In preparing for the Children’s Defense Fund conference, I’ve been considering different ways in which I can contribute and how best to share my experiences. While writing to a friend in Germany, I reflected on a whole host of misplaced recriminations and discovered an entire world and schematic which I created in order not to see the reality of American society. The letter, in fact, became a sloughing project. Layer after layer of falsehood and non-caring actions and thoughts came to light.
My friend, a Political Scientist and Prof. Dr. of Economics, and I frequently had enlivened discussions about the state of the U.S. with others. Yesterday, I shamefully realized that I propagated the idea, more times than not, that the U.S. has the system that it deserves and was glad to have “escaped” it. I simplified things to the point that the system was unjust, voters were being disenfranchised by the droves, racism and the 2-year election cycle could in no way ensure positive change. I knew better as I read newspapers and followed the news fervently and was “aware” of the deeper truths.
My simple solution back then in Berlin and from so very far away from the U.S. (geographically, socio-consciously & economically) was that I believed that the country would have to hit rock bottom before it sought real solutions. But in those days and in a country where explaining just how different the U.S. system was to people who had grown up in a society where every government that had governed since Konrad Adenauer (please read his biography & study his achievements), whether left or right leaning, believed it was critical for the country to provide “Startchancengerechtigkeit” (Equal & Fair Start Opportunities) to all of its citizens, it was much easier to explain the American way in basic terms with few nuances. The systems are that different and, honestly, I was voluntarily short-sighted and heartless in an attempt to inoculate myself from my guilty conscience and the responsibilities I had toward people in my country.
The truth, sadly, which I put before my friend’s eyes looks more like this: The country has already hit rock bottom and is falling deeper. Those who can in no way help or defend themselves are suffering not only relative but abject poverty the likes of which he’d seen in the developing world in his travels around the world. Our system, however, has devised creative ways to disguise what is really happening such as renaming socio-economic indicators, making use of inadequate transparency and accountability models (various censuses, key industry data reporting, etc.) as well as the blatant disregard by most mass media outlets of the true causes of the suffering and possible solutions. Furthermore, many people here and abroad still buy into the myth that America does not have true or abject poverty and that America’s recovery hinges on an economic recovery… not systemic change.
So many years ago, I also believed, despite “knowing” better, that the world could and should move on and that the politicians and other integral actors in the U.S. would be forced to follow the lead of the most progressive economies to become competitive again. I was the first to verbally promote that the end of the “pax americana” was a good thing (still do in certain areas). That was a gross fallacy. That belief did not take into account that lessons might not be learned nor did it palpably consider the real human costs involved. What rules here is greed and it has no cares just as it does not have a social conscience or boundaries. I was angry at the country and its political, economic & military actors. But this anger was misguided, unjust, cynical and hypocritical in which no remedies or actions were put forth on my part and did absolutely nothing to help effect positive change.
I also believed that progressive countries and the global environment would be able to withstand a disintegrating U.S., but I’m no longer convinced of that. I have determined that quite the opposite is the case. Rationally speaking, the U.S. is too essential and powerful in key sectors to be decoupled without drastic effects globally. As long as the U.S. is domestically so unhealthy, positive socio-political and economic global change will not be possible.
I wrote further, that although movements are sprouting up all around the country to raise the country’s social conscious, I am convinced that global acknowledgement of what is happening here would lend progressive individuals and movements greatly-needed & desired support. By global acknowledgement, I mean the thorough discussion and in-depth analysis of the state of the U.S. in universities, think tanks, media, etc. overseas. I know this is already taking place in a disjointed manner but it is my hope that something more inter-connected will arise so that if our voices aren’t clearly heard from within, decision-makers will hear it clearly from overseas and know that our truth isn’t an official secret anymore.
For those who are looking to make a difference and are seeking an outlet, perhaps participating in this upcoming conference will inspire you and provide you with a platform for sharing and caring:
Children’s Defense Fund National Conference
from Marion Wright-Edelman & the CDF
Tigress for Equality
The State of America’s Children 2011
A Portrait of Inequality
For those looking for information on how America is measuring up to other “developed” nations and what America is facing, thus, further compounding a need for action:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/30/us-child-poverty-report-unicef_n_1555533.html?ref=impact&utm_hp_ref=twitter&comm_ref=global_motherhood&comm_crv= (Check out actual report link, some interesting stuff on Germany & EU, too)
An interesting Huffington Post Series
Waiting for Superman (a must see film highlighting how lottery systems are now determining the fate of impoverished children)
The Health Industrial Complex
Building a basis for the future with feasible and already existing solutions
It is my firm belief that in order for the U.S. to provide “Equal & Fair Start Opportunities” to everyone, we must change our entire socio-political conscience and economic system. And, in order to do that, not only must our social awareness be raised but our social commitment. Our social awareness of other options and economic systems is imperative; otherwise, we will continue to support a broken socio-economic system that does not provide the necessary basis for ensuring fair and “Equal & Fair Start Opportunities” for children nor provide parents with the necessary network to help them thrive.
If an arch conservative German think tank (the Roman Herzog Institute: http://www.romanherzoginstitut.de/uploads/tx_mspublication/Enste-Soziale_Marktwirtschaft_aus_ordnungspolitischer_Sicht.pdf , please see Die marktwirtschaftliche Loesung angelsaechsischer Praegung table on pg. 12) says that:
1) our social welfare system is weak and rudimentary,
2) that we invest too little in our human capital and
3) that our system doesn’t provide “Equal & Fair Start Opportunities”
then it is glaringly evident that we are on the wrong path with the wrong mindset and the wrong system. Breathe deeply and consider this, Germany has learned from its mistakes. It is not perfect, but it has evolved. It took 2 World Wars, the determined goodwill of a Marshall Plan and domestic upheaval in the form of the Green Revolution as well as other progressive social movements to create this highly socially conscious and dynamic economic powerhouse.
It is a powerhouse that is not only known for its risk-adverse but extremely successful banking system, cutting edge and state of the art green policies and technology, luxury goods which most Americans admire (Braun & Bosch, automobiles: Mercedes, Porsches, Audis, BMWs, VWs, etc.). It is also fundamentally instrumental in keeping the Eurozone with approximately 331,962,860 million inhabitants going and demanding that other member states invest in public infrastructure for their people while providing these very same countries with the financial support to do so. Look closely at what is truly behind the austerity measures that Germany and several other member states are directing towards Greece, Spain and Italy. It goes much deeper than banking and bailouts. They are asking these countries to seriously restructure domestic policies and priorities in order to invest differently in their people which will, in turn, strengthen each nation. In other words, this is not about money but the mismanagement and misdirection of funds away from sectors which would help these countries to a sound future.
As a dear friend recently pointed out, it’s not enough to just focus on the problems… What are the solutions?
Raise social awareness and consciousness
Here are a few of my thoughts which I know would be highly effective in building an informed consensus for systemic change:
Show and teach the 99% that there are better and viable options in the form of social-market economies to reach our dream goals of educating and insuring our children and ourselves with readily accessible visuals and interactive platforms:
1) An in-depth documentary film showing the differences in perspective and outcomes of each countries’ most vulnerable and the middle class – from the cradle to the grave.
2) The development of a centralized poverty network website that brings the real faces and effects of poverty into homes and schools. The website shouldn’t be limited to discussing it, but also provide a platform for the discussion of real solutions and real hope. It must also be global in nature so that people from all around the world can interact and show how things are in their respective country/region. The participation of and links to individuals and organizations fighting poverty and raising awareness should be sought. This will not only facilitate quicker and comprehensive connection but exponentially increase synergies among all involved.
3) Progressive media outlets and spokespersons should also take it upon themselves to analyze social-market economies & their success stories as well as failures, inform their public and make bold suggestions. The inclusion of professionals and experts from socio-economically successful countries from various public sector fields and industries would be essential as they have the insight and know-how.
What comes after awareness and a broad consensus have been built?
The understanding that change must be effected and that everyone must contribute will provide the foundation to make change. In short, the United States needs its own Marshall Plan…a massive Marshall Plan that will bring the nation into the 21st century, with no short-cuts or piecemealed policy fixes. Just as the former plan was not simply an infusion of cash but also greatly relied on an infusion of know-how & technology, this plan would require the mobilization of all resources at hand domestically and internationally.
Although the original plan was crafted to rebuild the nations affected by traditional and overt war and the damage to infrastructure was clearly visible, we, too, are at war. The damage here pervades the entire country. It has laid waste to our cities and rural areas. It has brought our labor force and public infrastructure works such as our educational system, the healthcare system, streets and bridges, etc. to its knees. And, most tellingly, it is reflected in the eyes of the masses – our impoverished and “near poverty” urban, suburban and rural youth, adults and the aged, alike.
In closing and in light of our current perils, I would like to leave you with these important and significantly haunting words that not only breathed new life into Europe, and subsequently birthed social-market economies, but also heralded a new age in transatlantic and international cooperation. Transcript of the Marshall Plan Speech given by George C. Marshall, Secretary of State, at Harvard University on June 5, 1947:
Mr. President, Dr. Conant, members of the board of overseers, ladies and gentlemen, I’m profoundly grateful and touched by the distinction and honor and great compliment accorded me by the authorities of Harvard this morning. I’m overwhelmed, as a matter of fact, and I’m rather fearful of my inability to maintain such a high rating as you’ve been generous enough to accord to me. In these historic and lovely surroundings, this perfect day, and this very wonderful assembly, it is a tremendously impressive thing to an individual in my position.
I need not tell you gentlemen that the world situation is very serious. That must be apparent to all intelligent people. I think one difficulty is that the problem is one of such enormous complexity that the very mass of facts presented to the public by press and radio make it exceedingly difficult for the man in the street to reach a clear appraisement of the situation. Furthermore, the people of this country are distant from the troubled areas of the earth and it is hard for them to comprehend the plight and consequent reactions of the long-suffering peoples, and the effect of those reactions on their governments in connection with our efforts to promote peace in the world.
In considering the requirements for the rehabilitation of Europe the physical loss of life, the visible destruction of cities, factories, mines and railroads was correctly estimated, but it has become obvious during recent months that this visible destruction was probably less serious than the dislocation of the entire fabric of European economy. For the past ten years conditions have been highly abnormal. The feverish preparation for war and the more feverish maintenance of the war effort engulfed all aspects of national economies. Machinery has fallen into disrepair or is entirely obsolete. Under the arbitrary and destructive Nazi rule, virtually every possible enterprise was geared into the German war machine. Long-standing commercial ties, private institutions, banks, insurance companies and shipping companies disappeared, through loss of capital, absorption through nationalization or by simple destruction. In many countries, confidence in the local currency has been severely shaken. The breakdown of the business structure of Europe during the war was complete. Recovery has been seriously retarded by the fact that two years after the close of hostilities a peace settlement with Germany and Austria has not been agreed upon. But even given a more prompt solution of these difficult problems, the rehabilitation of the economic structure of Europe quite evidently will require a much longer time and greater effort than had been foreseen.
There is a phase of this matter which is both interesting and serious. The farmer has always produced the foodstuffs to exchange with the city dweller for the other necessities of life. This division of labor is the basis of modern civilization. At the present time it is threatened with breakdown. The town and city industries are not producing adequate goods to exchange with the food-producing farmer. Raw materials and fuel are in short supply. Machinery is lacking or word out. The farmer or the peasant cannot find the goods for sale which he desires to purchase. So the sale of his farm produce for money which he cannot use seems to him an unprofitable transaction. He, therefore, has withdrawn many fields from crop cultivation and is using them for grazing. He feeds more grain to stock and finds for himself and his family an ample supply of food, however short he may be on clothing and the other ordinary gadgets of civilization. Meanwhile people in the cities are short of food and fuel. So the governments are forced to use their foreign money and credits to procure these necessities abroad. This process exhausts funds which are urgently needed for reconstruction. This a very serious situation is rapidly developing which bodes no good for the world. The modern system of the division of labor upon which the exchange of products is based is in danger of breaking down.
The truth of the matter is that Europe’s requirements for the next three or four years of foreign food and other essential products—principally from America—are so much greater than her present ability to pay that she must have substantial additional help, or face economic, social and political deterioration of a very grave character.
The remedy lies in breaking the vicious circle and restoring the confidence of the European people in the economic future of their own countries and of Europe as a whole. The manufacturer and the farmer throughout wide areas must be able and willing to exchange their products for currencies the continuing value of which is not open to question.
Aside from the demoralizing effect on the world at large and the possibilities of disturbances arising as a result of the desperation of the people concerned, the consequences to the economy of the United States should be apparent to all. It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace. Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist. Such assistance, I am convinced, must not be on a peace-meal basis as various crises develop. Any assistance that this Government may render in the future should provide a cure rather than a mere palliative. Any government that is willing to assist in the task of recovery will find full cooperation, I am sure, on the part of the United States Government. Any government which maneuvers to block the recovery of other countries cannot expect help from us. Furthermore, governments, political parties or groups which seek to perpetuate human misery in order to profit therefrom politically or otherwise will encounter the opposition of the United States.
It is already evident that, before the United States Government can proceed much further in its efforts to alleviate the situation and help start the European world on its way to recovery, there must be some agreement among the countries of Europe as to the requirements of the situation and the part those countries themselves will take in order to give proper effect to whatever action might be undertaken by this Government. It would be neither fitting nor efficacious for this Government to undertake to draw up unilaterally a program designed to place Europe on its feet economically. This is the business of the Europeans. The initiative, I think, must come from Europe. The role of this country should consist of friendly aid in the drafting of a European program and of later support of such a program so far as it may be practical for us to do so. The program should be a joint one, agreed to by a number, if not all European nations.
An essential part of any successful action on the part of the United States is an understanding on the part of the people of America of the character of the problem and the remedies to be applied. Political passion and prejudice should have no part. With foresight, and a willingness on the part of our people to face up to the vast responsibility which history has clearly placed upon our country, the difficulties I have outlined can and will be overcome.
I am sorry that on occasion I have said something publicly in regard to our international situation; I’ve been forced by the necessities of the case to enter into rather technical discussions. But to my mind, it is of vast importance that our people reach some general understanding of what the complications really are, rather than react from a passion or a prejudice or an emotion of the moment. As I said more formally a moment ago, we are remote from the scene of these troubles. It is virtually impossible at this distance merely by reading, or listening, or even seeing photographs or motion pictures, to grasp at all the real significance of the situation. And yet the whole world of the future hangs on a proper judgment. It hangs, I think, to a large extent on the realization of the American people, of just what are the various dominant factors. What are the reactions of the people? What are the justifications of those reactions? What are the sufferings? What is needed? What can best be done? What must be done? Thank you very much.
Please share or forward these thoughts and links with or to whomever might have an interest or feel a calling to contribute whatever and however they can to helping us help ourselves.