• Evening in America and It’s Raining Hard

    January 11, 2024 // 16 Comments »

    It’s evening in America. How might what we see affect the presidential election?

    Pessimism: There is pessimism about the future, as a majority of Americans now believe the next generation is likely to have a lower standard of living. A Wall Street Journal poll found just 21 percent of respondents felt confident life for their children will be better, matching the record low.

    Inflation: For more than two-thirds of voting age Americans, 2023 was by far the highest inflation of their adult lifetimes. Higher prices means less spending power. A recent poll on the economy found just seven percent of respondents were principally concerned about the availability of jobs, while 64 percent were most worried about prices. What’s the White House concerned about? Jobs, not prices, even to the point where one of its unofficial spokespersons, Paul Krugman of the New York Times, has created a genre for his column scolding Americans for not seeing how great the economy really is. Things are going well for some; the richest one percent grabbed nearly two-thirds of all new wealth, worth $42 trillion, created since 2020, almost twice as much money as the bottom 99 percent of the population. If the economy is expanding, fewer people are benefiting from it. Averages may look good, but the median numbers, not so much. Why, Bidenomics seems to ask, can things be bad when so many people now work two or even three jobs?

    Crime: Only 20 percent of registered voters feel that “things in the country these days are under control,” compared with 66 percent who feel that things are “out of control.” Out of control how? According to Gallup, 28 percent of households reported that they had been hit by crime, up from 20 percent in 2020. Some 63 percent of Americans describe the crime problem as “extremely” or “very” serious, the highest Gallup ever recorded, and 56 percent say there is more crime in their area than a year ago, also a record high.

    It has gotten to the point where several businesses near the location where George Floyd died are suing the city of Minneapolis for a lack of policing. The lawsuit accuses police of blocking off the area, called “George Floyd Square,” for over a year with concrete barriers, which turned the area into a hotspot for violent crime. Criminals know “the area lacks police protection,” the lawsuit alleges, and businesses are seeking $1.5 million in damages. As with many school resource officers, the cops left George Floyd Square in response to community complaints about over-policing. Downtowns are hollowing out again, as businesses close in response to unabated smash and grab and mass shoplifting campaigns carried out in front of prosecutors unwilling to act. Albeit in part Covid-related, more than two percent of New York City tax payers fled the state, mostly high net worth individuals/taxpayers.

    Drugs: Deaths from drug overdoses almost doubled from 52,404 in 2015 to 106,699 in 2021. Efforts to halt the flow from China of precursors used to make fentanyl have been limited, from blandly bellicose and provocative statements about Taiwan’s future, to asking Beijing very nicely to stop exporting.

    Deaths of Despair: Life expectancy in the United States has recently fallen for three years in a row—a reversal not seen since 1918 or in any other wealthy nation in modern times. In the past two decades, deaths of despair from suicide, drug overdose, and alcoholism have risen dramatically and are still rising. Anne Case and Angus Deaton, who first sounded the alarm about deaths of despair, explain the overwhelming surge on the social and economic forces making life harder for the working class.

    Health: The U.S. now has a lower average life expectancy than Japan, driven by an increase in death rates in young and middle-aged adults 25 to 64. Besides Japan, life expectancy is also lower than Canada, the UK, Iceland, Hong Kong. Also Iran, China, Algeria, and Cuba, not the usual peers the U.S. claims. Guns account for about half of the suicides committed by young people and the majority of homicides. So while firearms play a large role, clearly there’s a mental health crisis fueling it. Mental-health-related visits among children, teenagers, and young adults surged between 2011 and 2020, from 4.8 million to 7.5 million.

    The bottom line is our young people are less likely to reach age 20 than most around the world, including Syria. Only 23 percent of American youth are eligible to serve in the military due to being overweight, using drugs, or having mental and physical health problems. The U.S. drags the global lower-middle, clustered in infant mortality statistics which place it as peers to Bulgaria, Romania, and Serbia, and well below Canada, Japan, and most European countries. Those numbers reflect broad averages from within the United States. When you look at America by race, black infant deaths are more than twice those of whites, about what most Central American countries suffer.

    Education: The educational harm caused by the coronavirus pandemic has been “devastating,” according to a recent survey of 26 million K-8 students by researchers at Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Dartmouth, and Harvard. The researchers also found the pandemic “exacerbated economic and racial educational inequality.” The average “U.S. public school student in grades 3-8 lost the equivalent of a half year of learning in math and a quarter of a year in reading.” In New York City there are 119,300 homeless students in the public school system who depend on school for three meals, a shower, medical care, and handout clothing in addition to reading and writing (math scores are also down.)

    Guns: Americans ages eighteen to twenty account for only four percent of the population but 17 percent of murders. 86 percent of the weapons came from the homes of friends, relatives, or parents. Some 70 percent of school shootings since 1999 were carried out by people under eighteen. The median age of school shooters is sixteen. There have been at least 554 school-shooting victims, with at least 311,000 children exposed to gun violence at school in the U.S. since the Columbine High School massacre, all spread across 376 schools. Black students make up 16.6 percent of the school population but experience school shootings at twice that rate. The frequency of shootings has increased, with a surge of forty-six incidents in 2022, the highest in any year since 1999. The safest year was 2020, when most schools were closed and parents needed only to worry — mostly pointlessly, it turned out — about Covid taking their kids.

    War and Defense: Overseas a period of relative calm has been replaced by an era of proxy-type wars that appear to many Americans to be as pointless as they are expensive. The fights in Ukraine and Gaza draw hundreds of billions of dollars in “aid,” leaving many Americans wondering if their taxes are too high given what appears to be the easy availability of such massive amounts of money. Politically the war-weary American population knows we are one bad decision away from entering both conflicts, unless you want to count Special Forces in Ukraine and naval action against Iranian-Houthi targets as us being “already in.” There is a feeling of unsettlement — are our sons and daughters going back to war so soon after the disastrous ending of twenty-some years in Afghanistan? At what point will the troops come home and the money come home to assist Americans in their struggles? At $877 billion in defense spending per year, the U.S. outspends the next ten nations on the list (China, UK, Japan, etc.) The U.S. has more bases abroad than any other country. Our post-9/11 wars caused 4.5 million deaths, and displaced up to 60 million people. What for?

    Immigration, healthcare costs, war talk with Iran, nuclear gamesmanship with the Russians, it’s a long story. But as they say economics (education, etc…) is only complicated when talking to an economist. About 70 percent of all voters do not want Biden to run, including 51 percent of Democrats polled. Against the likely Republican nominee, Biden already trails by four points or more in swing states.

    So, who are you voting for?

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