Alex Henderson writing for AlterNet has written a tour de force in his 10 Ways America Has Come to Resemble a Banana Republic. But exactly what is a Banana Republic? An initial search of Google will tell you all about a cool chain of Gap stores that sell cool clothes having something to do with bananas and the jungle.
But clicking further through Wikipedia we find that, “A Banana republic is a pejorative term for a country with a kleptocratic government.” A kleptocracy is basically a government in which the leading politicians and major holders of corporate assets or wealth use their positions of power to steal money and opportunity from the rest of the population. This occurs out in the open, or with only the slightest veil or sleight of hand such as the Fed’s “Quantitative Easing”, which gives private bankers $85 billion a month of taxpayer money, or $trillion bailouts of “too big to fail” banking, brokerage and insurance institutions who gamble and lose with taxpayer money.
In other words, “a government subject to control fraud that takes advantage of governmental corruption to extend the personal wealth and political power of government officials and the ruling class (collectively, kleptocrats), via the embezzlement of state funds at the expense of the wider population”. So the question is, is America becoming a Banana Republic? Is such a thing imaginable?
In the 2 decades after WWII, in the wake of the New Deal and fresh from the economic stimulus of war, America was on top of the world, the place to go make your fortune and live the American Dream for millions of people around the world. There were ample educational opportunities to become a white collar professional, but also a strong manufacturing base so blue collar workers could earn a good wage, buy a house and support a family in fine middle-class style. There was a strong judicial system that allowed for the just struggle for human rights, which is not to say such rights were not often sadly lacking, as in the struggle for civil rights among African Americans led by Dr. Martin Luther King in the 60’s.
In contrast to America as a land of wonderful opportunity, where hard work would often lead to an upwardly mobile lifestyle, were real Banana Republics such as in many Central and South American countries which were lead by autocratic fascist or brutal socialist/communist regimes.
In a Banana Republic, wealth is concentrated at the very top in a small, privileged minority while the majority of people struggled just to survive. The rule of law and human rights are basically non-existent. Political power and corporate power are intermingled in a web of corruption, leading to the outright killing of dissidents such as we have just witnessed in the US, with the murder of dissident journalist Michael Hastings by the FBI.
So how has America done since its heyday of global hegemony and upward mobility culminating in the American Dream (which it still clings to today, mostly via military control)?
“50 years after King’s “I Have a Dream” speech of 1963, poverty has become much more widespread in the U.S.—and the country has seriously declined not only economically, but also in terms of civil liberties and constitutional rights.”
Alex lists 10 ways in which America is sliding downwards towards a real Banana Republic. This is not only about income inequality, the first point of discussion, but the emergence of the Orwellian nightmare of a fascist corporatocracy run by a security state war apparatus bent on total world domination.
1. “. . . the U.S. now has the highest income inequality and lowest upward mobility of any country in the developed world. . . while the picture grows increasingly bleak for American’s embattled middle-class, “the share of total annual income received by the top 1% has more than doubled from 9% in 1976 to 20% in 2011.”
“”The 400 richest people in the United States have more wealth than the bottom 150 million put together,” said Berkeley Professor and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich on a recent CNNMoney panel on inequality.” This leads to a declining middle-class that is too weak to support the thriving economy Americans have enjoyed over the past 50 years. Life for most Americans is in decline.
2. The US is becoming more and more like a police state, with frighteningly expanded state power to invade privacy, violate the 4th amendment and due process of law, and suppress dissent and the free flow of information. This is seen in the recent, shocking murder of dissident journalist Michael Hastings by the FBI as he was about to release damning information on high-level government corruption to Wikileaks. Let’s hope the information was passed along before Michael’s tragic, criminal murder by the US government.
“The U.S. government has far-reaching powers it did not have prior to 9/11. Between the drug war, the Patriot Act, the National Defense Authorization Act, and warrantless wiretapping, the United States is employing the sorts of tactics that are common in dictatorships.”
3. Since 9/11 and George W. Bush’s heinous declaration of a “war on terror”, like some Medieval religious persecution, the US military began engaging in illegal acts of torture, which it has since refused to correct or properly acknowledge. Much of this torture was shipped offshore to second and third world countries where such acts could be secretly carried out.
Such torture is “a blatant violation of the rules of the Geneva Convention. As Amnesty International observed, “In the years since 9/11, the U.S. government has repeatedly violated both international and domestic prohibitions on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in the name of fighting terrorism.”
4. Due to a highly profitable but failed “war on drugs” (it seems the US knows nothing but “war” to solve problems), the country has built a massive prison system that racially incarcerates mostly black and non-violent drug offenders. The US imprisons more than 700% of its citizens when compared to Canada and other European countries. This is not about justice, it’s about business and profit at the expense of freedom. “Imprisoning people is big business in the United States—and the sizable prison lobby has a major stake in keeping draconian drug laws on the books.”
5. This I believe may be the most important point he makes.
“Corrupt Alliance of Big Business and Big Government
Trends forecaster Gerald Celente has asserted that the U.S. has become a “fascist banana republic” and now lives up to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s definition of fascism: the merger of state and corporate power. . . systemic corruption in the banking sector has not decreased since the financial crash of September 2008 and the bailouts that came after it, it has gotten worse, and too-big-to-fail banks now operate with impunity.
“That union of corporate and state power fits Mussolini’s definition of fascism, which was followed by a long list of dictators in banana republics. In a democratic republic, banks and corporations are not above the law; in a banana republic, they are—and with the legislation and reforms of Roosevelt’s New Deal (which did a lot to prevent banks and corporations from enjoying unchecked power) having been undermined considerably (most notably, by the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933), the U.S. is looking more and more like a banana republic.”
6. An economy that exports manufacturing such as the US guts the middle-class, leading to high unemployment and growing income inequality. While the US government puts out spun and massaged data that says unemployment is now about 7.4%, high by historical standards, because so many people have stopped looking for work, the real unemployment rate is estimated to be triple that amount. “And according to economist/researcher John Williams, . . . the U.S.’ actual unemployment rate was a disturbing 23.3% (which is only slightly less than the unemployment rate in 1932 [during the great depression]). Also, BLS figures don’t take into the account the fact that most of the new jobs created in 2013 have been low-paying service jobs. Clearly, much of the American population is growing poorer while the 1% are doing better than ever.”
7. The only industrialized country to lack universal healthcare, which I and many others believe should be considered a basic human right in a global economy worth 10’s of $trillions. This point seems a bit unclear, however, with 55 million uninsured at some point in 2012, but the Affordable Care Act of 2010 has left only 20 million uninsured? But whatever the exact number, the larger point is that
“doesn’t even count all of the Americans who are underinsured, meaning that they have gaps in their coverage that could easily result in bankruptcy in the event of a major illness. Americans have some of the highest healthcare expenses in the world but are plagued with much worse outcomes than residents of Canada, Australia, New Zealand or any country in Western Europe. From medical bankruptcies and sky-high premiums to a lack of preventative care, the American healthcare system is a disaster on many levels.”
8. Such economic disparity leads also to huge gaps in how long we can expect to live. “Life expectancy for males is 63.9 years in McDowell County, West Virginia compared to 81.6 years in affluent Fairfax County, Virginia or 81.4 in upscale Marin County, Calif. That is especially alarming when one considers that life expectancy for males was 68.2 in Bangladesh in 2012 and 64.3 for males in Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in Latin America, in 2011.” So the poor in the US have shorter lifespans than many 3rd world countries, which is a shocking travesty of moral character for our nation.
“American women on the whole fell from #14 worldwide in life expectancy in 1985 to #41 in 2010. And in September 2012, the New York Times reported that nationally, life expectancy was down to 67.5 years for the least educated white males compared to 80.4 for more educated white males. The Times also reported that life expectancy was 73.5 years for less educated white females compared to 83.9 for more educated white females.”
The highest educated white males living 13 years longer than the least educated? And a 10 year differential for women? Is this the country we want to create as a model for the world, where the privileged few make all the money and get premium healthcare and quality of life?
9. While poverty and food stamps is a hot button for many conservatives, who claim most poor Americans are really just lazy leeches who don’t want to work, the number of people in America falling into poverty is shocking. Sure there are people who abuse the system, but is that the real problem when we’re spending $7trillion dollars on wars and a global security apparatus and feeding bankers $trillion a year?
“with millions of Americans having slipped into poverty during the current economic downturn, the number of people who are now poor enough to qualify for food stamps has increased from 17 million in 2000 to 47 million in 2013. Only one in 50 Americans received food stamps in the 1970s; now, the number is one in seven.”
As Arianna Huffington said, we are becoming a third world country. But what may be even worse, we have a first world fascist police state.
10. And finally, America has the highest infant mortality rate of any developed country. “Poverty, racism and stress” are cited as supporting causes.
As The Economist writes, “the main message is a grim one. Most of the growth is going to an extraordinarily small share of the population: 95% of the gains from the recovery have gone to the richest 1% of people, whose share of overall income is once again close to its highest level in a century. The most unequal country in the rich world is thus becoming even more so.”
Alex Henderson concludes his beautiful, brilliant article with some ideas for rehabilitating our declining democracy, some with the help of Robert Reich, such as better wages, education healthcare, unions, “abolish the prison industrial complex, rebuild the U.S.’ decaying infrastructure, abolish the Patriot Act and the NDAA, restore the Glass-Steagall Act and break up too-big-to-fail banks.”
But we know this isn’t going to happen. Say hello to America the Banana Republic.