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The American economy has expanded enormously in the last 6 years. In contrast, the same time period had seen an equally precipitous breakdown in our nation’s social institutions. For instance, violent crime increased 560%. Divorce rates have quadrupled, and average SAT scores have dropped 80 points. There are many other examples. What is going on? Why is America changing?


Among those events which have contributed to the contrasting economic and social changes in America, two of the earliest were the Vietnam War and the Watergate affair, both leading to a widespread distrust of government. Even the excuse for shipping American combat troops into Vietnam was possibly fabricated through the Gulf of Tonkin incident. President Johnson promised no American deaths in Southeast Asia, when in fact he was escalating combat operations. Subsequently, the government lied to the American people about body counts, war success, and operations outside of Vietnam proper. Corruption was also rife in South Vietnam, and American citizens finally began to realize that our nominal allies didn’t care who won the war. Too many of them only wanted to steal. The Watergate incident of course, involved burgling and wire-tapping at the Democratic National headquarters during the 17 presidential election campaign. This was done by Republican sympathizers with the knowledge of President Nixon. One of our most “treasured” memories from the Watergate era is that of an American President telling the public, “I’m not a crook.” With this history of lies many Americans began to distrust their government. If the government was not going to tell them the truth, who would?


Another early but more direct contributor to the social regression of the United States was probably the oil embargo of 17, and what followed. In protest of American support of Israel, Arab oil-producing nations placed an embargo on exports of petroleum to the United States. Although the embargo lasted less than a year, its aftershocks are still felt today. At the end of the embargo petroleum prices had increased four-fold. Today, they are more like 15-times their pre-embargo levels. Energy costs, meaning petroleum, are a large part of everything we use; everything we make, and everything we do. These costs accrue to every individual, rich or poor. Our population continues to increase recklessly. Overall energy demand as a nation thus continue to rise, pressuring energy prices further. The rising energy costs have thus contributed tremendously to a need for two incomes in poor and middle-class families.


Evolution of the American economy itself has also placed pressure on poor and middle-class incomes. Going back to the post-Civil War Industrial Revolution, the lay-off phenomenon has always been a part of the American business scene. But the problems associated with job loss have evolved, just as the economy has changed. Many high-paying jobs in heavy manufacturing, natural resources, and other industries have been lost permanently. The jobs, the plants, the mines and mills no longer exist. Although laid-off workers have returned to full employment, it has often been in much lower paying jobs in the so-called “Service Sector.” Why this has happened is complex the same work being done more cheaply elsewhere, exhaustion of natural resources, environmental regulation accompanied by a decades-long failure to modernize plant and equipment, and pressure to produce dividends for shareholders at the expense of employee salary. Whatever the reason, the loss of income has naturally been visited upon worker’s families and lifestyles.


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In the 150s and ‘60s an average American middle-class family could own a home, two cars, a few toys, and send their kids to college on a single income. This later became impossible. The propagation and inflation of living expenses forced stay-at-home-moms into the work-force. Double incomes were no longer optional for many families. They were necessary.


And an effect began to be felt in the society and its institutions. The break-up of the family in this fashion led to a lack of discipline in future generations. With both parents working, less quality time could be spent with their children. Kids now enjoy less of a parental role model, or “guidance counselor.” This leads to less encouragement for success in school, less involvement in the child’s activities, less child supervision, and ultimately, to less discipline. Some children are literally growing up with distant relatives or day care providers. They are out on the streets or sitting in front of the television. Also, tired working parents who feel guilty for spending little time with their children, are more likely to be overly lenient in matter of discipline.


The years during which Ronald Reagan was President exacerbated economic difficulties for poor and middle-class Americans. His “trickle-down,” supply-side economics predicted that tax relief provided for corporations and the rich would somehow filter down to the less wealthy. It didn’t happen that way. Also during the Reagan administration many Federal programs in education or to assist the poor were greatly reduced or cut out entirely. The net effect of these changes was to drive an economic boom, which made the rich richer; the poor and middle-class poorer. When the stock market crashed in October of 187, many of the wealthy remained wealthy, but so too did the poor remain poor. A similar cycle of expansion followed by a crash occurred later during the years of the Clinton administration. In this case the crash was accompanied by bankruptcies and revelations of blatantly fraudulent business dealings at Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing, and other multi-national corporations. The retirement funds of many middle-class Americans were completely destroyed.


Could increasingly violent television programs and other entertainment have something to do with the 560% increase in violent crime? Personally, I do not thing that violence in the media necessarily creates violence in “real life.” But in a way, some movies, music, television programs, and video games seem to glorify violence. The graphic portrayal of violence seems to be their only reason for being. This doesn’t make people violent, but it makes violence generally ordinary, and in a sense � okay.


When one looks back 6 years to the “hippie” era, one of the first things that comes to mind is drugs. No one would deny that many people in the 160s experimented with drugs, but the difference with the modern era is that drug-use in the 160s did not seem to provoke the violence it does today. Many people used drugs, but people weren’t shooting each other. Why is this? For on thing, marijuana was the drug of choice in the “hippie” era. It was cheap and definitely not worth the taking of life. Also, the “hippies” strongly urged loving your neighbor; loving everyone around, doubtless a reaction to the ongoing slaughter in Vietnam. Whatever the explanation, the drug problems of the 160s have only escalated over the years, and probably will continue to contribute to the social regression of this nation.


We may turn to education. Are the children of 00 better educated than their counterparts of 6 years ago? Are they more suited to build a better America in the future? One need look no further than the 80-point decline in SAT scores. One need look no further than the number of non-math, undergraduate, science degrees, which are being offered in our colleges and universities; the number of non-thesis master’s and doctoral programs. Today’s children are not better educated. Do we wish this situation to continue? Certainly not, but is the answer teacher accountability, state testing, or different levels of high-school diplomas? Perhaps the answer is something that is too simple � our present system doesn’t work. Perhaps we were doing something right in the 160s, and we need to learn from it.


What does the future hold for this country? Well, that’s simple � if we allow ourselves to continue on this path of self-destruction we will end up as powerless a nation, as when we started out as 1 English colonies. The great nation our forefathers built is crumbling under the pressure of world opinion. We are seen as self-righteous bullies, and for the most part, that is exactly what we have become. September 11th proved to us that we are not as untouchable as many have though we are. And it is right and proper that our political leaders focus some of their attentions on the threat of terrorism. But there are dangerous threats at home too � our economy is presently a shambles, as discussed above many of our social institutions are rubble; our social problems go back many years; and our educational system is becoming a farce � and nothing has been done. Nothing is being done. How are we to provide ourselves with a better tomorrow? How are today’s adolescents to make a better America? Our parents can’t carry us on their backs forever.





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