Monday, August 10, 2009

The USA As Failed State

The journal Foreign Policy conducts a yearly survey to highlight failed states. Top of the list for 2009 is Somalia, followed by Zimbabwe, Sudan and Chad. The USA, lodged between France and Singapore, is ranked 159. The least failed states are the Scandinavian democracies with Norway, Finland and Sweden coming in 177, 176 and 175 respectively. The USA, at first glance, seems to be in a relatively good position. But look again. Amongst the measures used to construct this index are group paranoia, uneven economic development, progressive deterioration of public services, security apparatus acting as state within a state and the rise of factionalized elites. When we look at these in more detail as they apply to the USA, the long-term trend is not comforting.

There is intense group paranoia in this country, especially strong on the right as the wackiest are given voice by talk radio hosts eager to boost their ratings and by a Republican Party seeking traction through partisan politics. An open society needs a free marketplace of ideas, but what we are witnessing is the rise of voices that demonize and delegitimize that necessary interchange. Inequality has increased in the past thirty years in a trend that transcends which party is in power. The very wealthy have gotten even richer while rising costs and stagnant incomes squeeze the middle class. The stock market meltdown wiped out many of the assets of the middle class. Public services are also getting worse. To fly from Asia or Europe to arrive at a USA airport is to fly from the First World to the Third World of public services. Public infrastructure has been underfunded and poorly managed. There has been an assault on government waged since Reagan. And in the wake of 9/11 security measures have trumped individual liberties. State security has been beefed up, extended and deepened. And there is the rise of factionalized elites. Finance capital is now dominant. Goldman Sachs personnel, whether former, present or future, now dictate fiscal policy. And the political elites are less and less familiar with the everyday experience of average Americans.

So scoring the USA on the indices of a failed state:

• group paranoia--check
• uneven economic development--check
• progressive deterioration of public services--check
• security apparatus acts as state within a state--check
• rise of factionalized elites--check.

The USA is not yet a failed state. But it is heading in that direction. Failed states begin somewhere. The USA in its present crisis could be at a starting point on the road to failure. For those who have ever wondered about when and why great empires and nations fall, perhaps they now have an opportunity to witness this process unfold.