The future of economics and our planet, precariously hangs in the hands of politicians locked in polar opposite agendas. Everyone feels powerless to make Congress solve real problems. Millennials have been sent into political helplessness by dictator politicians only dedicated to self-serving interests and blocking others. Only 20% of eligible Millennial voters turned out for the least attended election in history. Despite the snub, politicians race on.
We have serious problems that must be addressed. In the last few months, the economic trend of declining real individual income has continued its 45 year decline, despite record stock market gains, sending ever more people into poverty. The lions share of Millenials are unlikely to ever become Middle Class: 1 in 3. New information on climate change shows the picture is worse than believed and changing rapidly. Millennials have to seize control or we lose it all.
At this point, Millennials are the only hope we have left. Millennials are characterized as keeping politics at arms length and finding other ways to make a difference in the world. Their last foray into politics, hoping for a better world, was largely thwarted by political gridlock.
The desire for change has always been thwarted by political reality. It takes a revolution to affect major change, and we are at a precarious crossroads. The fate of the US economy, and the fate of the planet hang in the balance. We will survive or all go down based on the decision of millennials to either withdraw, or take control.
The problems are dire, but politicians are not confronting them. Why?
Both Republicans and Democrats have many really good ideas about making things better. But they are locked in a polarized battle in which they are enemies for whom reconciling their differences is impossible. As a group, they no longer represent the people, but represent battling ideologies. The people are so disappointed with them that their approval rating is in the low teens, but gerrymandering of voting districts mean that individual approval by constituents is high.
They have managed to bring the legislative process to a halt. If you ask Congress to improve the economy or safeguard the planet, they will simply block each others' legislation, or avoid the issue altogether.
Part of the difficulty is that politicians only react to crises and catastrophes that actually occur. For example, prior to the 9/11 attack on the Twin Trade Towers (the second attempt to bring them down), there were indicators that terrorist would continue to try. After the devastating attack, there was plenty of finger pointing about people not paying attention to evidence. But had security personnel and politicians tried to make the changes necessary to prevent the attack, as they did afterward, there is no way the people and Congress would have approved. Congress is reactive, not proactive.
We don't like to believe that politicians are ignorant. What we have going on among politicians is "willful ignorance." There are many reasons for this, including these six noteworthy ones.
1. Polarization, ideology, and agendas cause people to absolutely refuse to acknowledge opposing voices or information.
2. Placing the desire to remain in office above everything else means only supporting ideas that the political base supports. This means the representative is always creating legislation to please the base, and not seriously considering issues.
3. "Learned helplessness" means that if people believe they can't do anything about something, they just live with it and give it a low priority.
4. The truth is inconvenient. It's just more expedient to believe something else.
5. "Cognitive dissonance" means that when people confront ideas that are counter to what they believe, they have coping mechanisms for dealing with the information. They might say it is based on unproven science, or simply disbelieve it no matter how credible it is, or live with the notion while emphasizing what they want to emphasize.
6. Increasing polarization as a reaction to disputing facts. Several studies have been done on this phenomenon. It happens especially among the more educated. If you try to reason with people who are polarized, it only makes them more polarized.
All of these things are really happening, and many recent studies are confirming and illustrating how politicians are using these very mechanisms to dismiss ideas they don't like to preserve the status quo.
While big money hasn't been shown to assure a candidate's success in an election (Americans aren't that stupid), there is strong evidence that some candidates specifically pursue certain big money providers, and probably vote in ways that assure their continued financial support. For example, the Koch Brothers, Libertarians who oppose legislation related to climate change, are credited by some as being responsible for their re-election (Myths And Facts About The Koch Brothers).
The entire Republican Party, once staunch climate change deniers, now unanimously agree that there is climate change, but all nearly unanimously agree that "They aren't scientists and can't know if it is partly caused by man." This phrase gets them around losing conservative funding (The study and the NY Times article: Most Republicans Say they Back Climate Change Action).
While politicians are preoccupied with arguing with agendas supported by big money interests, over things they don't understand, the US speeds on toward a major revolution. But not the good kind. The US, while barely able to say it is a democracy because it is a representative government, representatives now mostly defers to the opinions of the wealthy and lobbyists, not the people. In fact, they often write the legislation. The people have no real influence on policy decisions.
Confessions of a Congressman - 9 secrets from the inside.
When it comes to the economy, politicians have minimal understanding of it. Two common theories of improving the economy have been shown to only have short term effects. Getting higher wages to people (Keynesian economic theory), has been responsible for raising huge populations out of poverty around the world. But long term it is corrosive to the economy.
Supply Side Economics has been shown to improve business conditions somewhat for a short term, but when combined with tax cuts, it rapidly drives up the National Debt. It also hasn't been shown to actually work - during the period of 1980 to 2000, personal incomes continued to fall. From 2001 to 2015, even with the Great Recession in there, the stock market and many corporations have set record after record, but personal income continued to decline. Real income has been on a downward slide since before 1980.
Combined with very expensive wars that were financed with the National Debt, we have been left with massive debt and huge interest payments that are very corrosive to the economy.
How corrosive is the National Debt? $233 Billion a year just in interest. That's 44% of the largest agency cost, the Defense Department. while 1.3% of GDP isn't our highest national debt ever, it is expected to grow and consume up to 3.3% of GDP. Even worse, the National Debt of many nations is in even more troubling status, and growing, which is unsustainable.
The most demonstrable effects of the last 35 years of economic policy are:
Small business, which hires 80% of American workers, is faring about the same as the people - struggling and often failing. As people are driven into poverty, they become dependent on the government for support, creating a steadily increasing and unsustainable drain on the government.
The things that will change this, such as wage growth, are not comfortable for most politicians, often not comfortable for people, nor are they an ideological fit for many, so they are rejected outright. All business, even business to business sales, like Boeing to the airlines, depends on consumers (passengers) at some point in their revenue stream. The system will eventually crumble because the people have no money to spend so all business will fail.
A robust analysis of our current economic conditions and the policies that will get us on the road to recovery are covered in this report from The Center for American Progress: Report of the Commission on Inclusive Prosperity.
Who really believes climate change may be a serious problem? Eighty-three percent of Americans.
NY Times and Stanford University poll: The poll found that 83 percent of Americans, including 61 percent of Republicans and 86 percent of independents, say that if nothing is done to reduce emissions, global warming will be a very or somewhat serious problem in the future.
We've seen the level of destruction from just over a half degree rise in temperature. The EPA estimates a 4 to 11 degree change by 2100.
Living on the edge: We don't fully understand climate change. We do know that the current changes don't follow typical historic patterns, and are accelerating much faster than in the past. We see that there is a tipping point beyond which the climate will change the planet into an uninhabitable state. We won't survive. We don't know exactly where that tipping point is.
Scientists Identify Possible Tipping Point of Global Warming.
Climate science points to the huge amount of CO2 gas pumped into the atmosphere by man's activity, as being a very likely accelerator of change that will make the end result worse than natural change. We know of various secondary mechanisms that will add much more CO2 to the atmosphere because of climate change. The fact is, we don't know how close we are to making the earth uninhabitable, and we're gambling with it.
"An overwhelming majority of the American public, including half of Republicans, support government action to curb global warming..." NY Times, Stanford University poll
Willful ignorance and denial have stalled attempts by Congress to look at these issues and explore solutions. Recently all of Congress agreed that climate change is real. But it isn't convenient to agree that there is man caused component. How long it will take for the facts to overcome willful ignorance isn't known. But then, since Congress only reacts to catastrophe, it will be too late. As we know, Congress is reactive, not pro-active.
Willful ignorance leads people to take enormous risk. How much risk? During the last 20 years, many people cited the lack of temperature increase in North America as evidence against climate change. What actually happened is a 20 to 30 year cycle drove the warmer air to the Arctic and rapidly accelerated warming and melting there. At the same time, the ocean's ability to absorb CO2, moderating change, seems to have diminished. When Arctic figures were added to global temperatures, it was clearly seen that climate change was very alive and well.
We don't know or understand all of the applicable climate mechanisms. We are toying with mechanisms that can make the earth uninhabitable, and we are ignoring the risk. In the last 50 years, we have increasingly seen enormous damage caused by regional drought, fire, rapid melting of ice (water supply) and polar ice that moderates temperature, huge rain and snow storms, increased and more severe hurricanes and tornadoes, severe flooding, rising ocean levels that threaten land, loss of animal species to affected areas, increased disease carrying insect activity in warmer areas, increased costs to business, and loss of human life.
This is from a small rise in temperature - the results are actually worse than predicted. A 1/2 to 1 degree increase may actually be healthy to make our climate more stable over the long term, but we've already had a half degree (.68) increase since the mid 1970s, and we're looking at 3 degrees or more. Maybe 11 degrees by 2100. There are a number of things we can do to stop this, if we bother to look at them.
But will we look for inexpensive solutions? Not to get too kitschy, but from oversimplified historical political examples, "as Nero fiddles, Rome burns," and the wealthy simply observe, "Let them eat cake." Politicians and the wealthy only look at what they are forced to look at, and that usually means it impacts them. Corporations are not going to solve this problem, although they are largely for solving it. The older generations are unlikely to solve these problems - too many of them are already too polarized.
The Millennial Generation is our only hope. You are the people who aren't so polarized or willfully ignorant that you can't listen to rational reasoning and act on it. But you will have to overcome the problem of past disappointment and critical mass. There have to be enough of you engaged to tip the balance in politics. There have to be enough of you speaking that they have to listen to your voices and realize you will put them out of office. Not voting simply puts the wrong people in office. You have to rub candidates' noses in this and tell them this is important and they have to find solutions.
Tipping the balance in politics isn't impossible. You did it in getting Obama elected, for "Change," but you didn't get enough candidates (Republican or Democrat) who will listen to your voice. Here is what you need to do: Because parties vote along party lines, and it takes a 60% vote in the Senate to pass legislation, this requires a 10% change in the voting balance. Make a 10% change in both the House and Senate. Show your power. Make it happen.
Today's Congress mostly tries to please voters so they will get re-elected. Your loud, persistent, compelling voice, in sufficient numbers to re-elect, is what is needed.
Our future hangs on Millennials.
I will end with this from Charlie Chaplin, who spoke these words in his movie before WWII, as Adolph Hitler was dragging the world into war: