The world is becoming more complicated every day.
The impact of certain 21st Century social, political, financial, and religious events and trends has resulted in a greater number of conflicts, suffering, and anxiety.
Below are eight trends that are dramatically affecting Americans and many around the world. They pose an imminent threat to peaceful coexistence of people in many nations.
1. Tyranny versus democracy.
Many people in countries around the world are reconsidering which type of government they prefer. In the Middle East, the Arab Spring has turned the political systems in the region upside down. Corrupt and despotic regimes in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, and others have either been toppled, or will be in the near future.
Decisions that successfully rebellious groups must make include who will lead the country and what type of government will be created. Will the government be democratically elected or will the strongest leader emerge as yet another dictator?
The success of de novo democracies has been mixed in recent years. Yet, every one of these newly formed countries has affected its region and the world, in some cases. Often times, age-old cultural feuds are rekindled and result in civil wars, and in some cases citizens become refugees. In other instances, human rights violations and even genocide are commonplace drawing the attention of the global community. But should outsiders interfere with the internal affairs of another nation?
This is a question that is being asked on a daily basis.
2. The role of government.
In America, a huge battle is underway. Our federal bureaucracy has been increasing the amount of services provided without due consideration of the economic consequences of such strategies. The citizens of this country always want more. Seniors demand medical and financial security in the form of Medicare and Social Security. Members of lower socioeconomic groups want universal health care and a myriad of social programs to combat poverty. Our urban educational systems are in disarray, and more money is being requested and thrown at problems every day with little impact.
The effect of ballooning entitlements is perfectly clear: greater deficits, increasing and unsustainable level of national debt, and higher taxes on the wealthy. Our country has not yet come to grips with the fact that social services, if they continue to increase at the current rate, will bankrupt the U.S.
Of course, if you believe that our country can borrow ever-increasing amounts of money and/or print money without limits, worry not.
The struggle between the demand for more services, taxes, and debt has now come to a head in Washington. President Obama fired the first shot by enacting $600 billion of new taxes on the rich, while the group being taxed stood by and allowed conservative Republicans to fight the fight. A small increase in taxes was an important symbolic concession, but it is totally irrelevant in relation to the scope of the country’s national debt crisis.
Where will this battle take us in the future? If America decides to fund entitlements in perpetuity at the current levels, the middle class will need to pony up alongside the wealthy, no doubt about it. Such a decision will take the country a long way towards socialism. See David Brooks’ op-ed piece on this subject.
3. Oil and terrorism.
Our nation and the entire world have been dramatically affected by the far-reaching implications of terrorism that emanates from the Middle East. It is a trend that has been funded with oil money, for sure. Security efforts in most Western countries increased exponentially at great financial cost over the past decade. Before 9/11, travelling by air was a minor inconvenience, now it is an ordeal.
Terrorism is funded to a large degree by oil producing countries. It seems counter productive that countries in the Middle east support the murder of innocent people, but there are important issues at stake that partially explain this phenomenon. For one thing, terrorism is greatest in regions, countries, and localities where western and Israeli influence is prevalent. Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine are the principal hotspots in this regard. The U.S. presence and support of Israel have been the impetuous of many attacks.
But, there are other reasons for terrorism that extend 1,000 years into the past. Terrorism is often perpetrated on people because of racial and religious prejudices. Saudis support Sunnis in places where Shiites are in control. Iranians support Shia in places where Sunnis are in control. It is a vicious cycle that has no end. Even after the U.S. decreases its presence in the Middle East over the next few years, the violence will continue costing thousands of lives, billions of dollars, and great anxiety. All of this will be made possible by the enormous amount of money derived from the sale of fossil fuel.
4. The separation of church and state.
One of the greatest gifts our forefathers gave to America is the concept of keeping the influence of religion out of government. Unfortunately, there seems to be a growing movement to reverse this trend in the U.S.
The evidence is clear that there is increased religious influence in America as the dialogue about gay rights, abortion, and other social values rages on. Ironically, religious conservatives in this country are supportive of more government regulation and intrusion into our private lives relating to these issues; government interference is generally something the group eschews. The problem with ongoing debate about social issues is that it diverts our attention from more important temporal items that have a direct impact on our country.
In other places around the world, where religion is an integral part of government, the impact can be disastrous. When a society is forced to choose between its god and its country, anything can happen. Many situations are corrupted by inexcusable misinterpretations of the Scriptures. Sometimes criminal and anti-social behavior is condoned and bigotry, terrorism, and suffering result from religious zealotry.
Interestingly, lesser-developed societies are more dependent upon religious leaders. It is a huge responsibility that is too often misguided.
5. Global economic vulnerability.
As we have learned, the global financial community is fragile and in danger of crashing on any given day. The failure of a large financial institution or the shut-down of a major securities exchange could throw the entire world into a large sell-off and result in the loss of trillions of dollars in a matter of hours.
Equally important is the negative impact of “bubbles.” These are represented by the unjustified exuberance of investors about specific asset classifications. For instance, the housing bubble, which exaggerated the price of real estate worldwide, was a large contributor to the current economic crisis. Other bubbles could arise in countless other areas such as commodities, gold, currencies, etc.
Exacerbating the problem is the inability of regulators around the world to work together to avoid the next calamity. Frankly, it is difficult for U.S. regulators and legislators to collaborate to anticipate future problems.
6. Special interests and radicalism.
Frequently, the zeal of a special interest group causes the organization to adopt radical and inflexible perspectives. The most obvious example is the gun controversy. Both sides on the issue are incapable of negotiating effectively with each other to decrease the risk of future events like Newtown, Conn. The passion of those who support gun ownership is only equaled by those who want to control it. The latter has been turbocharged by recent tragedies at schools and other places where no one expects to encounter violence. The result is a “Mexican Standoff” and little hope of substantive reform that could save lives.
Special interests have too much control over what goes on in Washington. The problem relates to the role of political contributions and ability to engage voters. SCOTUS has decided that making a political donation to a campaign is protected by the free speech amendment in the Constitution. So, there is no relief in sight for those who would like to see less money in our political process.
7. Human rights.
Human rights violations are a global problem. For my purposes, I will restrict my comments to the U.S.
It is inconceivable that America still has so many unresolved human rights issues. Bigotry is less obvious than in the past, but it is still a scourge in this county. Frankly, some people just do not respect others who have a different skin color, religion, culture, or whatever. It is shameful, and hopefully, it will change as more bigots and hate-mongers die off.
But there are a few issues that can be rectified now. The most obvious one is gay marriage. It is inevitable that same-sex unions will be the law of the land momentarily. The diehards who continue to resist this wave of equality should give it up.
Any kind of discrimination based upon race, religion, sexual preference, etc. should be strongly discouraged by more aggressive prosecution. It is time to end all forms of unequal treatment of Americans.
Any result of delays in the efforts to achieve equality will result in social unrest. The logical endgame of intolerance is an unhappy society.
8. Government stagnation.
In the U.S., we have two political parties that have done so much to make this country the greatest in the world. Unfortunately, in recent years, the goals of the parties have become so divergent that our government is incapable of providing effective leadership and support to its citizens through negotiation. As with most controversies neither side is right or wrong.
During the 200 plus years since our nation was founded, government officials recognized that compromise and comity would enable the country to move forward for the benefit of Americans and many other people around the world who depend on us.
Washington is mired in partisanship as government has become more personal and ideological. And, our representatives are not doing the people’s business. Senators and Congress people are elected to represent their constituencies, not their conscience. They must vote the wishes of those who put them into office. These elected officials should be unseated if this does not take place, even if the official is expert at bringing home the “bacon” based upon seniority.
Incumbents are experienced and hold the important positions in Congress. Voters should not be seduced by the power of career politicians and their access to federal funding. Rather, voters should elect people who will respond to their needs. The alternative is less accountability about the day-to-day business of governing and legislating.