middle class trying to insert itself into the political and business mainstream commensurate with its contributions to society, as far as 18th century Enlightenment thinkers were concerned. Kennedy and those favoring affirmative action simply extended the old bourgeois concept pertaining to white males only to the rest of the middle class population to reflect the realities of a diverse society that minority populations enriched with their contributions.

Diversity in an open society seems logical, except when it threatens the white male majority. How does one measure merit except in standardized tests and grades in school? The white meritocracy argument used against blacks and Hispanics has run into contradictions when it comes to Asians scoring much higher than whites in standardized tests and especially in math and science. Although American society is becoming more diverse demographically, the right wing politicians, think tanks, media have used the courts and the Supreme Court to fight against what they label “reverse discrimination”. This is because they see with great clarity the majority white population losing ground largely because of demographic changes and the only way to preserve privileges accorded on racial/.ethnic grounds is to fight in the courts where white male judges are skeptical about affirmative action trying to correct white “sins of the past”.

Even with the progress that women and minorities have made under affirmative action, the reality is that class transcends gender, race and ethnicity. This is the reason for the concessions to the middle class Hispanics, women, blacks, and other minorities. The American economy reached its peak in the second half of the 1940s when the economies of the entire world were in shambles. While there was growth in the 1950s and upward socioeconomic mobility continued until the end of the Vietnam War, opportunities became fewer and the long decline set in as a permanent feature. In 2015, the IMF declared that China is the world’s largest economy if measured in PPP terms, and likely to continue rising to overtake the US at some point later in the century. China’s economic rise is as certain as the decline of the US. This limits opportunities for the majority of Americans. The result will be that politicians will continue to distract the public by blaming the individual and minority groups, terrorism and foreign enemies rather than the domestic political economy as the root cause of the problem.


7) Has the US become such a materialist society that even the people without qualifications think of the American Dream as a quick stage of success without working hard to achieve its goal? Is materialism and laziness in America intertwined, in other words, living the credit life without earning hard cash?

JVK: Some scholars believe that the US is the most materialistic society in history. The Papacy under the current and previous pope has criticized the US for its devotion to material possessions and its general orientation toward wealth accumulation and hedonistic lifestyle. Despite public opinion polls indicating a large percentage of Americans believing God, there is an apparent absence toward spiritual matters in a society where wealth is the measure of all things and where collectivism and collectivist endeavors are absent from the social fabric. 

 Everything from personal happiness to religious and secular holidays is measured in terms of materialism as much as is the American Dream. There is even an underlying assumption that there is a direct correlation between wealth and intelligence, wealth and character, wealth and success, wealth and power, wealth and patriotism. Regardless of whether wealth was acquired through creative endeavors and diligence, through inheritance or illegal activities, popular culture and the media project the image that the wealth of an individual is somehow a manifestation of positive innate traits.

While many positive attributes can be assigned to the wealthy, a commitment to social justice is not one of them, although some try to include this as well by arguing philanthropy by the rich is indicative they are committed to social justice. Never mind the manner by which wealth was acquired and maintained in the first, place as long as some of it makes its way back to the “riffraff of society” on whom the wealthy take pity. 

Given these assumptions about the correlation between wealth and intelligence and all other positive character traits, it is easy to understand why “American Exceptionalism” would take hold in the political culture. After all, America has been the world’s wealthiest nation in absolute terms since the Second World War, thus it must be the country with the most intelligent, judicious, diligent, ethical, and patriotic people. This implication is that traditional collectivist societies in non-Western areas must be less diligent and less ambitious as far removed from the American Protestant work ethic as possible, therefore they pay the price of lower living standards than the US.

The assumption that the Protestant work ethic made America great and it is a reflection of its economic superiority also assumes intellectual and moral superiority and a connection to “happiness”. If the US is losing its global preeminence and the American Dream is elusive for more and more people, there must be something wrong with the generation ignoring the Protest work ethic as the key to success. Is there a crisis in the Protestant work ethic in 21st century and the values on which America laid the foundations for world economic status in the 19th century or is there a structural problem in the political economy and society? Conservatives who believe that the social welfare state has diluted traditional values to the detriment of productivity conclude that the fault does not rest with capitalism developing irresolvable contradictions under globalization and neoliberal policies, but cynical less diligent and less ambitious people refusing to adhere to the Protestant work ethic.

Never mind that the US economy is structurally driven by consumer demand on which corporate quarterly reports depend for stock performance. Whereas the consumer demand as a percent of GDP was just below 62% in the 1960s, it rose to 70% in the first decade of the 21st century; Interestingly, for the corresponding decades in Canada the percentages were 56 and 58 respectively, representing a drop of 2% rather an increase of 10% as in the US. The American marketing machine constantly pushes people toward consumerism while the entire culture is based on it. If shoppers stop worshipping at the mall, the US economy will lapse into recession. On the surface of it and in the short-term this may seem just great for quarterly corporate profits. However, longer term it poses a serious problem for a consumption-oriented society with a large service sector that is parasitic – recycling existing money through Wall Street and main street consulting and others that offer nothing to raise productivity.

In comparison with defense/domestic security allocations, the US has very low levels of investment in infrastructure, especially mass transportation, schools, public parks, and facilities for pre-school, the elderly and mentally ill – human security-based economy that is also labor-intensive instead of just capital intensive. The focus is on consumption, and increasingly on high-tech workforce that makes society less labor-intensive without generating new productivity fields for good-paying fulltime jobs. In other words, the nature of the high-tech capitalist economy is creating its own contradictions and seeds of its self-destruction because the neoliberal ideology encourages individual capitalists to pursue their individual interest that invariably run up against obstacles of the capitalism as a system with inherent distortions owing to inter-sector competition collective overproduction, etc.

America’s dominant culture and value system rest on the “who wants to be a millionaire” mindset that many people associate with American democracy. Does consumer democracy and millionaire hero-worship by the media and popular culture accounts for the attitudes of the “millennial generation”, or is there more to it than this? There are public opinion polls indicating the post-1990s generation is indeed much more materialistic and less interested in hard work than their parents growing up during the Vietnam War. But who exactly influenced the values of the ‘millennial generation’, if not their parents and society as a whole becoming more materialistic during the Vietnam era, despite the civil rights, women’s and anti-war and anti-materialism movements – all of which were eventually set aside for the American Dream.

Is the value system based on worship of material objects and Hollywood-style entertainment lifestyle the root cause of indoctrinating the “millennial generation”, or have their Vietnam War era parents and teachers spoiled the new generation because the previous generation was really not much different below the surface of civil rights and environmentalism as a cause to fill the void that materialism cannot fill? Consumption values are at the core of contemporary American culture because the mass media, businesses and politicians equate such values with freedom and democracy. Citizen identity with the nation-state during the age of romanticism in the era of literary figure Ralph Waldo Emerson in the 1840s was replaced with consumption values prevailing during the Age of Materialism in the late 19th century.

The idealism imbedded in American nationalism that can be seen by the time of Emerson and Alexis de Tocqueville had been replaced with the age of advertising focused on propagating “wants and needs” of the growing middle class during the era that Mark Twain called Gilded Age (last three decades of the 19th century). The legacy of the Gilded Age remains deeply imbedded in American culture because it serves the privileged interests of the socioeconomic elites. Some scholars argue that the US as a pluralistic heterogeneous society without a common majority religion or a homogeneous ethnic group shares the common goal of work to acquire wealth, which is the reason most immigrants came here. 

Historically, in all societies the life of leisure and materialism has always been associated with the upper classes. Certainly the aristocracy of ancient Athens and Rome enjoyed the material fruits of life while their slaves worked. In the 19th century China and Russia, peasants were no more immersed in materialism and leisure any more than American slaves, small farmers and workers. Even the Catholic Church claiming to represent all things spiritual was immersed in the life of materialism and leisure linked with the upper clergy that had much more in common with the European nobility than the devoutly religious serfs and peasants. In other words, materialism and leisure has always been part of the lifestyle of the secular and spiritual elites, while the masses merely aspire to such things but never achieve them.

A product of the Age of Reason and the birth of bourgeois liberal democracy, the US democratized the material lifestyle, promising it was theoretically possible for anyone to have access to it, minus Native Americans and black slaves. The American Dream promises the “potential” of the lifestyle and possessions of the elites provided the masses adhere to the Protestant work ethic of hard work and discipline that the elites presumably follow. The assumption is that everyone wants to acquire this dream of materialism that includes:  a) owning a home, b) car, c) college for the kids, d) a private retirement fund and a savings account, e) health care, and f) family vacations. If you do not have these six things, you too are in the shrinking “debtor middle class” according to the definition of the US government and mainstream institutions. But even if you have all six of the above, it is simply not enough because you are not an internet billionaire.

Why not have a bigger and better house and car; why not more money and more luxurious vacations; why not more of everything because more means you are more intelligent, ambitious, superior to the wretched masses dying a slow horrible death while you feel like you will live forever because you possess more than most? If the rich and famous have more of everything, why can’t the millennial generation join in? If liquidity shortage is the problem, just charge the American Dream and worry about paying it off later. These prevailing attitudes existed in American society but were largely among the middle class until the Reagan administration propagated the myth that in the country closely adheres to neoliberal policies than everyone can have what the rich people have. Through the trickle-down economics process of the rich having more and their wealth will trickle down to the cleaning lady and the dishwater at the local restaurant will mean everyone can enjoy the American Dream.

Materialism skyrocketed in the late 1980s early 1990s under the Reagan-Bush conservative presidencies. This continued under Democrat President Clinton during the internet and cell phone revolution in the last decade of the 20th century.  According to a recent public opinion polls, about two-thirds of young people 25 years of age and under expressed desire to be very wealthy, but 39% of them admitted they did not want to work hard to achieve wealth. These statistics represent a rise in materialism and desire for leisure in comparison with similar surveys conducted when Jimmy Carter was president. How do people then acquire the American Dream without much effort? They simply charge it with the blessing of the banks and companies offering credit cards to shop. Who bails out these corporate giants when they have a liquidity crisis because of bad loans? The taxpayers of course to the detriment of lower living standards for future generations that must consume less and produce more!

Coming to office amid the deep recession erupting in 2008, the Obama administration expressed concern that the American Dream is fading because the credit middle class is weakening, a point many Democrats and even some Republicans concede. Because the “middle class dream” (synonymous with the American Dream) is fading fast, the Obama administration had a task force operating on the assumption that everyone wants the American Dream, but cannot have it because of the low wage rates and high cost of living.

Effective demand is limited by the earning power of workers and the middle class in the post-credit crisis of 2008 has experienced sharply reduced personal wealth (drop in real estate values, private pensions, and stock portfolios). The illusory middle class “wealth effect” will remain low and accumulated surplus capital high, thus keeping the world economy under limited growth prospects for a long time. Given existing conditions in the advanced capitalist countries, what impact will they have on the social order and specifically the “millennial generation” that expects a lot more than the neoliberal economy is able to deliver? The individual’s “real worth” is “creditworthiness” bundled as part of net worth completely unrelated to the humanity and compassion of that individual, devoid of that person’s creativity. This materialistic definition affords the illusion to a large percentage of people that they are part of capitalism’s success when they are in fact victims of debt beneath the veil of credit.

As proletarization of the middle class becomes more apparent, the current global crisis will evolve into a middle class crisis of alienation, stratification, and erratic class/status identity. A more acceptable solution for US government and mainstream institutions is: a) find another job to supplement existing income, b) work harder to secure higher wages, c) plan and invest better and pray for lcuk, d) return to school for more education or re-training; and e) wait for “lady luck” to ring your doorbell because having conformed to the Calvinist work ethic is just not enough! If indeed the assumptions of the US government (and the entire mainstream institutional structure) that “securing a middle class” is the key the American Dream, how do we explain US public opinion polls indicating that the “happiness” level (granted the obvious difficulty of quantifying it), has been under 50% and steadily declining since 1970, despite enjoying the world’s highest GDP?

Is the current culture of heightened consumerism a reflection of the decline in spiritual orientation as people identify happiness with possessions? It is true that the entire world views the US as the Mecca of capitalism, materialism and hedonism. It is just as true that is the image the US projects of itself by its behavior in daily life, in its popular culture, books and magazines TV and motion pictures, country fairs to trade fairs, schools to sports, all placing materialism and hedonism above all else. Americans living in a modern secular society where science and technology promise to deliver all solutions to problems cannot possibly take religion as seriously as their European ancestors did during the Middle Ages when the Church was the last resort for human happiness. Nor is escaping to religion and spiritualism address fundamental social justice problems any more in America than any other country.

The value system is largely economically-determined in 21st century America as it was in 15th century Europe amid the plague. When German theologian and university professor Martin Luther was a teenager in the late 15th century, society was surrounded by churches and monasteries. Like all others, young Luther worshipped for the salvation of his soul because eternal spiritual life mattered much more than temporary material life. Teenagers in contemporary America spend a good deal of their day worshipping via cell phones, laptops and electronic devices connecting them to a virtual material world. Corporations producing and marketing modern techno-devices promise society that they need nothing else in life to be complete and happy. These techno-devices will do everything from online banking and shopping to online virtual human contact. Whereas spiritual convictions and religious worship are free, worshipping at the mall costs money. Will there be a rebellion against the corporate and political hierarchy in the 21st century as there was in the early 16th century in Germany that Luther inspired against the hypocritical ecclesiastical hierarchy?


8)  For the past few years, Liberal mainstream media seems to have aggressively started an ethic campaign to show white on black racism (mostly police enforcement) but gone silent to shown opposite racial bait. But things are not looking good because many social media have started to show increasing black on white and/or Asian crime which has infuriated a lot of people. Is this fomenting great racial tension in the US? Who’s fault is it?

JVK: Crime in America as an academic topic would require volumes to explain because it has to do as much with the political economy, social structure, race and ethnic relations, and culture of violence imbedded in gun ownership that conservatives and the gun lobby support. Crime is the violation of social norms legalized by government that legislates on the basis of established social interests. The broader concept of justice is associated with protection under a legal system that guarantees due process in a modern pluralistic society. Where the US falls into this category as an open society, it is a country with capital punishment that many advanced countries have abolished, and a country with very high crime and prison rates that impact primarily minority communities.

While the US is a leader in political correctness when it comes to dealing with government and business, the same standard does not hold true when it comes to the domain of crime. The media, politicians, and analysts liberally use class, ethnocentric and racist assumptions to stigmatize not just people committing crimes but entire social groups. The same stereotypes and stigmas are not used when wealthy white people commit crimes regardless of their nature. Therefore, the criminal justice system is a reflection of society at large and it reveals a great deal of the level of social justice.

The origins of the modern criminal justice system rooted in a rational, some would argue scientific mode is 18th century Europe. With Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria’s On Crimes and Punishments (1764), Christian-based assumptions about criminal behavior and the criminal justice system began to change largely because of the advent of economic expansion and the First Industrial Revolution in England. Industrialization created large urban centers with working class and poor populations unable to sustain themselves and yielding to petty crimes as a way of survival. This is something that social scientist Henry Mayhew described in London Labour and London Poor in the 1840s amid controversies about the manner that the state dealt with the poor that became criminals.

Before the Enlightenment of which Beccaria was a part, crime was a sin and a reflection that the criminal was on the side of the devil instead of God. The good-evil Christian dichotomy was the basis on which crime was judged, including crimes of witches, Jews, gypsies, and even animals in many cases. Demonizing crime meant harsh punishment for sinners and unbelievers that defied the Christian Church and political establishment. Discounting for the mentally unstable, Beccaria argued that society, not the devil, creates criminals who defy the social contract because it marginalizes them. In other words, Becacaria applied  the views of philosopher John Locke that human beings are products of their environment to the domain of crime and punishment. The conclusion was the denial of innate criminal traits and affirmation that society shapes human behavior.

The goal of the criminal justice system is to impose modes of conduct by legislators crafting laws and benefiting from the dominant social class against those that have no stake in the social contract because it is rooted in social injustice. The dominant social class has always used the legal system to maintain and preserve its privileged role against the majority outside the realm of privilege. Whether in the era of Beccaria or today, the lower social classes are associated with crime because the institutional structure marginalizes them and they have no stake in something that precludes them from participating in a social contract equitably. This is the case with minority groups and the poor today as much in the US as any other country around the world.  Nevertheless, the media chooses to represent crime on the basis of innate character flaws not only of individuals but of social class, race and ethnicity. This is closer to the pre-Enlightenment dogmatic good-evil dichotomy than to the Beccaria model of crime and punishment. The manner that the media and politicians present crime has political goals because the issue is then used to keep society distracted from the injustices of the social contract designed to maintain a privileged order, namely the top tiered socioeconomic groups that the law and political system protects.

Media “race baiting” is as old as the Civil Right movement on the part of racists who insist they are merely speaking the truth in order to inform. To distract the focus of the public from the underlying causes of poverty and institutional racism that causes crimes in minority communities, the media looks superficially at the symptoms of criminal activities of individuals to discredit the entire minority population. When a white male guns down black people in a South Carolina church, it is the act of a lone gunman, a mentally unstable person who does not represent the majority population despite the nature of the hate crime. Although the crime was committed for blatant racist reasons that a segment of whites share political correctness and legal/societal conformity prevents them from expressing their views directly. Instead of analyzing this issue, the race-baiting rightwing media refuses to address the larger institutional problem that gives rise to such crimes.

When black youths are gunned down in cold blood by white cops, the media and analysts immediately rush to defend the murderers instead of the victim. This is done in the name of law and order implying that blacks are presumed guilty with tendencies toward violence, defiance of police authority and civil disobedience. Moreover, the race-baiting media focuses on black-on-black crime, on black-on-Hispanic and black-on-Asian crime. For example, the San Francisco media focuses on black-on-Asian crime, but rarely covers white collar crime or does so with the same criteria as blue-collar crime, especially when it pertains to minority-on-minority crime. This is also reflected in the black-white conviction disparity that is 10 to 1, although the black population in the city accounts for only 6% of the total.  

Race-baiting has also targeted Obama who is black has not done anything about crime in minority communities, while the core issue of cultural and institutional racism with long and deep historical roots is never raised. Race baiting serves the political agenda of the institutional structure in deflecting focus from the racist culture and class struggle of which blacks are an integral part and suffering discrimination at all levels. This is a way of placing race issues at the center so that class issues are subordinated and people do not question the political economy and social structure. Dividing people in this manner is exactly what the European racist colonial masters did in Africa and it continues today in America at more subtle levels.

Crime becomes complex because arrests of blacks and Hispanics is at much higher level as the police have a presumption of guilt for minority groups that is not applicable to whites and especially to people based on higher social status. For specific areas of offences such as minor drug use for example, the statistics for black and white users about equal, but arrests and imprisonment of whites is tiny in comparison to blacks. Many critics, including European governments, have argued that imprisoning minorities in the US is a political decision. Nevertheless, the media projects the image the minority male is the criminal and the white majority the victim in a society where crime has become a ubiquitous phenomenon in every sector from books, newspapers, magazines, TV and motion pictures. In fact, local and national news programs routinely cover petty crime whereas they never cover the absence of social justice driving people to criminal conduct. This is in part because the US is hardly a democratic society but a quasi-authoritarian one ruled by the powerful influence of the wealthy, as Jimmy Carter recently pointed out.

At the very core of the enormous resources that the US and media spend on the crime issue is the goal of perpetuating the quasi-police state that converges with the war on terror. At the same time, it is a distraction from the underlying causes of crime that are socioeconomic, political, and cultural. The media promotes racism not only by what it chooses to cover selectively when it comes to crime, but the manner it presents white collar crime impacting the entire society vs. petty neighborhood crime impacting individuals and households as victims. The images of a cop arresting a black or Latino youth stealing, dealing drugs, running from the police is very dramatic and part of the culture of fear the media tries to inculcate into the public that crime is associated with minorities.

The media always differentiates between the white collar criminal defrauding investors and the government of hundreds of billions of dollar, and the petty thief stealing $100 from a 7-Eleven or breaking into a home to steal jewelry and cash. The white collar criminal banker involved in schemes to launder billions of dollars in drug money is excused as an isolated “bad apple” in the otherwise perfect system to which there is no alternative. The white collar criminal whose impact on the economy is immense may do a few years in a minimum security prison in a worst case scenario, and then come out to write a book about it and go on the lecture tour after becoming a consultant.

People shrug their shoulders when there are reports of money laundering, insider trading, monopolistic practices, manipulation of interest rates, etc. but they go ballistic when a Hispanic or black unemployed youth is caught breaking into a house stealing jewelry. This is not at all to trivialize any kind of crime or to excuse it. However, the media instills shock value and fear in the public mind about crime by minority youth. Meanwhile, the corrupt and illegal practices of the white corporate CEO are covered as part of “business news”. The minority or poor white youth stealing a hundred dollars from the 7-Eleven will do jail time, and if it is a second offense and a gun was used a long prison term awaits. This individual will become hardened inside the prison and then unable to find a place in mainstream society after his release.

The media, government and the justice system send a signal to society that crime pays very well when it is within the institutional framework involving Wall Street, banks and corporations defrauding consumers, investors and the government. According to the FBI, while blue-collar crime costs run about $15 billion annually, white-collar crime costs run at $300-600 billion. The figures are much higher according to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service. Costs (white-collar crime) are estimated for employee theft, cargo theft, health care fraud, consumer and personal fraud, insurance fraud, corporate tax fraud, computer-related and other high-tech crime, check fraud, counterfeiting, telecommunications fraud, credit and debit card fraud, corporate financial crime, money laundering, savings and loan fraud, coupon and rebate fraud, and arson for profit. Annual losses from the preceding white-collar crimes are estimated at $426 billion to $1.7 trillion.” (

Business crime is just an integral part of business and the media never stigmatizes the white majority as thief and mega-criminals damaging society in very significant ways that impact living standards. There has always been a correlation between social class and crime, just as there has been a correlation between race/ethnicity. The political system, the criminal justice system and the media reflect as much in their treatment of different crimes. For example, hate crimes in America, according to the FBI, are committed largely by whites. However, there is no stigma attached to the entire white majority for hate crimes rooted in race/ethnic/religious/gender prejudice. The reason is that the media attributes hate crimes to isolated cases whereas it refuses to do the same with minority petty crime or gun-violence crime involving narcotics.

Whereas the media covers black-on-white crime to prove that whites are the victims of an entire minority population suspect of criminal tendencies, white-on-black racist crime is covered as isolated incidents of disturbed individuals. In other words, the criminal mind of the white person has malfunctioned, while the criminal mind of the black person is a reflection of the entire black community at odds with the white majority and refusal to conform to white majority institutional law and order structure. In the absence of a structural change in the political system, there will never be a change in the criminal; justice system and media attitudes will continue to reflect the views of the political and socioeconomic elites whose crimes are the absence of social justice that gives rise to criminal conduct.


9)  More than ever before crime has risen to worrisome levels. Gangs overflow many city districts with lack of good public education, and it’s an emerging threat to the nation’s future.  The liberals blame the conservatives for the problems at bay, but who is more responsible in your opinion?  

Crime is historically an issue around which conservative try to rally public support because they are interested in promoting a fear of culture that maintains social and political conformity. The real enemy of society is the petty criminal, the drug user, the gang member killing other gang members, but never the political economy and social structure that have created the conditions for these people to operate against the status quo. Not to minimize the “functionalist” theory of crime that sees the issue from the prism of lack of moral regulation (Durkheim), or the “control theory” that places all emphasis on control mechanisms to deter crime, but I stress conflict theory because it takes into account structural causes and conflict between social groups and power elites endeavoring to preserve their privileges. In addition, the case of crimes in America has the racial dimension that may not be as significant in a more homogeneous society.

Racial profiling is a reality of the American justice system all the way from the cop on the beat targeting minorities to the judges passing down prison terms. The so-called “war on drugs” was racially-based and motivated by the Reagan administration’s zeal to punish the poor. The result of this hysteria was the rise of non-violent offenders from a mere 50,000 when Reagan was elected to more than 400,000 by the end of the Clinton presidency. Not surprisingly, the people incarcerated were predominantly minorities, while drug use among middle class white America increased.

The war on drugs has been an unmitigated failure in curbing drug use and drug-related crime because the US is a mere 4% of the world’s population but consumes about a quarter of the world’s drugs, and this is not the poor and minorities but the middle class whites. Therefore, the farce of the war on drugs has not made a dent in capturing the white wholesale drug suppliers, the white bankers laundering money, and the white officials accepting bribes to allow the multi-billion dollar drug trade to thrive.

Related to drug violence which has its roots in profits that benefit mainstream institutions we have gang violence that apparently impacts all US cities with a population of quarter of a million or higher and about 10% of rural areas for an estimated 25,000 gangs and three-quarter of a million youths involved in such activities. Because about half of gang members are Hispanic and one-third black, the media projects this as indicative of the breakdown in the morality of minority communities.

Looking the issue of crime from a conservative sociopolitical perspective, it becomes one of family values and the problem of the individual and family, and it has absolutely nothing to do with society as though individuals and families live in isolation of the institutional mainstream that shapes their lives. In other words, the fact that the mom and dad lost their jobs, or they are locked in low-paying jobs, kids go to inner city schools that are chronically underfunded are not variable in crime. The absence of investment in roads, parks recreational facilities in poor neighborhoods, all these are unrelated to gang violence as far as the apologists of the class-race justice system are concerned; the only thing that matters is that they are black or Hispanic with innate propensities toward violence.

Although gang violence costs society an estimated $100 billion annually, local, state and federal Government place all resources on punishment instead of addressing the fundamental causes of poverty that lead people to crime. This in part ideologically and politically motivated based on a conservative mindset that prevails in America about crime, and one associated with the Reagan administration. For social conservatives and a segment of the broader population criminal conduct is a flaw if not a sin of the individual rather than a structural byproduct of socioeconomic inequality and absence of social justice. This is a reflection of Christian fundamentalist influence in politics about the issue of crime. 

The victims of crime are mostly the poor and minorities rather than white middle class, although the mass media and politicians present the image that such violence has the white middle class as its targeted victim. The American class-based criminal justice system is based on allowing multi-billion dollar corporations and the wealthy to go free when they commit crimes that cost society at large, while focusing on the neighborhood Hispanic gang member who shot a rival gang member after a drug deal went bad. Meanwhile the authorities are not tracking financial transactions through banks by wholesale drug traffickers, but instead focus on preventing the gang member from distributing in the ghetto where they live and die.

The Liberal-Conservative debate on better education to lessen gang violence is itself a distraction because both liberals and conservatives serve the same socioeconomic and political system and differ only on cultural issues and values pertaining to questions on gender, race, and ethnicity. Can the educational system fix a problem that is much wider in society? For example, no matter how great the school that a child attends, if conditions for his family and neighborhood are wretched because the parents’ socioeconomic status is very low, the ideas inculcated into the young mind of the student can only go so far before the reality of misery at home and the neighborhood kick in. Conservatives ever since the French Revolution believed that ideas shape the human mind to the exclusion of material conditions. History has proved them wrong, because people act out of necessity stemming from material conditions not ideas imbued with moral messages.


10) Recidivism in an “open society” A lot of these criminals after a few felonies windup in prison where they end up becoming worst when reinstated back to society. Does liberal democracy spawn the adequate environment for more criminals to thrive? And will it get worse?

There is something seriously wrong with the criminal justice system and society when three out of four prisoners in 30 states are arrested within five years of release. This suggests a problem with the integration of the ex-prisoner in society for a number of reasons. Prisoners regard the state penitentiary a university where they actually learn how to become better criminals from other inmates instead of reforming as is the presumed goal of the state penitentiary. Why are x-cons arrested so quickly and why so many in comparison with other countries around the world? Statistics indicate that about 40% arrested from drug violations, 38% for property offenses and the rest for violent crimes.

Excluded from many employment opportunities with any kind of good pay and prospects, ex-cons do not qualify for public housing, education loans, food stamps and even voting rights. This leaves crime the only avenue left open to survive, other than begging in the streets or taken in by a charitable relative or organization that is favorably inclined. All of this is well known to politicians, the media and academics criticizing the prisoner for failing to integrate, while excusing the system that preclude integration.

 Conservatives blame liberal democracy for the levels of high crime in America compared with other industrialized countries that have a much lower crime rate and low prison population. The conservative argument is there is not sufficient punishment, that government is too lenient toward immigrants prone to crime, that minorities use civil rights laws to circumvent the law. Conservative politicians, the media, and various analysts from think tanks and academia are constantly reinforcing fears among the public about crime as ubiquitous in society to the degree that people fear of opening their door because a criminal will be waiting to steal from them. In fact, crime is confined largely to poor and minority neighborhoods that do not have electronic protection systems, police protection to the degree a wealthy middle class neighborhood does, and private security as well as neighborhood watch groups.

Conservatives and the media blame “liberal democracy” that is in fact non-existent considering that a quasi-police state is now in full swing in the US. In the post 9/11 political culture and legal environment, police state methods are justified in the name of law and order and in the name of national security. The convergence of local law and order and national security actually has its origins in the Cold War, but it has assumed entirely new dimension with Muslims as a target group in the 21st century replacing Communists that had the same honor in the 20th century. The ideology is the same, namely to crush dissent. People of color and Muslims are “natural” suspects not just by the police who profile them, but society that has its prejudices reinforced by the media, politicians and many academics.

How does the US differ from other advanced nations and how is similar to Third World authoritarian countries in the criminal justice domain? The US has more crime than industrialized countries, according to the OECD, and its criminal justice system is about as punitive as in many authoritarian countries. Comparing the US with Saudi Arabia, which has a very different culture and it is an authoritarian society, the US ranks very poorly in crime statistics except in the area of punishment that is about as strict. But what if we are to compare the US with Switzerland that is more democratic and certainly less militaristic than the US? As far as weapons ownership in private hands, in 2007 US just under 5% of the world’s population is estimated to own between 35 and 50% of the world’s guns. Switzerland ranks higher than the US as far as gun ownership.

Switzerland has a population of around 6 million and it seems that one-third is gun owners. If Switzerland has more weapons per capita than the US, how do we explain that it has a very low crime rate not according to US standards, but any standard in the world? Both countries are capitalist and have a bourgeois institutional structure. The only rational explanation for their differences is the deeply-rooted culture of violence in American history, militaristic foreign policy, the glorification of violence in a popular culture of atomism, the treatment of criminals and different criminal justice system, and the low priority for social justice that gives rise to crime.

Canada is right next door to the US with similar economy and social structure. However, whereas the US has a prison population rate of 700 per 100,000, Canada’s is 106, Germany 96 and India at 29. Are Canada, India, and Germany less democratic and less open societies than the US that has more than four times higher than the world average prison population? The policy emphasis in the US is on punishing harshly and not rehabilitation of ex-cons so they could reintegrate in society. These factors make it easier for high rates of recidivism. Whereas in Canada and UK burglary is punished about five to seven months, in the US it is three times higher. Although an estimated 1,600 are released daily (600,000 annually), they come out in the same systemic conditions – lack of jobs, affordable housing and social services – that brought to prison initially.

Crime in America and the criminal justice system will become much worse for a number of political, economic and social reasons. First, the political climate in America has been shifting toward the right ever since the Iranian and Nicaraguan revolutions of 1979. The Cold War was quickly replaced with the war on terror that created a convergence between national security and domestic security, justifying the quasi-police state methods applied.

To justify militarism and exorbitant defense spending in time of peace, the government – Democrats or Republicans – will use fear mongering and demonizing foreign enemies to keep the population at home in political conformity. As the economy expands but does not result in upward socioeconomic mobility because GDP growth will not be sufficiently high to absorb public debt costs while capital concentration will continue, the weakening of the middle class will continue. The issue of crime will remain at the core of media coverage because it will continue to serve its purpose of mass distraction. The poor and minorities will remain the core of criminal activities. Feeling increasingly marginalized by a system that caters to fewer and fewer people amid the contradictions of an economy that overproduces, the poor whites and poor minorities will remain the focus of the police for petty neighborhood crimes to gun-violence offenses. The prison system will become even more rigid and politicians will continue to demand even harsher sentencing and longer prison terms. 


11)  Looking at history the most successful methods to contain crime or even eliminate it reside in countries that harbor dictatorships and theocracies. In the end of the day, if things get worst would the US have to pan-out democracy and adopt a far more engaging strategy to contain crime as seen in other countries past or present? Would that ever happen?

Containing crime in America is an issue on which conservative politicians and media have been focused, but their efforts have not worked as crime and prison statistics indicate. On the contrary, the US remains number one in the world in prison population and one of the highest in crime. Unless there is a total overhaul of the criminal justice system and the culture among law enforcement changes, we can expect worse things to come with everyone paying higher taxes to fund security and prisons instead of schools and jobs programs.  Crime prevention is difficult because the same failed methods of placing all emphasis on punishment as the sole focus of the state have remained in place due to ideological and political reasons.

The underlying assumptions of what makes a criminal are important in this endeavor. If we adopt the religious assumptions of the Middle Ages that people are inherently evil and must be punished because they cannot be reformed merely because society marginalized them and they are reacting with defiance, then we would have the result we see in US today, focused on the poor and minorities. This reflects a political/ideological decision because the criminal justice system is an extension of state policy intended to protect private property. The policies of the US and their practices in the field of criminal justice indicate that the political and economic elites want a police state society and do not want to lessen this problem, no matter the rhetoric from liberals or conservatives.

If the focus goes from the police-state punitive methods to greater social justice, then the public will realize the culture of fear that the state and media have been promoting is a distraction from the inequities that exist. Policing America domestically is more in line with and an extension of US foreign policy of policing the world. If the policy focus changes to reform society, it would mean undertaking systemic changes in the social structure, economy and political system. The criminal justice system is an appendage of the larger society that is based on racial/ethnic, gender and social inequality. It is simply impossible to bring about greater social justice and “democratize” the criminal justice system in the absence of addressing broader societal changes.

Of course, the other way the US could contain crime is to introduce even harsher sentences, as I am convinced it will do in the future. This means longer prison sentences, more death penalties, more police-state methods, and more police killings of minority youth in the streets in the name of law and order. Ironically, the more rigid the police enforcement mechanisms becomes, the more popular resistance it encounters in an open society that demands conformity to the law and civil rights.

One may ask how more rigid can the US become in the criminal justice system, considering that it ranking among nations stressing punishment rather than rehabilitation is already very high? How many city mayors, governors, congressmen and presidents have run campaigns on the law and order issue? It just does not pay to question a politician who is “tough on crime”, any more than it pays to question unilateral militarist solutions to international conflicts because the journalist, academic or consultant knows rewards come only to conformists.  How can a political candidate possibly lose running on law and order, considering that opposing such a position on the surface appears to be supporting crime and chaos and advocating disruption of society? Regardless of racist police-state methods, the mass media has done its part to prepare the public ideologically to accept even harsher criminal justice system that is a never-ending cycle targeting the poor and minorities because the business community is interested in protecting its property and investment, and has no interest in social justice.

If the US is looking for models from other countries with low crime rates, it could look to a number of them including Denmark or Japan. However, this means that the cultures of Denmark and Japan must somehow be transported to the US along with all of their institutions because crime does not take place in isolation of the rest of society but within its broader societal context. In other words, the idea of using isolated technical aspects, or technology such as police officers equipped with cameras to prevent them from abusing their authority, will do absolutely nothing to change conditions as they exist currently. Clearly, there is a multi-billion dollar industry in America profiting from the fear the public has about crime, so these corporations have no problem with the status quo. Everything from home detection and spy cameras to insurance plans and private security officers account for a very profitable industry that could be cut down to size if the country did not have a social, economic and political system based on social injustice.


12) If a third party ascends to power is it doomed to be become an autocratic conundrum since problems cannot be resolved with democracy alone shown by liberals and conservatives? Is the US destined to become a dictatorship if things started to crumble within the pillars of its own society?

JVK: There are those, including former president Jimmy Carter, warning that the US is not a democracy because of “big money” dominance in elections. Others point to the US “surveillance state”, curtailing on human rights and civil rights in the name of national security, increased reliance on military solutions to overseas crises and a militarized state that subordinates democracy to national security. A country can be engaged in all of those things and have a government ranging from Fascist to social-democratic. The American reality is not as simple as many critics dismiss it and it is important to consider the sources of anti-democratic aspects in a society that was founded not on political, social and economic equality for that would socialism, but equality of “opportunity” to become integrated into the bourgeois mainstream for the white male population that dominated institutions at the end of the 18th century.

On the one hand, the US has aspects that include police-state methods used both in Guantanamo prisoners as well as blacks in Homan Square detention facility in Chicago, both violating human rights and civil rights according to US laws and international conventions. On the other hand, the US is a society where there is legalization of gay marriage and marijuana, free speech and freedom of petition and dissent. In other words, the categorical labeling of the US as authoritarian runs into trouble considering that in many domains the US remains committed to certain fundamental freedoms and it cannot possibly compare to Fascist Italy in the 1930s, or South Africa before Nelson Mandela.

Categorizing American society becomes complicated and very complex behind the veneer of existing freedoms and rights of citizens, even as stipulated in the Bill of Rights and Supreme Court decisions handed down through the decades. In the absence of economic freedom all other freedoms are necessarily limited as much in the US as in any other part of the world, more or less democratic than the US. The large question is the degree to which sovereignty rests with the majority of the people rather than with a small rich minority enjoying control of mainstream institutions. If indeed sovereignty rests with the majority and there are empirical indicators pointing to it, then critics of America as undemocratic are wrong. If the US is a “corporatocracy”, then critics may be correct.

Corporatocracy is rule by corporations, or at least preeminent influence of corporations in all aspects of society from government to health and education, thus obviating the role of the people as sovereign under what they understand their role in the social contract. This phenomenon is not limited to the US, but it is prevalent in many countries considering we live in a world of multinational corporate domination that international financial institutions like the IMF, World Bank and others support to remain dominant. The neo-corporatist phenomenon that has taken hold under contemporary capitalism projects the image of democracy because it maintains certain rights of citizens while dominating the key institutions from government and media to health and education. 

The existing American political structure operating within the neo-corporatist model is set up so that it only permits for a two-party system that the entire institutional system supports explicitly or implicitly. The political, economic, and cultural elites are an integral part of the two-party system that starts from local politics all the way to the national level. The Liberal-Conservative duality in American politics is not nearly as heterogeneous as the politicians present it. Both major political parties represent the same institutional neo-corporatist structure and both work within a given framework. As domestic and international conditions may change, the political parties make policy changes toward the right on economic and foreign policy, and adjustments on the left when it comes to social-cultural issues such as gay marriage and marijuana laws. This provides people with the illusion that “democracy works”.

A third party coming along would need a popular base, a constituency that is crying out for structural reforms as was the case in 1932 when Roosevelt ran on a reformist platform amid the Great Depression that would in essence strengthen the central government and absorb surplus capital from the private sector to use for the state to stimulate growth and development. FDR did all of this within the confines of the Democratic Party and as an extension of the Progressive Era Democrat policies that Wilson has started. Instead of creating a third party, he absorbed the leftists into his own party.  

In today’s corporatocracy world, the only way that a third political party would receive a wide appeal and not encounter nearly as much opposition from entrenched political and socioeconomic elites and media is if “objective” societal conditions are such that the third party is then able to overcome such obstacles. The scenarios under which a third political party could emerge are as follows: 1. Left-leaning progressive party that tries to restructure society on the model of social democracy not much different than FDR but reflecting contemporary conditions; and 2. Extreme rightwing that could conceivably result in an outright authoritarian government.

Considering the US resorts to police-state methods justified in the name of law and order and counter-terrorism, the rightwing scenario would not be far from today’s realities; and Both a left-wing and a rightwing political parties challenging the mainstream and reflecting the socioeconomic polarization of society as the rich-poor gap widens and the middle class becomes weaker results in one-party neo-corporatist state under “national emergency” conditions. This would be a form of authoritarianism and unlikely to emerge except under extreme conditions of sociopolitical polarization tasking place against the background of foreign crisis or crises.

The scenario of authoritarianism that  took place in interwar Europe not just Italy and Germany experiencing a crisis of their mainstream bourgeois political parties amid very deep economic crisis, but all of Europe from Spain and Portugal to Eastern Europe during the 1930s. While the US does not have a tradition of Fascism, it does have a very long history of rightwing politics based on racism, xenophobia, anti-Communism, Islamophobia, religious fanaticism, and above all militarism and police-state methods, all of which are elements that a third political party could combine to mobilize sufficient popular support to take over local and state government positions initially, and eventually national government.

Public opinion polls indicate that the percentage of citizens that have confidence in their government is relative low in the mid-30s vs. the number angry at their government in the low 70s. These public opinion polls do not reveal whether these disgruntled citizens would support and left-leaning or a rightwing government under certain conditions, but they reveal the absence of support for the “middle-of-the-road” politics under neo-corporatism. There are many reasons why people are at best apathetic to angry with their government, but this is fertile territory for a populist rightwing political party trying to mobilize this segment into a coherent political force, backed by a segment of the business community, churches, and other segments in society. The scenario of a third party rooted in rightwing politics is much more likely in America because a segment of the mainstream Republicans are already there ideologically as is a large segment of the media and businesses and a segment of churches and educational institutions dependent on the generosity of conservative benefactors.

One ought not to jump to conclusions that all capital favors rightwing politics, just because it favors perpetuating its role in society. Capitalism is indeed unified in its goals but capitalists are at odds with each other. This makes the argument about what kind of regime would emerge in the future more difficult because there were capitalists who vehemently fought against FDR as there were others who went along with him, just as they had done with previous presidents in the Progressive Era. Capital under the neo-corporatist model has common interests but that does not necessarily mean that it has a common strategy of how to achieve its goals.

While a leftwing orientation is indeed a leap of faith, it would hardly be a leap of faith for America to go from the current status quo to an outright of authoritarian system that would of course continue to claim it is “democratic”. Such a system would be needed to impose social conformity of the masses to an economic system that would benefit fewer and fewer people and an institutional structure that would be largely for the economically-privileged in society. Again, there are those who argue this is where America is today, but this is a stretch at this point despite strong evidence favoring the thesis. However, if neo-corporatism continues under neoliberal policies and the corporate welfare state and militarism, then America will have some form of authoritarian government and this may come from within the ranks of the Republican Party as a third party alternative. 


13) Where do you see the US in the next 10 years?

JVK: People judge the future on the basis of the present. Their predictions are really revealing about what they see today. Besides examining the past, there are empirical indicators pointing to changes in the next ten years. As a larger percentage of Americans will be older – 16-18% as compared with 13% today – and as the white population will decline while the Hispanic population will increase, society will be demographically different in ten years and very different in 30 years when the convergence of demographic, economic and political changes will result in a new society trying to assert its identity based on its legacy rather than future prospects. According to public opinion polls, Americans are not optimistic about where the country will be in ten years, with about an equal number indicating it will be worse off as better off. This is not to say that European feel much better about their future, especially considering the uncertainty of integration, the reality that Germany has imposed its hegemony over the rest, and the prospect that China and Russia pose a threat to their historic political, economic, and strategic preeminence in the world.

Most Americans believe that the growing sociopolitical division will continue to grow for a number of reasons. College education will not be affordable for the majority that has been experiencing downward social mobility and will not improve in ten years. The economy will not be as good as it once was to lift the majority toward the middle class as was the case after WWII. Just one-fifth of Americans are confident their children will have good employment opportunities and 80% are pessimistic as they expect the rich-poor gap to increase and the top income earners to dominate politics. As the media and most analysts are constantly reinforcing the idea that China will replace the US as the world’s superpower, this is also reflected among the majority of Americans who do not believe the US will perform as well in ten years because it is a superpower in steady decline.

While Americans see tangible evidence in daily life of the rich-poor gap and political divisions, they are convinced these will become sharper as the nation’s global standing will decline. They are optimistic that new technology will continue to improve as would biotech and pharmaceutical advancements but those would be expensive and affordable only by the rich. There is also a sense that heavy private and public borrowing of the last two decades will continue to put downward pressure on living standards. Thus, the prospects for raising living standards are also hindered by debt.

Not surprisingly, there is more pessimism among whites than minorities because whites know demographic changes are rapid and will change society to their detriment. It is significant to stress that Hispanics are the most optimistic about their future in every respect, followed by blacks, because they too see demographic changes but to their advantage. Whether this actually becomes reality or the white majority mounts a racist/xenophobic political movement of major proportions remains to be seen.

There are aspects of the larger picture that public opinion polls miss. For example, the role of the US in ten years will depend to some extent on the rest of the world. The decline of Europe and Japan as a result of WWII necessarily meant the ascendancy of the US to world power status, although the foundations for such a role were established in the last quarter of the 19th century and during the Progressive Era. It is entirely possible that a political crisis in China and/or other major power sinks them into chaos and that lifts the US status, despite the incredible interdependence of the world economy. More likely, the rapid development of some countries, including Brazil, India, Russia, and Iran all siding in a bloc with China that will have much of Africa and Asia integrated, would entail a considerable weakening of the US in every respect. Capital is international and the US-China interdependence cuts both ways, but current trends indicate more in China’s favor than the US.

It is possible that the world’s population will reach nine billion in fifteen years and it will need an additional 50% more food than it does today to meet those needs. Expected to experience 10 to 15% percent population growth (as high as 350 million), the US, which was the breadbasket of the world from the late 19th to the late 20th century, will lose its preeminent status. All indications are the Russia will capture that position, as it will also become a major producer of minerals and energy.

 One reason for the East-West struggle over Ukraine is that it could become well integrated with the West, and it could provide food security the West will need, although this is a prospect that does not look promising so far. Monsanto Corporation has already started working on genetically modified food production in Ukraine as a backdoor to penetrate the European market. Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and Cargill have also been very prominent in Ukraine’s primary sector of production.

With US government support, the IMF and World Bank are working in the Ukraine to make sure it moves toward greater integration with the West to provide US multinational corporations the opportunity to dominate key markets through which companies will remain dominant in Europe. The Ukraine-type struggle for commodities markets will continue in the next ten years. However, the price the US will pay for this kind of intervention is more reliance on overt and covert military solutions to regional crises it creates and greater drain of the US economy. 

It is possible that the combination of the US energy independence and new technologies could provide an impetus for the economy, only if the state acts to absorb the surplus capital from the top 10% of income earners to invest and develop human capital and human security as I have stated above in relation to another topic. New scientific and technological advances will do absolutely nothing except cause more problems than they solve for society at large. America will remain in a mode of expansion that further concentrates capital and expansion that further weakens the middle class and the national economy. In other words, the expansionary cycles will not result in income distribution toward the middle and lower classes because the FED steps in to raise rates and slow down the economy that is overheating (inflationary), thus keeping structural unemployment high.

I  hope that America in 2025 will not have a repeat of 1925 when everything seemed just great but the Great Depression was around the corner because serious structural problems in the banking system, Wall Street speculation without any government regulation, and the government’s role in the economy leaving business unchecked as they demanded so they could make greater profits. The social structure in America a decade from now will be about the same with even lower living standards for the bottom two-thirds of society and even greater capital concentration, given current trends. I am also cautious that in the next ten years there will not be a repeat of the deep recession of 2008, which was cyclical but helped along by banking deregulation amid a trillion-dollar war-bill from Iraq and Afghanistan. Having lost its preeminent global economic status, the US will continue to use its military might as political and economic leverage through alliances and bloc trade agreements that could trigger conflict at the regional level. Looking at current international relations, the future looks promising for creation of economic blocs that will both cooperate and compete with each other and may even clash.

Though in a diminished form, the US will maintain its global power status and it will continue to have one of the world’s top 20 living standards for its population. However, the expectation that Pax Americana will once again experience its glory days of the early Cold War is only real in the defense sector where American politicians will be focused as the country will experience what some scholars view as a “Third World effect” within the country. This is to say that conditions similar to those in underdeveloped nations will dominate in pockets of American society as the political class – Democrats and Republicans – will refuse to use the fiscal structure to absorb surplus capital to centralize government in the manner that FDR did so that there are not three America’s – one for the top richest ten percent, the other of about 20-25 percent making up the middle class, and the majority trying to make ends meet or hovering near or below the poverty line. There is no doubt that as housing, education and healthcare become more expensive, and as good paying jobs are limited to an ever shrinking percentage of the labor force, more people will live in substandard housing, excluded from good schools and hospitals, excluded from the American Dream.  

Contrary to what many agnostics and atheists believe about religion playing a lesser role in the future, I am convinced it will play an even greater role, although different religions will reflect different views. Pope Francis is the most recent prominent leader to have joined the struggle for social justice, though from within the context of faith. Men and women are sacrificed to the idols of profit and consumption: it is the ‘culture of waste.’ If a computer breaks it is a tragedy, but poverty, the needs and dramas of so many people end up being considered normal.”

The views of religious leaders for social justice may converge with those of political and community leaders demanding not just reform within the system, but systemic change to overthrow the system. While I do not see even a slight chance of revolution in America in the next ten years, I do expect  the increased socioeconomic gap and political alienation of the majority to present fertile ground for a grassroots movement that could rely on a variety of voices of authority, including those of the Catholic Church and others that have historically been the pillars of the status quo.

There will also be a sharp rise in convergence of rightwing political elements, business people, and Christian extremists. This is something that has deep roots in American society. The US war on terror combined with Islamophobia that the media, Hollywood, talk-radio, and politicians have been propagating religious rightwing activity is likely to rise as people seek answers for calamities in society from those presenting themselves closer to God, the flag and Wall Street.  Religious violence is also a possibility in isolated incidents. More likely is the prospect that Republicans will continue to co-opt the religious right to justify the combination of militarism as a solution to foreign policy problems and neoliberal and corporate welfare as solutions to the economy. The polarization of America will be a major issue and the challenge will be to forge consensus somewhere in the middle, which will be more of the same without any solution to ending downward socioeconomic mobility. The result will be a direction to the right more than it will be to the democratic center and this means toward greater authoritarianism that will serve to protect the privileged status of the wealthy and maintain American military preeminence

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