Diagnosing the Supercommittee By Michael Shank Politico[WEBSITE VERSION] November 25, 2011
With Washington blaming supercommittee failure on partisanship and lackluster presidential leadership, it is worth taking a different track, examining the system not the parties operating within it.
This is important for America because it’s drifting from fundamentals that kept it strong. The Institute for Economics and Peace recently took a macro view, identifying eight economic, governance and cultural attitudes and institutions essential in any peaceful democratic state.
How does the U.S. fare within these taxonomies? The first, ironically, has to do with a “well-functioning government”. Congress is at record lows, with nine percent approval. But dig deeper, beyond political partisanship, to understand poor functioning. The lack of electoral and campaign finance reform ensures that a two-party system, beholden to industry interests, prevails.
What about other factors, like a “sound business environment”? The fact that industries remain unregulated, tax havens and loopholes abound, and monopolies undermine local economies, means that the environment is good for some but not all business. It also means that the markets are unpredictable and insecure.
The third factor requires the “equitable distribution of resources”. Reports by the Congressional Budget Office, the United Nations, and the U.S. Census Office show that inequality is at its highest since the Great Depression. A minority maintains America’s wealth. The majority struggles to survive. This must change: inequality brings a host of social and health problems (e.g. crime, illness, addiction, mortality, obesity, etc.).
The fourth - “acceptance of the rights of others” - is an America tenet. Human rights are core principles, as are tolerance for ethnic, linguistic, religious, and socio-economic diversity. This doesn’t always play out. Classism and racism continue, as does the propensity to marginalize groups during wartime (e.g. Japanese American internment, Islamophobia).
The fifth - “good relations with neighbors” - is a toss up. We know that countries with positive relations are more peaceful and politically stable, but where does that leave the U.S.? Next-door neighbors are friendly (sans drug and gun wars), but America is at war with at least six foreign countries and on near-war terms with another six.
The sixth - “free flow of information” - sounds up America’s alley. Yet the crackdown of Wikileaks and the administration’s classification of more documents that any in history tells a different story. While our media is generally free, the mergers and acquisitions have left mainstream media in the hands of few.
The seventh - “high Levels of education” - finds America with consistently poor math, science and reading scores, as compiled by the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment. Most rich nations outperform America on education, leaving it with less comparative human capital and competitiveness.
Lastly, the eighth - “low levels of corruption” - may seem safe for America but the level of purchased influence found in corrupt societies is equally apparent in our political system. It’s just legal here.
In sum, America has work to do on the structures that can help it promote resilience, overcome adversity, and peacefully resolve internal economic, cultural, and political conflict. It is time for a supercommittee of super proportions.
Michael Shank is US Vice President at the Institute for Economics and Peace.