The Associated Press story on poverty in America came out as I was reading the late Mancur Olsons book Power and Prosperity.
Professor Olson had also authored the book The Rise and Decline of Nations, which I recently reread. He examined the experience of prosperous, developed countries and discovered that they had three things in common: efficient markets, protection of individual rights and absence of predation.
All three indicators have been deteriorating in the United States, especially after 9/11.
The markets are suffering from manipulation by greedy insiders as well as increased regulation and obscurity. The protection of individual rights has deteriorated for the sake of security with the acquiescence of the populace. Predation has increased in both the private and public domain as evidenced by massive Medicare and Medicaid fraud, Ponzi schemes, eminent domain issues, tax increases and the rise in gated communities.
The current administration promotes income redistribution without effectively addressing the reasons why income disparity has increased. The lack of relevant education and the decline in manufacturing that AP mentions are only part of the poverty problem.
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and 48 million Americans have criminal records. This is largely due to the hypocritical and futile war on drugs. People with criminal records are not easily employable.
According to author Conrad Black, the judiciary wins 99.5 percent of its cases, 97 percent without a trial. The expensive, inefficient and frequently lethal medical establishment promotes dangerous, addictive drugs and is then compensated for treating the addicts.
Fighting crime and treating disease are counted in the gross domestic product as goods. But a few economists, myself included, disagree.
If these activities were subtracted from, rather than being added to the GDP, the true state of the economy would be revealed. Medical care costs about 17 percent of GDP. The cost of prosecution and incarceration could easily amount to a similar figure.
In short, our country cannot prosper if the three prerequisites to prosperity mentioned above are increasingly undermined. Let us do our best to prevent the continuing deterioration of an exceptional country.
An important step in this direction is to vote and to judge the candidates by what they do, not what they say. Then and only then will our votes be meaningful.
Jane E. Bardon