Economic stagnancy is fostering high levels of unemployment and hampering retirement of our debt. Given these conditions, it is unlikely we will be able to effectively fund solutions to our serious socio-ecological difficulties, many of which threaten our very survival. Further deficit spending and/or increased taxation will only substitute one form of problem for another. Political/ideological polarization and Global Burnout Syndrome are suppressing our ability to devise an effective response to our complex situation.
Since its near collapse in 2008, the global economy has struggled toward recovery. In the U.S., corporations have been able to improve their financial positions through downsizing commensurate with reduced market demand, but the required cost-cutting has contributed to a disturbingly high 9.1% unemployment rate. This high unemployment level helps perpetuate the economic stagnancy. Except for growing markets in developing areas such as China and India, there are no indications that robust economic growth will return in the foreseeable future.
In May of 2011 the U.S. national debt was computed to be $14.32 trillion which is 98% of the nation’s 2010 gross domestic product (GDP). By 2020, ninety two cents of every federal tax dollar will be consumed by debt interest payments, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. The direness of the debt situation lead Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the U.S. credit outlook to negative in April of 2011. Also in April, the IMF openly criticized the U.S. for its huge debt and lack of a promising strategy for reducing the problem, which could actually contribute to further destabilization of the global economy. Under present circumstances, the U.S. lacks the financial reserves needed to fund significant steps of progress or to effectively respond to extreme weather and other unforeseen destructive events.
In combination, our sluggish economy and staggering national debt will prevent effective funding of solutions to the world’s serious socio-ecological difficulties now gathering like storm clouds on the horizon:
- Extreme weather losses which are increasing more rapidly than global income. At the current rate, global bankruptcy could occur as soon as 2045.
- Sea levels that are expected to rise 35 inches by 2100, displacing millions of people and submerging millions of acres of land.
- Other climate change-related difficulties including:
- Increased cancer, respiratory illness and other health problems
- Decreased crop yields
- Forestation losses and shifts
- Loss of bio-diversity including possible mass marine extinction
- Shortages of fresh water, catastrophically low for 4.5 billion people by 2032.
- Global-scale food shortages due to population explosion and the growing demand for increased food quality, resulting in the need for a 70% increase in farm production by 2050.
- 2 billion more people than the Earth can safely support by 2050.
- The increasing likelihood of pandemic illness due to:
- The crowding of people in urban areas.
- The increase of international travel to more than 2 million people per day.
- The increased use of antibiotics and resultant breeding of “super bugs”.
- Worsening conditions in areas of abject poverty.
- Increasing likelihood of international conflict due to the:
- Great disparity in the distribution of wealth in the world.
- World’s significant economic pressures.
- Increasing scarcity of energy, food, and fresh water.
- Increasing number of armed conflicts which have doubled since 1945.
- The aging infrastructure, which in the U.S. alone will cost $2.2 trillion over five years to repair.
- A quarter of the nations bridges are considered structurally deficient.
- Seven billion gallons of drinking water is leaked daily.
- Billions of gallons of untreated waste-water enter the nation’s waterways annually.
- Ongoing significant damage and disruption to society and the environment posed by unpredictable occurrences such as the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and Japan’s 2011 earthquake and Tsunami, and recent severe weather experienced in the U.S. South and Midwest.
Currently, as relates to the U.S. economy, a great division exists between liberal and conservative thinkers. At the extremes, liberals favor spending even if it requires increased deficits and/or taxes, while conservatives want the deficit reduced even if critical programs are curtailed. The ideological rigidity permeating this debate is restricting our lawmakers to a dialogue based on either/or thinking, in which only two possible solutions can arise. Our present difficulties require a solution that bridges the gulf between the two positions and allows us to fund forward progress even while avoiding deficit spending or increased taxes. This can be accomplished only through an approach that creates vast additional wealth even from a sluggish economy. However, such a miraculous solution is unlikely to arise from the polarized thinking currently being exhibited by our decision makers.
In January of 2011, the Davos World economic Forum reported that the world is suffering from a state of “global burnout syndrome” in which we have not yet regained stability in the wake of the financial crises, and do not have the strength needed to deal with our complex and interrelated problems. Therefore, we are likely to experience extra difficulty in charting a course through our current situation which is a complicated tangle of intertwined issues (economic stagnancy, unemployment, massive debt, socio-ecological challenges, and political dysfunction).