Summary: The FM website provides two kinds of services: forecasts and news. The forecasting record is quite good. See the hits listed here, and the misses here. With the news, we try to highlight emerging stories before the major media. Updates on these themes get posted on twitter (to follow see the top of the right side menu bar). Today we review recent news about some big stories.
- Breaking & rebuilding of America’s social fabric
- Privatization of violence
- DoD shows its indifference to the welfare of America’s soldiers
- About the shameful US health care system
(1) Breaking & rebuilding of America’s social fabric
A post developing this theme: An Independence Day special report: I have seen the New America!, 5 July 2013
The first light shown on this decay: “The Strange Disappearance of Civic America“, Robert D. Putnam (Prof Public Policy, Harvard), The American Prospect, Winter 1996
An update, showing that it grows and deepens: “The Strange Disappearance of Cooperation in America” by Peter Turchin (Prof in Ecology and Mathematics, U CT; see Wikipedia) — Part One and Part Two — Excerpt:
Putnam’s thesis has been quite controversial. But during the two decades since he first proposed it various measures of social capital continued to decline, strengthening his case. In some cases there were substantial up and down fluctuations, as with trust in government (the graph above). Yet note how each trough is lower than the preceding one, and peaks reach nowhere near the level of confidence last observed during the 1960s.
While Putnam’s focus was primarily on the associational life of ordinary Americans, the changes that he documented about unraveling social cooperation have affected American social life at all levels, including state and federal governance and relations between economic classes (e.g., employers and employees). … What we have then, is a ‘strange disappearance’ of cooperation at all levels within the American society: from the neighborhood bowling leagues to the national-level economic and political institutes.
… In our search of explanations (which is the first and necessary step before proposing remedies) we need to look for fundamental factors that affect social cooperation. … Social cooperation waxes and wanes in most complex societies, following a long cycle. This is a generic pattern in not only our own society but also in ancient and medieval empires. Where there recurrent empirical patterns, there must be general explanations. This means that things are not hopeless – we can figure out why cooperation is declining, and how to fix this problem.
(2) Privatization of violence
The most recent post in this series: Watch as plutocrats mold us into a New America, a nation more pleasing to their sight, 18 July 2013
Powerful, detailed analysis: “On the Decriminalization of Private Violence“, Andrew Kydd (Assoc Prof U WI-Madison), 18 July 2013 — Excerpt:
The United States is now embarked on an unprecedented experiment, in that it is a strong state, fully capable of suppressing private violence, but it is increasingly choosing not to. Freely elected state legislatures are enacting laws to encourage people to own and carry guns. New ‘stand your ground’ and self-defense provisions are being passed and interpreted to make it much easier to kill someone without legal penalty. It is now possible to arm oneself, pursue a stranger in a public place, engage in a confrontation with that person, and then if they throw a punch, possibly in response to one’s own, to shoot them dead with impunity as far as the state is concerned.
By encouraging private armament and weakening the penalties for private violence, the US is entering new territory, as a strong state that no longer chooses to prevent private bloodshed.
An implication of this process that has so far been underappreciated is that as private violence becomes more widespread, it will become increasingly organized, if still on private lines. Fantasists of the libertarian right and the anarchist left alike are prey to the same delusion, that is, that the absence of the state will lead to a paradise for individuals. In fact the absence of the state leads to the tyranny of smaller scale private organizations and the disempowerment of the individual.
In places like medieval Europe, Sicily or Afghanistan, unaffiliated individuals are easy prey and quickly seek the protection of local strongmen. That protection is not free, in fact it is usually very expensive. There is no reason to think the same will not happen when the state voluntarily stops punishing private violence. In fact one can anticipate the full spectrum of responses to anarchy that have been displayed in other settings. The rich will employ private mercenary forces to provide security, as their forebears have done since time immemorial. The poor will join gangs that offer protection in exchange for loyalty and military service. The middle class will form vigilante organizations based on localities. Clans or extended families may return to prominence, as kinship ties form an excellent basis for the management of small-scale violence.
What this will look like in the context of a state that could but doesn’t prevent violence is uncertain. Perhaps the state will step in to curb larger scale organizations. However, it seems unlikely that the armed individual will have much ability to defend him or herself. Instead, predation by one organization will be kept in check only by an equally strong opposing organization. Gang warfare in urban areas is a harbinger, but street gangs will find the terrain contested not just by other gangs, but by vigilante groups, clans and the private security firms of the rich. Retaliatory killing will be the primary deterrent to murder, and indeed it will be all quite justifiable as self-defense because the organizations will pose real and imminent threats to each other. Hobbes thought an absolute sovereign preferable to such a condition. A well-functioning democracy that outlaws murder would be better than either.
(3) DoD shows its indifference to the welfare of America’s soldiers
Four years ago we highlighted this problem: Did exposure to “burn pits” in Iraq and Afghanistan harm our troops?, 1 July 2009
Four years later the pits continue to burn, harming our troops: “IG report: Military burn pits may endanger health“, AP, 11 July 2013 — Opening:
A military camp in Afghanistan continues to use open-air burn pits to dispose of its solid wastes, potentially endangering the health of the nearly 13,500 people working there and violating the Pentagon’s own regulations and guidance, federal investigators say.
(4) About the shameful US health care system
A long-standing theme on the FM website. Here is an example: The core truth about our health care system, 3 April 2010
Update on this sad story: “U.S. Health Disadvantage is Not Inevitable“, Brendan Saloner (PhD Health Care, Harvard; postdoc at U PA; bio), 20 July 2013 — review of the shameful results of current research. Summary:
Two major research studies in the last year compare health indicators in the United States with other major upper-income countries. Both exhaustively review government statistics and published articles. The first study, from the Institute of Medicine, draws on a panel of luminary demographers and epidemiologists to explore the causes of U.S. health disadvantage (editors Laudan Aron and Steven Woolf). The second study, from the Global Burden of Disease Group (led by Christopher Murray), applies complex modeling to assess the relative consequences of different diseases and their sequelae on premature death and disability.
The two reports reach the same conclusion: the United States fares worse than virtually every other rich country across a broad set of outcomes – babies in the United States are more likely to die at birth; teenagers are more likely to have unintended pregnancies, to be the victims of homicide, and to die in a car accident; and adults are more likely to experience diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, drug overdoses, and HIV.
Both reports note that although life expectancy is increasing in the United States, disability is not decreasing as people live longer – adults are living slightly longer, but those additional years are lived with a lower quality of life. Moreover, life expectancy gains in other countries have been much more impressive over recent decades, leading to a widening health life expectancy gap between the United States and its counterparts.