Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Our Quality of Life and Positives Changes We Can Make

 

As pointed out in our previous article, one of the ways to judge a country's future is to look at its infrastructure. In our case, it looks pretty bleak. Another indicator of a nation's health is to look at its quality of life.

In terms of freedom and quality of life, America ranks fairly low. According to the "Democracy Index", which is published by the Economist Group, America is defined as a "flawed democracy", which should come as no surprise given that we're an Oligarchic led Corportracy. As an aside, a "flawed democracy" is just one step above a "failed democracy", and the bad news is that social indicators don't show us moving up.

When it comes to overall health and quality of life, Spain and Portugal are one and two. They're followed by Switzerland, Japan, and Iceland. Others in the top ten include Singapore, Norway, and Austria. And the U.S? We didn't do so well. We came in 153 out of 166.  

We also have one of the lowest life expectancies of any industrial nation, with an average of 79.11 years (81.65 for women and 76.61 for men).  We are between Estonia and Panama. The top five belong to Hong Kong  with an average of 85.29, Japan (85.03 avg.), Macao (84.68 avg.), Switzerland (84.29 avg.), and Singapore (84.07 avg.). In fact, everyone in the top 39 positions have an average in the 80's.             

The Conde' Nast Traveler, which provides travelling advice and ranks travel agencies, and so forth, published a report in March of this year of the world's happiest countries. As with previous reports, all of the Scandinavian countries make the top ten, which Finland, Denmark, Switzerland making the top three. The U.S. came in 14th, just behind Ireland and ahead of Canada (in 2019, we were 19th).

Another indicator economists, historians, and other social scientists look at in judging the stability of a country is the percentage of its population which is incarcerated. Unfortunately, we again don't stack up well compared to other countries.

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, about one in one hundred Americans are behind bars at either the federal or state level; 2.3 million people (which includes juveniles as well as adults). Globally, that's one in five of the world's population. To put it another way, while we have just 5% of the world's population, we have 20% of it behind bars.

The next closest country is Communist China, which imprisons 1.6 million. Even Russia and Iran jails fewer people...by far!  So how can we justify calling Russia, China, Iran, Cuba, Rwanda, or Venezuela "tyrannies"  when we imprison a greater percentage of our population people than any of them?

Of course, one answer to that question is that our prison systems outsources to more "for profit" prisons than any other nation. The overwhelming majority of countries utilize state run and financed institutions (through taxes, etc) to house inmates. We tend to emphasis time served rather than focus on reform and other methods to change behavior---even for first offenders.

In doing my research, I came across another interesting statistic. Of the so-called "top tier" or "first world" nations, we are the only ones which still utilizes the death penalty (albeit, it's decided at the state level). Of course, you can expand the definition of "top tier" to include nations like Saudi Arabia, Japan which also employ the death penalty. However, as of 2020, just 53 countries in the world have a death penalty; most of whom are third tier nations.

So, with all the statistics and other data about the United States and how it compares to the rest of the world, what does this tell us? There are a number of takeaways to consider. First, we have to understand that we are not the America our Founders had envisioned. I suspect that if they could see us now, they would have paid that damn tea tax!

Secondly, those elected to handle "the People's business" are actually "doing their business" on the People. We've lost our Republic plain and simple. Perhaps it was while we were busy trying to keep a roof over our heads and food on our tables. Maybe it was while we were distracted by all the "reality" shows, sports programs, video games, and manufactured propaganda masquerading as "news".

Congress represents Big Business, not us. Their lobbyists write the legislation. They help push it through committees and work to get it passed. These bills serve their interests, not ours. Not by a long shot. We get the crumbs.  We don't have lobbyists to represent our interests or to write bills for our wellbeing.

Corporations do their best to evade paying their fair share of taxes, and while the percentage of what we pay isn't the highest in the world, what we get for our money isn't the best either. Corporations are not "people" despite the Supreme Court's misruling. They do not necessarily represent their employees. Their loyalty is to their corporate officers, shareholders, and ultimately, their bottom line.

Corporations should also pay their fair share of taxes, even if that means establishing a minimum tax rate for "Big Business", plus a penalty for off shoring jobs and then shipping product back into the United States tariff free. Corporate lobbyists should never write legislation. Period. If a corporation or its industry is deemed to be essential to national security, it should be regulated if not nationalized in case of national emergences.

We have the highest incarceration rate in the world. We make the Chinese look like truants! We need to take the profit out of the prison system. We need to focus on reform, especially for first and non-violent offenders. We need to invest in reform and post incarceration support, such as helping with remedial education (GED, etc) and developing employable skills, helping to find stable employment, and periodic follow-up down the road. It's better for all of us in the long run and it's cheaper than building more prisons and housing more prisoners.  

As for the death penalty, I've always supported the "eye for an eye" principal. But, if we're going to take someone's life, let's make damn sure we have the right person. Coming back later and saying "Oops. We're sorry" ain't going to cut it. If there is one iota of doubt, take the death penalty off the table. Let's also make sure we're doing it for the right reasons; that the punishment fits the crime. Let's also make sure that we judge and sentence based on the crime, not on race, gender, income bracket, or other factors.

Prisons should also not be "resorts". A wealthy white collar crook shouldn't be sent to a less restrictive and better quality prison than a poor one trying to survive. Perhaps if the white collar crook had to spend their time with the "common riff raff", it might change their perspective. Everyone should be subject to the same laws and same penalties. No more two tier judicial system; one for the rich and one for the rest of us.

Prisons should be, as much as possible, self sufficient, including growing as much of their own food as possible. All prisoners should be required to take courses in civics and social behavior, and when possible, pay restitution to their victims. Finally, they should not have "state-of-the-art" gyms and weightlifting equipment. The last you should want is murderers and rapists getting bigger and stronger!

But none of this means anything unless we take back our country from the ruling Oligarchs who are taking this Corportracy that used to be our country  down the road to a neo-fascist surveillance dystopia.  Unless we do, the only thing that will change is the speed by which things will get worse.

They tried to frighten us with words like "socialism", which they equate with "Communism" or (wrongly) with Hitler and "Nazism" (a totally different political ideology). Why? It threatens their ability to control. They use these words because they create images which frighten people in lieu of what they actually mean---democracy, which  puts control  in the hands of people, which is their ultimate fear.

Ideally, socialism is control by the people. In practice, however, it's controlled by the state. While I don't consider myself a "socialist" and prefer a low intrusive democratic government, I do believe that there are some things the state should do or can do more effectively, as did some of the Founding Fathers.

There are features which were once considered "socialist" or even "Communist" just a few generations ago which I support such as Social Security, the right to organize and bargain, having a safe work environment, clean water and air, anti-child labor laws, COLAs, women's suffrage, equal rights and equal pay (which still has yet to be obtained), unemployment insurance, and so forth. 

When it comes to a minimum wage, we forget that it was established for entry level jobs and help people get started in the job market. It was never intended to a "living wage" (to support a family for instance). Ultimately, the job market is the best place to establish an acceptable wage. If no one takes a job for the pay you're offering, then maybe you need to do it yourself or offer more.

As an aside, I also like worker co-ops. In many cases, it isn't just a matter of the employees knowing how to run a company at least as well as the former owners, it's a way to keep the company open and people employed. Companies are likely to do better when everyone has a stake in its success.

I think that America, like all other developed nations, should have a minimum national insurance plan. Not all employers can afford insurance for their employees, especially small businesses.  Without one, we often lose the local "mom and pop" businesses to mega corporations.

A basic national insurance plan, like single payer, would help to level the playing field between small companies who can't afford insurance and the larger ones who can. Individuals could purchase additional insurance on the open market to suit their specific needs. I should add that all taxpayer based jobs should be required to have the same insurance as the rest us, including Congress, which is exempt.

I also believe that the Federal Government only has powers designated to it by the states, and not that it has all the powers except those specifically reserved by the states. In other words, a smaller and more decentralized federal government. I believe that the closer you are to the source of a problem, the easier it is to solve. Therefore, we need to focus on solutions at the state and local levels as much as possible.

There are things we can do to reclaim our nation, as I mentioned above, but there are some other things we should push for too. We need to restructure our tax system and adopt either a flat or consumption tax, in addition to establishing a minimum tax for global corporations.

Corporate lobbyists, consultants, or advisors, should not have a hand in writing any legislation or make recommendations about which bills to support. Corporations are not "people" and money is not "free speech". Therefore, we need to rescind Citizens United and remove virtually unlimited corporate funding of elections.

Any tax increase proposals, as well as fee or rate changes, should be subject to a public vote. To paraphrase the TV commercial says, "it's our money and we want a say how".  We need to end partisan gerrymandering. We need to level the election play field by making all election requirements the same regardless of registration. Appointment to boards or commissions should be based on qualifications only, not party control.  Citizen's initiatives and referendums should be a matter of law.

Aside to term limits, Rank Choice voting should also be added to provide a more equitable choice of candidates. Some public offices should be non-partisan such as Treasurer, Secretary of State, County Clerk, County Judge, or  Secretary of Agriculture. For that matter, once elected, politicians should resign their party affiliation. They're there to represent everyone, not just their party, which means everyone else is taxed without representation (proportional representation would fix that).

These are but a few of the things we must do, to restore our country to the American People and make this a top tier nation once again. As it is, America will soon be no different from any other second level nation with pockets of cities and communities which look like they belong to a third world nation than to the United States. It won't be easy, but I think it's a worthy cause. I hope you do too.

 

OECD Better Life Index


Sustainable Public Transit


World Happiness Report

 

The Healthiest Places To Live


What Percentage of the U.S. Population is Incarcerated?


Which countries have the death penalty and how many peopleare executed every year?


Life Expectancy of the World's Population