And the Bands Played On

The Obama and Cameron administrations must be bilious at the moment -- or verging to apoplexy. Having weathered financial crises and charted plans for recovery, and having worked hard to sell them to divided governments and even more divided societies, they awaken to lowered bond ratings and falling stock prices in the U.S. and the spectacle of flash riots throughout Britain. Osama Bin Laden and various lieutenants are dead or in the crosshairs of militaries, munitions, and drones, but the peoples of Britain and the United States are languishing.

Whilst the Democrats, Republicans, Tea Partiers, plaudits and pundits rail away at each other, and whilst the Mayor of London, Prime Minister, and all manner of others denounce thuggery and yobs, I am struck by troubling parallels that face America and Britain. Bloated budgets, burgeoning debt, global policing, homeland security regimes, cynicism about police, military expenditures run amok, failed financial schemes, meager financial reforms, and too many unemployed in the summer heat are all around us. Youth participation in gang activity, prodded on by social media and those inclined to demagoguery is happening in major cities of both countries. Discontented youth bespeak societies in need of changes promised but not delivered.

It's pathetic to see both national leaders posing for the international media, along with their lieutenants' parades to talk shows and weekend news magazines, attempting to explain it all away, to spin things back to near normalcy. It's not happening though, certainly not with the kind of efficacy that's wanted.

I mean we cannot continue to run from our problems. The American and British budgets require long-term fixes that touch progressive tax reform and spending cuts. The down payment that recent actions, in particular in the U.S., have accomplished is merely a mere beginning. The politicians who should run for office are those who will replace the present leaders and get the mess fixed. There's really a lot of consensus on the need to target tax increases on the wealthy, to cut defense and rationalize entitlements, and to target reforms at the financial institutions that prop up themselves but not the rest of us. I mean the markets have cat-scratch fever these days, but most of the leading lights of the industry can rest comfortably on their salaries and bonuses in our reformed financial menageries whatever happens to the lot of us.

I've yet to hear leaders in both nations, beginning with the president and prime minister, call out our youth to responsibility. We all want the telecommunications giants to profit, and they intone corporate social responsibility well, but these kinds of dialogue never reach many people on Chicago's Southside or in Tottenham and Hackney. The "recovery" has failed entire segments of our populations, and no one seems to be on about it enough. Accountability and rationalizations are a go. Defense, anti-terrorism, and global security are spot on. But addressing the future of millions of people in both countries who will decide what next to do about the path of advanced democracies is not.

Subsidies for higher education are down. Funding for public education and public services is down. Public resentment of public workers and civil servants is fanned with rhetorics of scapegoating. Shortchanging the public sphere is an abandonment of the promise of democracy. We all depend upon the public, but we tend to respect only the bits we like most.

The American and British publics are due for a few cups of strong coffee. The leadership gambits of the next months and years need to involve identifying more fundamental solutions. Our societies face languishing production, inadequate public investment in research and development, and woeful neglect of investment in the human capital who are our youth. And in the end, our future cannot be left to public crises or financial market swings. It has to be a commitment from the get-go.