| Yesterday's New York Times article on local government cutbacks produced a good response from Glenn Greenwald, who called it an example of imperial collapse:
Does anyone doubt that once a society ceases to be able to afford schools, public transit, paved roads, libraries and street lights -- or once it chooses not to be able to afford those things in pursuit of imperial priorities and the maintenance of a vast Surveillance and National Security State -- that a very serious problem has arisen, that things have gone seriously awry, that imperial collapse, by definition, is an imminent inevitability?
Greenwald cites examples of Utah considering the elimination of 12th grade and the Wall Street Journal article about Midwestern states ripping up paved roads to save money as further evidence of the broad collapse now engulfing the United States.
We see this here in California as well. Our schools are facing collapse, with mass layoffs, shortened school years, and even closed schools. Cities like Salinas are laying off half their gang task force amidst a worsening gang war, and San Carlos voted to disband its police force due to budget cuts.
This is depressingly familiar to us historians, repeating the same cycle of collapse as experienced by the Roman and Byzantine Empires, numerous Chinese dynasties, and even the Soviet Union. The causes are always the same: money that used to go to fund physical and social infrastructure to spur innovation and prosperity are instead rechanneled to benefit a small elite and grow their wealth and power, at the expense of the viability of the society itself.
Here in California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Republican legislators have promoted this agenda of collapse. Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman are pledging to accelerate the decline - Fiorina vows to make the population sicker and poorer by repealing the new health care law and Whitman plans capital gains tax cuts to channel more wealth to her CEO friends at the expense of schools and libraries across the state.
It's a bizarre pathology when those who benefited from the investments of the mid-20th century then turn around and seek to destroy that very same system. But it flows from the dominant economic policy principle of the day, which is that wealth should be extracted from value created in the past, instead of producing new wealth by creating value for the future.
Our state and national economic policy is one of piracy, where neoliberal government basically uses the wealthy elite as privateers to plunder the wealth of households and public institutions for their own self-interested gain.
And as authors such as Jared Diamond have argued, our society faces the threat of ecological collapse as well. This is linked to the wealth capture problem in many ways - oil companies trying to undermine action on climate change by funding the repeal of our global warming law, or by wealthy developers seeking to destroy our water system by proposing huge water bonds so that they can keep writing checks Mother Nature can't cash.
Ultimately the combination of the aggressive destruction of environment and climate, along with the policies of channeling wealth to the elite at the expense of maintaining our society, will produce a severe crisis in the coming years. Maybe even an outright collapse.
We can stop it by supporting progressive solutions to take our money back and invest in our public institutions, in our future, and in ourselves. But it's going to require us to reject the right-wing policies that have brought us to this point, and the right-wing politicians that are bent on destroying what was once a Golden State.