The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.
NEW YORK (
) -- As
I have reported earlier, there are serious problems in banking, education, health, energy and defense in the U.S. The issues are complex, but there is a common theme running throughout.
U.S. banks effectively collapsed in 2008. That resulted in a global panic and a stock market loss of $36 trillion. That capital loss caused a drop in expenditures worldwide and the global recession. What was the remedy? To bail out the banks that caused the problem and the passage of the 2,300-page Dodd-Frank Bill in 2010. As
I and others have asserted, the banks are no safer today than they were before their collapse. Why is this? Table 1 provides part of the answer.
The U.S. spends as much as any country per capita on education, but U.S. test scores on reading, math, and science rank 18th among developed nations. And yes, Chinese scores are higher. Table 2 offers part of the reason.
New York Governor Cuomo has pointed out that education has become a business in New York and only the students lack a union. And indeed, most of the lobbying for education is done at the state-local level, and Open Secrets covers only Federal lobbying.
The U.S. spends far more than any other developed nation on health care, and its health outcomes are the worst of any developed nation. Ouch! Why should this be? After all,
I have reported that the findings of John Wennberg on how to reduce U.S. health costs and improve performance are reflected in the Obama Health Care Bill. Unfortunately, that is not all that is included in the 1,017 page bill. Before any action suggested by Wennberg can be implemented, the Bill requires "stakeholder" approval. Table 3 gives a listing of the "stakeholders" and their Federal lobbying outlays.
When Obama was elected, there was considerable hoopla about converting to renewable energies, reducing pollution and the U.S. dependence on foreign oil. What has happened since then? As
I have reported, very little. U.S. dependence on coal has increased, oil imports continue at high levels, and the U.S. use of renewable energies remains insignificant.
In the 20th and 21st Centuries, the US has been at war far more than any other nation. And recently, wars appear to be increasingly unfocused and unproductive. Was Eisenhower right to warn us about the military/industrial complex?
I repeat a quote by Robert Borosage:
"The country finds itself constantly at war. New presidents inherit the wars of their predecessors. They are faced not with deciding to go to war, but whether to accept defeat in one already in progress....And slowly, the great power declines from the inside out. The wars are costly, running up national debts. Vital investments are put off. Schools decline. Sewers leak. For a long time, circuses distract from the spreading ruin....Other societies become productive centers, capturing the new industries. Some begin providing better education for their citizens, better support for their citizens. Their taxes, not drained by the cost of wars past and present, can be devoted to what we used to call 'domestic improvements.'
This is a very rich country.... But even wealthy countries must choose. We can afford to police the world -- to sustain 800 bases across the globe, to station troops in Korea, in Japan, in Bosnia, in Europe, fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, sustain fleets to police the seas....
South Waziristan, Yemen, Somalia, Kosovo, the Taiwan straits, the North Korean border, the seven seas -- we can do this. But the result is that we are continually at war. And the wars cost -- in money, in lives, in attention. And inevitably, domestic priorities, as well as emerging security threats that have no military answers, get ignored. A rich country, Adam Smith wrote, has a lot of ruin in it. We seem intent on testing the limits of that proposition."
I look at the way China is run. With all its shortcomings, the Chinese Communist party fears the wrath of the people. It knows its hold on power depends on keeping them happy. In the U.S., do our elected people worry about representing the people's interests? They might rationalize that they are while taking suggestions and contributions from the "interested parties." But they are not. They are passing bad bills that only make things worse.
Does it matter whether the U.S. President is Republican or Democrat? I don't think so. The gravy train works for both parties.
Any reason to be hopeful? The money has to stop. I hope the Occupy Wall Street Movement gains traction.
Elliott Morss is an economic consultant and an individual investor in developing countries. He has taught at the University of Michigan, Harvard University, Boston University, among other schools. Morss worked at the International Monetary Fund and helped establish Development Alternatives Inc. He has co-written six books and published more than four dozen articles in professional journals.