Needed: indicators to measure injustice and social decay
In the Public Interest
Economic indicators – data points, trends, and micro-categories – are the widgets of the big information industry. By contrast, indicators for our society’s democratic health are not similarly compiled, aggregated and reported. Its up and down trends are presented piecemeal and lack quantitative precision.
We can get the process started and lay the basis for qualitative and quantitative refinement. Years ago, when we started “re-defining progress” and questioning the very superficial GDP and its empirical limitations, professional economists took notice. Unfortunately, with few exceptions, economists cling to the yardsticks that benefit and suit the plutocrats and CEOs of large corporations.
Here are my offerings in the expectation that readers will add their own measures:
A society is decaying when liars receive mass media attention while truth-tellers are largely ignored. Those who are chronically wrong with outrageous and baseless predictions are featured on news broadcasts, op-ed pages, and as convention and conference speakers. On the other hand, those who forewarn and are proven to be accurate are not regaled, but instead, they are excluded from the media spotlight and significant gatherings. Consider the treatment of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz post-Iraq invasion, compared to people like Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn who factually warned Washington not to attack illegally a country that didn’t threaten us.
A society is decaying when rampant corruption is tolerated, and its perpetrators are rewarded with money, votes and praise. When President Eisenhower’s chief of staff, former New Hampshire Governor Sherman Adams, accepted a vicuña coat from a textile manufacturer, he was forced to resign. The daily corruption of Trump and the Trumpsters towers beyond measure over Adams’ indiscretion. Yet calls for Trump and his cronies to resign are rare and anemic. Tragically, the law and the norms of decency have done little to curb the corrupt, criminogenic, and criminal excesses of Trump & company. Even government prosecutors and inspectors general have been fired, chilled and sidelined by Trump and his toady, Attorney General Barr.
A society is decaying when a growing number of people believe in fantasies instead of realities. Social media makes this an ever more serious estrangement from what is actually happening in the country and in the world. Believing in myths and falsehoods leads to political servitude, economic disruption and social dysfunction. The corrupt concentration of power ensues.
An expanding economy focusing increasingly on “wants and whims” while ignoring the meeting of basic “needs and necessities” shatters societal cohesiveness and deepens miseries of many people. Adequate housing, healthcare, food, public services, education, mass transit, health & safety standards and environmental protections are the prerequisites for a humane democracy. The economy is in shambles for tens of millions of Americans, including hungry children. Minimal economic security is beyond the reach of tens of millions of people in our country.
With few exceptions, the richer the wealthy become, the more selfish they behave, from severely diminished contributions to charities to the failure to exert leadership to reverse the breakdown of society. Take all the failures of the election machinery from obstructing voters to simply counting the votes honestly with paper records. The U.S. Senate won’t vote to give the states the $4 billion needed for administering the coming elections despite the COVID-19-driven need for expanded voting by mail. The Silicon Valley undertaxed mega-billionaires could make a $4 billion patriotic donation to safeguard the voting process in November and not even feel it.
Consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader grew up in Winsted and is a graduate of The Gilbert School.