If only the American media could get over Benghazi, the IRS and the other fabricated “scandals” that fuel 24-hour news channels, they might notice that the country is sinking into a Third World society. Sinking fast.
Growing up in Jamaica when the island was just emerging from its colonial status, I saw first-hand how dire conditions can be in such a society.
Back in 1951, when I was not quite 17, I won a scholarship to go to school in England for a couple of terms (known as “semesters” in America). As part of the deal I, and the other 25 World Youth Forum delegates, participated in various forums all over that country. At one forum, I was asked to describe the “lowest standard of living” in my country. I had no trouble figuring out what that was.
A shanty town (like the one pictured above) was spreading through Western Kingston, and the “standard of living” there was not only the lowest in Jamaica but also among the lowest in the world. I knew it as “The Dungle” (from dung hill?), but I think it was later called Back o’ Wall. No sanitary facilities, of course. No running water. Just a jumble of foul-smelling shacks with an occasional “mauger dawg” trotting furtively along a garbage choked alleyway. Chickens foraged amongst the trash, and you might have heard a goat’s plaintive cry. In the midst of this germ-infested rubble, naked toddlers scavenged, ragged children scurried about and somber mothers with babes in arms waited … and waited … for something to feed their families with.
At the time, no government programs existed to ameliorate their misery. The bottom line: no jobs, no money, no food, no hope.
In contrast, privileged Jamaicans (as well as British and American expatriates) could enjoy cocktails at one of the island’s yacht clubs and build mansions on the hills overlooking the city.
I don’t know whether The Dungle still exists. I doubt it. Slums still persist, of course, but I imagine Jamaica – as a proud, independent nation – has progressed beyond the abominable conditions I spoke about in 1951. I know the Jamaican people – most of them, anyway – are striving (despite the hostility of global institutions) to build a more benign society, in which the island’s bounty is accessible to all who are prepared to work for it.
In other words, Jamaica is struggling to emerge from the Third World.
Meanwhile, in America – the land of plenty, the self-proclaimed beacon of freedom and compassion – I see an ominous trend in the opposite direction. With a brutal “sequester” in place, Congress is taking advantage of the mandatory budget cuts to slash aid to the needy. Today comes news (from reporter Thom Hartmann, via Truthout) that the Senate Agricultural Committee has cut $4 billion of food aid from the Farm Bill, for example – and that’s just a tiny part of the planned deprivation for the most vulnerable members of society.
The House Agricultural Committee is about to cut the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program by $21 billion! That money feeds nearly two million low-income Americans, including seniors and working families with children.
Overall, GOP House members have proposed almost $40 billion of cuts to the farm bill.
That’s par for the course in today’s America. The Republican “austerity” program has already brought massive cuts to unemployment insurance, meals on wheels, public housing, and public education.
In short, America’s social safety net is under attack. At the same time, America’s rich are getting obscenely richer. The New York Times reported last July that a new study had shown just how skewed income distribution had become. Here’s an excerpt:
Compared to the last generation, wealth has been become more concentrated in the hands (and bank accounts and houses) of the richest Americans. Exactly why is debatable. The global markets for labor and capital have changed, of course. And the lower tax rate on capital gains — which disproportionately helps richer people, who have more capital to invest — has helped the richest amass ever higher net worths.
A recent article in Mother Jones Magazine puts it this way:
A huge share of the nation’s economic growth over the past 30 years has gone to the top one-hundredth of one percent, who now make an average of $27 million per household. The average income for the bottom 90 percent of us? $31,244.
The Republicans must be celebrating. The society they are working so hard to create is taking shape.
It’s a Third World society.