Fractured, Not Broken

In medicine, the two words are identical. A fractured bone is broken, period.

But in the minds of ordinary people, these are two different concepts. And in America today, I see the distinction in simple terms.

America is broken is an untruth, aka an alternative fact, put forward by the new US administration. There are obvious asymmetries in American society between the Haves and the Have Nots, but there is no novelty here. Overall things are far from where they should be, but far better that they were. Rust belt? Read the Grapes of Wrath, and listen to Woody Guthrie sing Do-Re-Mi. Then after that, listen to Ry Cooder cover the same tune. Turn it up, it brings tears to your eyes!

By the way, the incredible accordion player happens to be a Mexican, Flaco Jiménez—or rather, what used to be disparagingly called a wetback, an immigrant to the San Antonio area of Texas.

America is fractured, on the other hand, is no factoid. By my definition, the country is split down the middle. FACT. Not because it’s broken, but because the ideology gap is huge, and widening.

A fascinating article by Fareed Zakaria in yesterday’s Washington Post helps put that in perspective. I admit I got sidetracked on the first paragraphs, trying to apply Spoonerisms to some cabinet names.

Sean Hannity could become Hean Sannity, and Steve K. Bannon might turn into BS Kannon. Even DJ himself could become TJ Dump, at a stretch.

But as I’ve said before, what these guys say is only relevant insofar as it gives them the power base to do things. And what they do is extremely worrying. Democracy gave them the soapbox, and populism gave them the popgun. Except this popgun not only fires the traditional cork to silence the media, but is capable of far greater harm.

The Post article uses data compiled by The Economist on the role of individual US states as net donors or recipients of federal funds. I feel a table coming on…

How the fed gets and spends its money (table from The Economist).

How the fed gets and spends its money (table from The Economist).

It turns out that, based on Zakaria’s analysis (the data are from 2009)

…blue states, which voted against Trump in 2016, that fund the red states that voted for him. From 1990 to 2009, Clinton states collectively paid $2.4 trillion more in federal taxes than they received in federal spending, while Trump states altogether received $1.3 trillion more than they paid.

A report from the Brookings Institution, also mentioned in the article, tells us that the areas of the US that voted against Trump produce the vast majority of economic output—true for employment, innovation, start-up companies, and pretty much any other indicator you fancy.

Even more worrying, the less than 500 US counties that voted Clinton generate 64% of GDP, whereas the Trump block (over 2,600 counties) generates the other 36%. These are not alternative facts, but between you, me, and the truck on blocks, who cares?

The fracture is clear: the areas where there is less knowledge, less employment, less education, and greater income inequality are the support base for a range of policies being enacted by the current administration. On the other hand, the areas that thrive better economically are being penalized for their success.

Overall, the kinds of measures now considered, which include changes to immigration, increased protectionism, and ignorance of all the benefits of a sustainable circular economy that emphasizes re-use, waste reduction, and a better environment, will be disastrous.

The one thing they will not do is improve the welfare of the 36% group.

Europeans, my own folk, would do well to dwell on these numbers—I look forward to a similar analysis of the Brexit referendum vote.

To those in Europe who believe that one generation is long enough to analyze the potential of a European Union, as opposed to the previous eighty generations of European war (a well-tested model), the facts above should be food for thought.

The US gained independence in 1776. If in 2011, a federal union can still support a diversity of winners and losers among the states, and work toward a greater balance, what part of a European Union do you not understand?

 

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

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